November 19, 2008

Little Hands in the Sand (part deux)

Yankton Missouri River Clean-up
Yankton, S.D.
May 17, 2008

(blogmaster note: last year, Ruthie Moccia wrote a great piece about her encounter with Jordan, a young man who found an ancient tractor wheel on the Yankton 07 clean-up. This May (2008), Ruthie returned to Yankton with us and wrote this piece about her experience. Click here to read Ruthie's post from last year.)

text by Ruthie Moccia. photos by Ruthie Moccia & Melanie Cheney

The ‘08 Yankton cleanup was my first revisit to a cleanup site since joining River Relief two years ago. What made the long road trip most worthwhile this year was reuniting with Jordan who accomplished the amazing last year by persistently digging around an enormous iron tractor wheel until it was completely unearthed and could be claimed by the trash tally.

During registration I spotted Jordan and his two young brothers dressed in their heather blue '08 volunteer tee shirts. Instead of aimlessly exploring the water's edge, the boys were eagerly awaiting trash bags and gloves and it appeared Jordan had also invited several friends along to participate. Their excited faces made me proud to be the one to hand them the necessary items and send them off down the ramp.

Jordan and his buddies check out a bike they found at the cleanup this year. photo by Melanie Cheney.

Later, when I sensed my cleanup crew’s boat was nearing last year's campground I also realized that the water level was too low to dock there. I needed to see that place again. I deboarded in the sandy mud and hiked toward it by keeping the Benedictine bell tower on the other side of the river always within my view. I didn’t know the way exactly, but clearly that tower with it's marvelous tones was a landmark for me. I would know immediately when I'd reached the exact location of last year’s campsite by the view across the river.

Suddenly, unmistakable familiar shapes of landscape brought back the memories. The flat sandy beach at the river's edge where the water had risen overnight to cover our cookware, a triangle of driftwood logs where we sang hilarious songs and played music around the fire, a flat space between two cedars where I had pitched my borrowed tent, the tip-top grassy edge of a dune I had climbed to scavenge an abandoned bracelet made of wooden beads and twine. It was a wonderfully nostalgic moment.

Overall my warmest memory of Yankton, however, is Jordan. What is it about a friendly face in a far away place? I threw the bead bracelet away many months ago, but Jordan's excited smile will stay with me.

Here's Jordan in 2007 excavating the old wheel he found. photo by Ruthie Moccia.

November 12, 2008

La Benite Trash Tally!

Missouri River Clean-up
La Benite Park, Sugar Creek, MO
October 4, 2008
photos by Melanie Cheney & Rod Power
Total Volunteers: 411
MRR Crew: 42
Boats: 19 (1 Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge; 6 MO Dept. of Conservation; 4 MO River Relief, 1 Burns & McDonnell, 3 Rivermiles, 3 EPA, 1 Army Corps of Engineers)
River Miles: 12.5 (RM 345-357, + 1/2 mile at Alligator Cove)
River Level: 8.5 feet (Kansas City gage)
Landfill Tons: estimated 7.5
Scrap Metal Tons: 1.5 tons
Tires: 58 (estimated 0.9 tons)
Total Trash Tonnage: estimated 9.9 tons
Names of River Teams: Water Girls, Piling People, Civil Air Patrol, The Islanders, The Otters, The Winners, 3331, Shay 4 & 5, Mud Hens, Scavengers, Swamp Rats, Lipton Ramrod Tea Bags, The Fridge Brigade, Scallywags, The Beavers, The Couple, The Impacters, The Rockers, Quiet Ones, Trash Wrestlers, GCC, Team Trashy, Random 5, Rockhurst, City Cougars, UMKC
Other Groups: Cargill, UMKC, Scuola Vita Nuova, Sprint, UMKC, Rockhurst University, Coca-Cola Enterprises.

