June 4, 2014

Hot Enough?

published by John Brady on June 2, 2014

This morning started with a short cup of coffee, some granola with blueberries and some stretching exercise. I knew I had to fuel up well this morning as I was to accompany a River Relief “Tiger Team” into some gnarly river-side woods to finish up bringing out the last big items of trash discovered during two recent forays into the area by two different groups of crew members. 

The area is owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers (theoretically, that’s you and me, with others). It lies along a functional chute through an area that has been known as long as I can remember as “Party Corner”.

Out along the road that runs along the property and beside the river, just about every weekend different groups of nature lovers shamelessly drop their beer cans, garbage, fireworks wrappers, used diapers and worse. We have cleaned up there many times. 

This project was special, however, as we were to go into the thick of this wedge-shaped parcel by boat and attempt to clean it of all of the flood deposits of trash from the last decade. The USACE had contracted River Relief to do the job in return for a modest amount of much needed cash. It was a project that our executive director made happen in the hopes we could knock it out quickly with a minimum of expense.

So in went the four of us around 9 a.m., just as the temperature and the relative humidity both hit about 88. Sweat was copious just trying to walk into the stashes of refrigerators and tires through the knee-high Japanese Hops (an invasive vinous plant whose leaves irritate bare skin) and over the numerous hidden down falls. It was hot, sweaty and miserable work.

As Jeff and Alex carried tires and barrels out to an open spot on the high bank, Steve and I went to work with a chop saw on a mud-filled refrigerator Alex and I had disinterred on the first go-around. 

Thank the gods for power tools! 

Refrigerators are difficult to deal with when embedded as sawing them up entails fighting the foam insulation infused with mud that drags the saw blade speed down so that the only way to make progress is with little bites and chewing thoroughly. We then packed all of the pieces out to the river bank cache.

The boat was then carefully brought down and the heavy objects lowered down the bank with a rope and carried into the boat. In about an hour and a half we were done there and panting in the boat between deep draughts of cool water from the water jug. 

Grimy all over, we agreed with Jeff’s idea of going across the river to see if we could spot through the recent growth the two refrigerators seen on a high bank during a previous trip through that area.

Sure enough, eagle eyes and honed institutional instinct soon spotted both of them. One by one they were lowered down the bank and wrestled into the boat. After a careful round-to, we turned on the air conditioner (throttled up on plane and made our own breeze). All of us were wet down to the knees with sweat. 

Soon we had the nearly full 24 foot “Hildy” on her trailer and headed for the scrap dealer’s and the land fill. A small job, truthfully, but in essence our history is one of many “small jobs” knitted into a body of work that has affected many people and communities in over 700 miles of the Missouri River over the last 13 years.

It truly is a disease and we have it bad. 
Yeah, today was hot enough for most anyone. 
The work was cool enough for us. 

See you on The River!

May 27, 2014

{Reconnaissance and Relief}

St. Joseph Missouri River Clean-up
Saturday, May 17, 2014
French Bottom Boat Ramp, St. Joseph, MO

Blogmaster's Note - This blog was originally posted by our amazing writerly volunteer Tina Casagrand on her personal blog "The Gasconader". Check out more of her insights there. 

Text and photos by Tina Casagrand

Ahoy! Results are in for Missouri River Relief‘s cleanup at St. Joseph, Missouri (you can find them here)  This was my third away-team cleanup as a crew member. My first experience with the group was back in 2009, and despite attending dozens of events as a regular volunteer, it’s impossible to know just how much work goes into preparing for these things.

First, there’s the matter of time and location. Where’s a good boat ramp to conduct a cleanup, and where can we camp that’s reasonably close? At St. Joe, we lucked out with Remington Nature Center hosting us on its grounds, just a parking lot away from the boat docks. We cut driftwood behind the building and established a kitchen underneath it, pitched tents by Roy’s Creek, and built a campfire laughably close to the city’s riverside bike trail.

