March 4, 2007

River Otter Day – March 3, 2007 – Historic Town of Kansas

6:00 a.m. – Alton Ave. – Columbia, MO; coffee gets put on
6:30 – start up diesel van to melt off newly fallen snow.
6:33 – get call from Anthony – we can come get him
6:37 – pick up Veronica
6:45 – (Little) John meets us at Racin’ Dave’s shop. Racin’ Dave is nowhere in sight. (He had backstage passes to Rev. Horton Heat the night before)
7:00 – pick up (Big) John in Rocheport
7:05 – cross Missouri River on I-70 headed west, snow flying in our faces

The River Otter Day Clean-up (1st Annual?) in the City Market section of downtown Kansas City, MO., was a strange affair for us. First of all, we weren’t using boats. This was a completely land-based clean-up.

Second of all, we were asked by the K.C. Port Authority to do this clean-up. They are planning on renovating the land there, below the Main Street Pier walkway, to become a nice riverside parklet. Over the years, countless items of trash, including tires, refrigerators and infinity bottles and cans have accumulated below the pier. Historic homeless camps have left dumps of old furniture and piles of cat food cans (there’s quite a few wild river cats running around the area).

When we started, it was snowing so much you couldn’t see the tops of the downtown skyscrapers. But regardless of the weather, 130 people showed up to help clean up this historic area – the site of the riverside village that eventually grew to the metropolis we (out-of-towners, anyway) know as CowTown.

River Otter Day was originally scheduled for Feb. 3 (to coincide with Groundhog Day – hence the clever name). Inches of ice on the ground postponed it, meaning another month of work for our KC coordinator Vicki Richmond.

The site is an utter confusion of landowners and easements, but Vicki worked with all of them to make sure the event went smoothly. The KC Port Authority helped plan the event and give cash assistance, KC Power and Light kicked in, First and Main Lofts brought a backhoe and the railroad hired two front-end loaders and a Bobcat to scoop and haul trash. With 130 volunteers working hard until lunch (and beyond), we kept those dozers humming all morning. Volunteers of all ages teamed up in groups, maneuvering around the skilled heavy equipment operators and scouring the brushy hillside for trash.

Team Leaders represented a slew of agencies and non-profits. John Jansen from Jackson County, Larry O’Donnell from Little Blue Watershed Alliance, Troy Gordon from Friends of Big Muddy and John Brady, Dan Belshe and John Brady from Missouri River Relief guided groups, keeping trash cleaners working safely and smartly.

After lunch, more folks walked across the pier to the Riverfront Heritage Trail to it up. Hopefully, this trail will someday connect the Kansas side of Kansas City with the Confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers via the Katy Trail.

After most of us had packed up and were getting ready for an after clean-up beer, another crew headed down to the trail to pick up all the bagged trash. It took three trips with our 4X4 pickup, and each time they got stopped by a train. So, of course, they hopped out and picked up more trash!

Then, (Little) John (who is actually bigger than (Big) John, but younger) and Bill Sapp (renegade Missouri River trash picker) climbed a 30 foot ladder (in hurricane force winds, I swear) and cleaned off broken glass and a smashed computer from the top of a concrete pier. Apparently, it’s quite a tradition to toss things from the Main Street Pier and watch them shatter on the top of this pillar.

All told, a tough bunch of volunteers and heavy equipment hauled out 15 tons of trash from the site.

Now, all we have left is the Dakota Pick-up that still lays upside down under the slab beneath the pier…..just wait until October when we come back to KC!!!!

-steve schnarr