(partial list of trash collected. note - this stretch downstream of the Kansas City metropolitan area has some of the wildest diversity of trash to be found on the river. Check this out!!!)
351 Large Bags of Trash
39 Tires on Rim
19 Tires w/o Rim
2 Rims
9 Chunks of Styrofoam
8 Coolers
1 Cooler Lid
3 Chest Freezers
2 Refrigerators
1 Mini-Refrigerator filled with nasty fishing bait, duct taped closed (now we know why)
1 Freezer Door
1 Hot Water Heater
3 Propane Tanks
2 Freon Tanks w/ condenser coils
1 Agricultural Spray Tank
8 5-gallon Plastic Buckets
1 5-gallon Metal Bucket
2 13-gallon Trash Can
1 25-gallon Metal Drum
11 55-gallon Metal Barrels
7 55-gallon Plastic Barrels
1 55-gallon barrel lid
1 Construction Road Hazard Barrel
10 Unidentifiable Plastic Pieces
1 Barstool seat, no legs
1 Plastic Tub
3 Car Bumpers
1 Car Seat
2 Gas Tanks
1 8-ft piece of Steel
20 pieces of Scrap Metal
1 Barge Cable
1 piece of Rebar
1 6-ft plastic tubing
2 Coast Guard Navigation Buoys
1 Metal Box
1 Big Metal Fuel Tank
3 Duck Decoys
2 Large Tarps
1 Carpet Foam
1 Wooden Pallet
1 12-ft Ladder
1 Plywood Sheet
1 Antique Glass Clorox Bottle
1 3-ft Plastic Planter
1 5-ft Plastic Garden Edging
1 small Plastic Rhinoceros
1 child Car Seat
2 Milk Crates
1 4-ft wooden “Be Courteous” Sign
1 Anchor
1 16-ft fiberglass boat in pieces
2 Gail Brown State Representative Signs
1 Plastic Pallet
1 Top to Kid’s Sand Box
Footballs, Volleyballs, Basketballs, etc.
2 Toy cars
1 Floating Brazier from the Brush Creek WaterFire 2007 (travelled over 22 miles from Lake of the Enshriners!)
1 Boat Seat
1 Slide from plastic children’s playset
3 more children’s plastic playset pieces-unidentifiable
1 Traffic Cone
2 big PVC Pipes
2 Big Wheel Toys
1 4X6x8’ Treated Lumber
1 Teletubby
1 Inflatable Love Doll still in original box (found floating in the river tied up in a plastic bag)
1 piece of Mistletoe
1 Adam Sandler DVD-“Going Overboard”
Just a touch of the trash brought in by 411 volunteers at the October 4 Missouri River Clean-up.
photo by Melanie Cheney

The 2008 River Clean-up Season Comes To An End

Missouri River Clean-up
October 4, 2008
La Benite Park, Sugar Creek, MO
text by Vicki Richmond
photos by Melanie Cheney, Jill Anderson-Hamilton & Don Williams

On Saturday, Oct. 4th, La Benite Park came alive early with the sounds of people getting to work and the smells of an Indian summer and coffee. Dumpsters and trailers for tires, trash, and scrap metal were in place. The River Relief crew was busily setting up pop-up tents, the sign in table, t-shirts, life jackets, maps and the “hydration station”. Boat captains began launching at the ramp, beaching their crafts while awaiting the hundreds of volunteers we anticipated.

The Big Muddy flowed past the ramp, carrying our quarry for the day- the solid waste that litters the shore, catches in the driftwood piles and clutters the dikes and riprap along the 12 miles that bracket La Benite. The scout was done, the flags in place. All that was needed was the people power to move the trash into the waiting containers.

We had never seen anything like it before, volunteers started arriving as early as 8:00 a.m. and people began to pitch in immediately. Some staked out a spot to meet their comrades on the river bank, while keeping an interested eye on the 19 boats assembled to take volunteers out onto the Missouri. Greetings and laughter filled the air as 411 people assembled to take a morning out of their busy lives to help make a difference, and pick up trash along the Missouri River.

The sign in table was quickly the hub of activity, as volunteers were signed in, received a t-shirt, gloves, reusable water bottle and a small token of appreciation in the form of hand sanitizers, pens or luggage tags. After sign in, folks proceeded to the orientation station.

Orientation plays a big role in the education that goes on at these clean ups. Our carefully prepared maps are used to show folks where they are along the river and what rivers and streams contribute to the trash they’ll be picking up. The project site is over 12 miles, so there is much to see. People have an opportunity to ask questions and ready their groups for the all important safety talk.