Sunrise on Roy's Creek. I wouldn't mind unzipping my tent to this every day.
Sunrise on Roy’s Creek.
I wouldn’t mind unzipping my tent to this every day.
Photo by Tina Casagrand

And then there are logistics of the cleanup itself.

Since an aerial trash scout in 2011, it’s been a little easier to spot dump sites on maps. Even so, there’s a lot of foot work for crew members to find litter that’s washed in by recent floods. The day before a big cleanup, we scout for sites up and downstream, about five miles each way, on both sides of the river. A few people are elected dispatchers and assistants, a couple drive the boats, and the rest of the group piles in to check out the damage.

The river was low that week, meaning steep and muddy banks. Melanie, Jennifer, and I scrambled up them into the woods to find trash caught behind logs and foliage. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot to find, maybe because the river is so straight and swift in this channelized stretch by the city. I did, however, eat a bowlful of lamb’s quarter, watch several Common Yellowthroats flitting through the woods, and even scared up a Nighthawk! Seeing a Caprimulgid in the daytime was a first for me. Just one of the little serendipitous joys in getting outside.

2014-05-16 17.10.01
Boots get muddy. Boats get muddy. Mud gets muddy.
That was Friday. A pretty easygoing day, although the scout does get tiring after a while. We assign jobs for the crew the night before, and get started really early the next day. Like, 6 a.m. breakfast early. On a Saturday! Then follows this volley of set-up, registration, driver meeting, volunteer orientation, safety talks and finally–rejoice!–getting out on the boats.

It’s a lot to do before noon, but we pull it off flawlessly, crew members filling in wherever they’re needed. Because turnout was fairly light this day, the drivers and first mates got to stay with their boatful of volunteers instead of leaving to get another group. That was awesome for me, as I got more alone time in nature, and was able to hang out with a totally precious gang of 7-year-old bicyclists. On the way back, when I ate an orange and tossed the peel in the stream, one of the kids looked totally disappointed. “Eli, what’s wrong?” He threw his palms in the air and said, “You’re littering!” in such a dismayed voice that I’m sure my response of, “don’t panic, it’s organic” would fail to redeem my sin.

After the cleanup, we give lunch to our volunteers, host and judge a trash contest, chill for a while, then peel out in the boats again to pick up the trash. Volunteers leave their bags, tires and other stuff on the shore. We pick it up in the afternoon in a streamlined fashion.

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This, my friend, is a well-orchestrated daisy chain of trash.

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John Brady is our premiere frontloader communicatuer.
Here, he’s telling the driver to smash down on this refrigerator.
I’m a little exhausted just writing about this. Which is ok, because feeling exhausted means you did a lot of hard work, eh? And what better frame of mind for a sunset walk on a trail by the river? This was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, seriously. Even my fancy new iPhone (hey world, I finally upgraded!) couldn’t capture it’s glory, but here. I tried.

2014-05-17 20.04.02

You can catch me at the next river cleanup at Leavenworth, Kansas, and Weston, Missouri the weekend of June 7. Seriously, come if you can (free boat ride and fuzzy feelings), and if you can’t, follow my Twitter and Instagram. (Yep, Instagram. That’s new for me. Give me something to follow!) I’ll bring you along for the ride.

May 13, 2014

Vampire teeth, a vintage boat, and messages in a bottle: America’s cultural indicators?

Intro by Tina Casagrand first published in the Missouri Stream Team blog celebrating 25 years this year.

Did you know that New York City’s municipal landfill has an anthropologist-in-residence? She looks at what the people of the city throw away, the history of sanitation workers, and lots of other fascinating things. That got me thinking . . .  maybe a similar task could be taken for the spot where North America’s largest waterways meet. What could cleanup hauls at the Missouri-Mississippi Confluence tell us about litter habits in the eastern and western parts of our country?

Missouri River Relief (Stream Team #1875) has a head start on this research. They’ve tallied trash from their clean-ups for years. April 26th’s Earth Day at the Confluence continued to surprise volunteers and crew alike with a wealth of trash and treasure.

Here are some details on MRR’s work out of Columbia Bottom Conservation Area on April 26. Mull over these cultural indicators, and if you know of any anthropologists looking for a project, tell them to give MSTWC a call!

