FRANKLIN, Minn. - They've experienced some of our country's most wild and scenic of locations doing work as wilderness guides and park rangers, and on their own as avid backpackers and canoeists.

And everywhere they've been, they made it their point to leave it better.

Paul Twedt and a friend hiked the Appalachian Trail and removed 1,100 pounds of litter they picked up along the 2,200 miles they covered. They followed that with a 2,659-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, where they collected 720 pounds of discards others left behind.

And this year, Twedt, 31, and friend Michael Anderson, 26, have a mere 1,200 miles to cover. They're doing it the easy way, in canoes.

"I'm living in luxury now,'' laughed Twedt at a campsite on the Minnesota River near Franklin on Wednesday, July 12. "We're turning these beautiful canoes into trash barges."

It's all for a good purpose. The Minnesota men are the founders of the nonprofit Adventure Stewardship Alliance, dedicated entirely to promoting stewardship by all who enjoy public lands and waterways.

They spent 15 days in June paddling 237 miles to follow the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers to the confluence with the Mississippi River. They removed 736 pounds of litter along the way.

They launched their Minnesota River trip July 3. They will take a break once they complete the Minnesota River and then venture to the headwaters of the Mississippi. They intend to paddle all of its 600 miles in Minnesota in September and into October.

On Wednesday, they were nine days into the paddle down the 335 miles of the Minnesota River. They had collected nearly 900 pounds of trash by the time they reached Franklin, collecting an average of 100 pounds a day.

Styrofoam - sometimes whole blocks and sheets of it - have proven to be the most common garbage found. Fishing line and tackle; car, truck and tractor tires; and even coolers and a bowling ball are also among the garbage they have removed.

They've had help from friends, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and complete strangers in taking the garbage they collect and disposing of it properly.

They search for litter like hunters after prey. The focus it requires has in turn made them keenly aware of the wildlife and activities along the river, and they've enjoyed it all.

"This is an excellent exercise in awareness,'' Twedt said. "You start seeing things you would normally just gloss over.''

Both have been thoroughly impressed by the beauty they find around every bend of the river.

"I am astonished with this river,'' Twedt said. "It is absolutely amazing. It is gorgeous. It is so wild, so much more wild than I expected it to be.''

Their adventure is much like a Boundary Waters trip, really. They camp each night at DNR-maintained canoe campsites as well as county and city parks along the way.

Yet make no mistake, they are dedicated to their mission. They put in 11- and 12-hour days on the water, Anderson said.

Their challenges have included enduring the heat of July, mosquitoes and a 12-mile paddle against headwinds and rolling waves to traverse the length of Lac qui Parle Lake.

Their pace is slowed by the "strainers," or areas where fallen trees lie in the river and catch the floating litter. They purposely paddle up to the strainers in lightweight canoes built by Urban Boatbuilders of St. Paul and find ways to retrieve the garbage caught in the swirling mix of water and tree limbs. Sometimes they will climb atop the mess to get to the trash.

They do not expect others to do the same, but their long-term goal is to develop apprenticeships and programs to encourage people to take up good stewardship practices in the outdoors.

"We want everybody to view adventuring and getting outdoors and experiencing place with a stewardship ethic,'' Twedt said. "Where you are not only going out there to leave no trace, you are going out there to leave it better than you found it. Leaving a positive trace.''

They maintain a website that describes their trip and its goals, and they provide updates and photos as they can. View it at adventurestewardship.org.