S H O W M E: Slow down before you throw down, hands in the boat, who is your buddy?, our safety team is key to making sure that volunteers know the ropes before setting out on the Missouri. Our rules are simple and few, but rigorously enforced. A clean safety record is our best asset, and the safety station keeps us on track. With over 400 people to watch out for, this all important step has been simplified and made easy to remember. Once the safety talk is through, the excitement increases.

Volunteers pass down to the ramp and are outfitted with PFD’s- lifejackets. The ramp crew takes a look at each one, making sure that the jacket fits and is properly snapped on to each volunteer. Groups are being called as the dispatchers identify reaches for boat drivers and the carrying capacity of each boat.

Now, the fun truly begins. Volunteers step carefully into boats provided by a number of state and federal agencies, corporations and our own River Relief fleet. Captains shout a few final words as boats pull out and power away from the ramp.

Blue skies and moderate temperatures made the boat rides (which are always a favorite part of the day) a treat. Smiling faces turned into the wind to watch the beautiful bridges of Kansas City pass over heads shaking in wonder. For many, this is the first time they’ve experienced the Big Muddy first hand. There is no experience like that of your first boat ride on the Missouri, and all of the urban legends are forgotten as the river weaves her spell over the volunteers. Smiles are everywhere as folks enjoy the beautiful riparian forest on each side of the river and marvel at the human impacts that they see in the power plants, skylines and always, the incredible bridges.

Boats pull up to blue marker bags as captains ask their final questions. “Do you all have enough bags?” “Is your water bottle full?” “Now, be sure to look just up over the bank, there’s lots of trash in those piles of drift wood.” Volunteers remove their PFD’s and take to the riverbank, piling big trash in piles and bagging the detritus of storm drains into bags. It is simply amazing what is found out there. Tires and car parts and boats and refrigerators and bar stools and children’s toys all make their way into piles awaiting our work boats. Too soon for many, captains return to pick volunteers up for lunch.

Few people were prepared for the scene at the ramp as they returned. A delicious lunch was prepared and waiting, while River Relief work boats began the tedious task of picking up all of the piles of trash and transporting them to a waiting loader and hungry dumpsters. The ramp is controlled madness, as the loader supervisor makes sure that the way to the dumpsters is clear. Hardy volunteers take to the boats to cruise the project site, throwing everything from bags of trash to boats taken apart in pieces back to the ramp. Sturdy backs move the trash from shore to boat to loader. The loader moves the trash to the containers, repeating this ballet of trash hauling over and over as the afternoon progresses.

351 bags of trash and tons of other debris (an estimated 10 tons!) were removed efficiently in one day from the banks of the Big Muddy by many hands. In its place, we left newly found friendships, care and new found respect for an incredible natural resource and a huge service to our community.

November 11, 2008

Riverside Education

Missouri River Watershed Festival
October 3, 2008
La Benite Park, Sugar Creek, MO
text by Vicki Richmond; photos by Jill Hamilton-Anderson & Melanie Cheney

Slowly, the fog burned off of the levee, moving slowly through the parking lot and unveiling tents, tables and booths coming together to host nearly 300 Kansas City students on the banks of the Big Muddy at La Benite Park.

The Missouri River Watershed Festival is a 2 state, 7 county, metro KC regional event, featuring over 30 exhibitors conducting hands-on, interactive activities for area 5th graders with a focus on river stewardship and education. The festival is held in conjunction with a Missouri River Clean-up, giving an opportunity to follow up education with stewardship. Presentations were interactive, informative, educational and entertaining.

Students arrived and left their buses, armed with a festival passport, and toured learning stations enthusiastically learning about how their behavior in one part of the watershed can affect the entire region. Big river fish entranced students as their eager hands touched animals caught just that morning in the muddy water passing by La Benite Park. Muddy water was made drinkable right before their eyes. The Missouri River Relief Trashology exhibit showed students how trash travels down the river. Box City showed students how cities are developed and underscored the need for forward thinking city planning and infrastructure.

Excited chatter from the students showed that an impact had been made. “Did you see those fish? They were HUGE!” “If I built a city, I’d put bridges in first!” “I touched a snapping turtle. His shell was leathery.” “The girls beat the boys at the Recycle Relay!”