Earth Day at the Confluence *Results*
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area
Missouri River Clean-up 4-26-14

Volunteers:  178
MRR Crew:  31
Boats:  10 (2 USACE, 3 MDC, 1 Hanson P.S., 4 MRR)
Rivermiles:  9 ( 8 miles of the Missouri, 1 mile of the Mississippi)
River Level:  10 ft (St. Charles gage) 14.8 ft. (on the Mississippi at St. Louis)
Tires:  30 (an estimated .5 tons)
Landfill:  2.8 tons
Scrap Metal:   1.35 tons
Total Tonnage:  4.7 tons

Agencies & Groups:  Missouri River Relief Crew, Missouri Department of Conservation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Hanson Professional Services, Cub Scout Pack 97, Cadette Girl Scout Troop #435, Baden Powell Service Association 66th Confluence Scout Group, Anderson Pest Solutions, BioMerieux, Alpha Phi Omega– Washington University, Ethical Navigators 33, Flying Carps, Bank of America, St. Louis University, Boeing, Arnold Stream Team 211, Stream Team 3454 Anglers of Missouri, Saving the World Before Noon, Miramiguoa Master Naturalist, Weber Group, Kabul Waterdogs – Stream Team 3419, Stream Team 4855, Pack 3097, Stream Team River Rovers #4473,

Team Names:  Flying Carp, X-Stream Team, Pack 97, Navigators, A-Team, Super Flying Ninja Kittens, Asian Carp Avengers, Anderson, River Dogs, Otters, Mo Mud Hens, Timberwolves, The Bass Fisherman, 66th Confluence Team, Hardcore Team Tough Guy, The Collaborators, River Rebels, Team Smokinbarrel

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Plus great tunes by Eddie Buchanan & Co.!

Trash Tally!

201 bags of trash
30 tires
11 chunks o’ Styrofoam
4 coolers
11  5-gal. plastic buckets
1  20-gal. plastic tub
12  55-gal. plastic barrels
2  55-gal. metal drums
4 partial metal drums
1 water heater
1 propane tank
1 AC unit piece
1 600 lb Automotive Transformer
1 boxspring
1 chair
2 barge lines
1 buoy
1 car seat cushion
4 gas tanks
1 rim
2 inner tubes
1 - 1957 fiberglass Saber boat
1 oil pan
1 metal trash can
1 pulley
5 metal poles
10 ft. of 2” angle iron
5 ft. of corrugated metal
1 – 6ft. metal pole
8 pieces of metal cable
2 metal locker doors
1 tiny saw blade
1 tv
1 lateral drain tile
2 orange booms
1 chicken wire
1 Rubbermaid tote
1 Rubbermaid lid
1 wall to a Porta-Potti
2 PVC pipes
1 white picket fence
1 bookshelf
A gazillion million balls
1 softball owned by Gary Babetz
1 kiddie push cart
1 rubber canteen
2 milk crates
1 fishing pole
1 dog kennel top
2 pieces of wood with nails
1 big plastic bowl for Clifford

Trash Contest!!! (winners in bold)
1 yellow piggy bank
1 dead snake dead from plastic netting wrapped around it
1 dead gar
1 studded football massage ball
2 armless baby dolls
1 pair of purple vampire teeth
2 doll heads
16 balls
1 coconut
1 water ski
1 plastic checker
1 plastic rabbit
1 plastic duck on wheels
1 easter egg
3 duck decoys
1 plastic penquin
1 wooden flower & bird
1 pink panther print on foam
1 black flip flop
1 men’s cologne box
1 igloo cooler
1 newspaper mailbox
1 plastic shovel
1 swim pad
1 light bulb
1 kids plastic table
1 plastic cone
1 window squeegee
1 large nail
1 hat
1 bucket
1 fishing lure
1 toy fire truck
1 cassette tape
1 turtle shell
1 construction helmet
Several old glass bottles
1 9mm handgun
1 message in a bottle with several letters inside