Lunch time arrived as students gathered on the levee for a meeting with Dr. H20. Students participated excitedly as science came alive with an entertaining twist. The session was recorded for broadcast on KCMO channel 2.

As students left the river, exhibitors enjoyed a valuable chance to network with friends and fellow educators. The exhibitors also found some time to travel to others’ exhibits, passing along their knowledge to colleagues.

Middle school students are a terrific group to work with. They have the stamina to pay close attention to the information provided by exhibitors, while employing that sense of wonder that energizes us all. Special thanks go to the teachers who take time out of a school day to bring students to the river. We believe that this type of learning allows students to become effective, critical thinking members of society who will pass these values on to their peers and families, establishing a sustainable environmental ethic and care for our natural resources.

Participating schools were Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School and Fire Prairie Middle School.

Additional thanks go to the City of Sugar Creek, who allowed us access to the Missouri River at beautiful La Benite Park, to Courtney Ridge who provided hand-wash stations and portable toilets, to the Sugar Creek Fire Department who provided our exhibits with water and to the land managers, biologists, not for profit experts, college students and community leaders who donated their time and talent to bring River education to the students.

None of this would be possible with out the leadership and guidance of the Missouri River Watershed Festival Committee chairs- Kimberlee Foster, Cheri Miller, Larry O’Donnell, Vicki Richmond, Colleen Doctorian, Wendy Sangster and Steve Van Rhein. These individuals design passports and maps, recruit exhibitors and teachers and set up the event. Their hard work behind the scenes is visible to all after a successful day, and Missouri River Relief is proud to be a part of this inspiring annual collaboration.

Students from Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School came to the Watershed Festival on Friday, and came as a group to clean-up the banks of the river and the La Benite Park area on Saturday during the Missouri River Clean-up. photo by Melanie Cheney

October 29, 2008

Hometown River Race

Cooper's Cup Flying Carp Canoe & Kayak Race
September 20, 2008
Cooper's Landing

Hosted by River Ladies Auxiliary
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Dave "the River Slave" Marner & Melanie Cheney

Nobody knows how long paddler races have been going on at the Providence and Plowboy Bends of the Missouri River. I’ve heard of races in the seventies, but the participants I’ve talked to have pretty foggy memories of what went on. Some claim the races went down the Perche Creek, while others remember paddling on the Missouri. How about in prehistory? I can imagine huge dugout canoes manned by ten paddlers each barreling up and down the wild and weird big muddy river. Why not?

To quote an unnamed river rat friend, “further research is needed.”

But to jump forward in time, on September 20, 2008, for the third year in a row, a very strange phenomenon has taken place at this beautiful waypoint along the Missouri River. It’s so difficult to describe, it even has two names: The River Ladies Auxiliary’s Flying Carp and Cooper’s Cup Canoe & Kayak Races.

Doirienne & Keenan O'Brian catch a glimpse of the race namesake on the Perche Creek. photo by Dave Marner

We’ve become accustomed to long distance, downstream races on the Big Muddy. But this thing is a very short race. In fact the length of it changes every year. But there are a few really cool things about it: 1) No shuttle required. 2) You don’t need a ground crew 3) Spectators can see almost the whole thing from one spot on shore. 4) It costs five bucks to get in the race (and, hell, if you’re really pushy, you can enter even as the racers are gathering at start point).

The day has two races, but three classes. The first is a tandem canoe race with one adult and one kid (16 and under). The second race has two classes: single kayak and tandem canoe race paddling at the same time.

It begins and ends at the same place: Cooper’s Landing’s skinny, steep boat ramp. The ramp enters the river just downstream of a wing dike and is plagued with a strong eddy that changes as river levels change.
The crowded race start. photo by Melanie Cheney

Racers gather in the eddy, waiting for the blast of the starting horn from Sparky’s houseboat (if you don’t know Sparky, you should). They then pick their path across the raging current, heading slightly upstream if they can to the next buoy placed in the slower water on the other side.

They then paddle like mad upstream (the most grueling part of the race), looping around another buoy before heading back across river. This is a tricky maneuver because the river bends sharply here.

They dive into the mouth of the Little Bonne Femme Creek, circle a buoy, then get back into the channel to finish at Cooper’s ramp. Some years they have to stop at a sandbar, collect trash or a flag, and then hurry back to their boat. Each buoy or landmark gets a name: the slower water on the opposite bank is Carpbait Curve, there’s Deadman’s Dike, the Cauldron and, at the mouth of Bonne Femme Creek, is the Maiden’s Mouth. This year, the combination of high water, fast current and the wakes from motor boats created some pretty weird water in the Maiden’s Mouth, as you can see in Dave the River Slave’s awesome photo.

But this year, the river was very high. We even discussed not holding the race, but after a test run decided it was tough, but doable. We shortened the race course and, since there was not a sandbar in sight, took that part out. For the kid & adult race, we decided to start the racers up Perche Creek, so they would just need to paddle downstream and not have to fight around wingdikes or against the raging current.

With Tim Nigh giving play-by-play on shore and Jeff Barrow with radio dispatches from on the river, it makes for a hilarious spectacle all around. (“Folks, it looks like ‘Stinky and the Brain’ are making the cut across river at Deadman’s Dike headed for the Maiden’s Mouth. Look at those strokes! They’re really making headway now!”) Folks crowd onto the top decks of houseboats and all along shore to watch the paddlers battle it out.

This year we had two vessels tip over. But in testament to the good vibes of the event, these folks were just as happy as the winners (“This makes for a better story!” said one soggy participant).

Afterwards, awards go the winners in each class, as well as for the best team name. This year, the evening was capped off with the Charlie Brown Boogie-Down Dance Contest, hosted by local musical favorites Crazyfish.

Here’s a list of the winners (and honorable mention in each class). Congrats to the winners and thank you to all the good sports that tried their hand paddling up and down the Big Muddy!

Kid & Adult Tandem Canoe Race
1) Scott & Quinton Swafford, “Gazortenplatz”
2) Doreiann & Keenan O’Brien, “Favorite Noodle”
3) Sylvia Donnelly & Maggie Rotts, “Double-Trouble Boats & Bubbles”
Honorable mention –
Dave & Nick Mosby, “Heart of Hartsburg”
Bill & Nick Rotts & Daliliah Donnelly, “Flitty Flood Flubbers”
Chip & Ian Price, “Price Crispies”
Vince & Joe Blazis, “Stinky & the Brain”
Kid & Adult race winners, “Gazortenplatz” in their Kevlar canoe - Scott and Quinton Swafford

Adult Solo Kayak -
1) Kory Kaufman, “Leave Me Be I’m Not Trash”
2) John Breyfogle, “Alligator Cove”
3) Jason Bauer, “Carolina”
Honorable Mention –
Jim Bauer, “Loon”
Brenda Reida, “Just Kayaking”
Brad Bauer, “Althea”
Solo Kayak winner Kory Kaufman ("Leave Me Be I'm Not Trash!") reaches the finish line. photo by Melanie Cheney

Second place solo kayaker John Breyfogle ("Alligator Cove") approaches the finish just ahead of Tandem Canoe winners Chip Price & Scott Swafford ("The Editors"). photo by Melanie Cheney

Tandem Canoe Race –
1) Chip Price & Scott Swafford, “The Editors”
2) Travis & Roy, “Scramin’ Seamen”
3) Vince Gallo & Uncle Denny Ternamian, “Team Swell”
Honorable Mention –
Sylvia & Bill Rotts, “Carp A Delerium”
Aaron Boynton & Ken, “Tippy Canoe”
Will Buck & Rob Forman, “The Oakland Raiders”
Jim Karpowicz & Jerry Bizzle, “The Last Minute-Men”
Mark Osborn & Jim Hellmann, “Alagash”
Philip Masters & Mike Osborn, “The Fighting Mongooses”
Daniel Thorne & Gabe Ryan, “Boonslick Buccaneers” (Also winner of Best Name!)

October 24, 2008

How Do You Spell Relief?

Confluence Watershed Festival and River Clean-up
September 12-13
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area

text by Mike Clark, photos by Tom Ball & Ruthie Moccia

(blogmaster's note: Mike Clark is proprietor of Big Muddy Adventures, a canoe guide and outfitter that does educational paddling trips on the stretch of Missouri River between Hermann and the Confluence as well as the Mississippi. This piece was part of his River Dispatch series and is republished with permission. Find out more at

The mantra is simple, Leave No Trace. And to that end, we pick up trash.... ours, yours and everyone’s we find, removing it from the drift piles, bottom lands, sand bars, all remnants of the rising and falling rivers, We do this on every trip, and annually, we make our connection with those who do it the best.

In September, we spent a weekend with the Missouri River Relief crew, at the annual Columbia Bottoms Cleanup.

It began Friday morning with a Festival of Learning, an event that Mark Twain would heartily approve of.... “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.”

We arrived to find rows of tents, displays and hands-on exhibits, each providing a unique link of learning about the river, all spread out on the parking lot of the Columbia Bottoms Boat Ramp, By 10 AM, the raw curiosity of hundreds of boys and girls was bubbling like the water at the wing dike. . The Missouri River Reliefers greeted students from Hazelwood School District. Using a well-designed workbook to help them make connections, the kids moved wide eyed and cheerful from station to station.
Mike Clark puts a group of Hazelwood School District students through the paces in his giant Clipper canoe. photo by Ruthie Moccia

For our part, BMA established a tight little canoe camp overlooking the Mighty Missouri and conducted a canoe workshop. Each group of students arrived with a multitude of questions. "Yo, Canoe man. What dat for?" "How you hold dat?" Then they climbed aboard the Clipper for dry land training. We practiced and practiced until their paddling technique was perfected, all in hopeful preparation for the day when they come along on a real BMA river adventure.

The Learning Festival day concluded with a Full Moon Float, six members of the Missouri River Relief crew gathering in the Clipper for a journey into the sublime. The midnight paddle and sand bar swim included an offering... a cell phone, forgotten in a pocket and submerged during a swan dive. A cell phone skipping contest was proposed but quickly shouted down, instead, a new version of the “message in a bottle.” and so it was planned... putting a cell phone in a bottle, with only enough battery for one call, and upon discovery somewhere near the Gulf, the instructions for a one time only speed dial, whereby the message that contains the answer to... “How do you spell relief?”

After a fun night of river rat camp, Saturday dawned with perfect river rat conditions for the Confluence Clean Up. Again, the River Relief Crew performed expertly, enlisting hundreds of folks to the cause. By late afternoon, two ginormous dumpsters were filled with the waste and want not of humanity. Thousands and thousands of plastic bottles. Literally, tons of tires, auto parts, appliances, gathered on the river by volunteers, then dumped on the ramp from the bowels of the River Relief plate boats, and finally hauled up to the dumpsters for future relocation, sadly, to a landfill. The enormity of the task is always overshadowed by the goodness of the people who come to help.

Our contribution that day was the “Cleanup by Canoe trip”. Six strangers, three strong women and three muddy men, found themselves paddling together into the Confluence, landing, walking the bank, filling bag after bag of shite, then piling it high above the gunnels, and finally, paddling to the Access. From strangers to friends, all within the span of three humble hours of service. All good. Check out

October 14, 2008

Confluence Thank Yous

Confluence Watershed Festival & River Clean-up
September 12-13, 2008
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area
photos by Melanie Cheney & Scot Heidbrink

Our wonderful weekend at the Confluence would not have been possible without the generosity and hard work of these sponsors and partners. A Big Muddy Thanks to all of you!

Major Sponsors
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Missouri American Water (an indispensible help at the Watershed Festival too!)
Great Rivers Greenway District (and donated reusable water bottles for the cleanup!)

Ameren UE
Bass Pro Shop
EarthShare of Missouri
Fred Weber, Inc.
Rick Holton
Missouri Department of Conservation
National Park Service
Pat Jones
River Kids (donated the H2Orchestra for the Festival!)
Rivermiles LLC
St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District (and donated two dumpsters!)
St. Louis/Jefferson Solid Waste Mgmt. Dist.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Waterways Council


Big Muddy Adventures (free canoe rides and canoe clean-up!)
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area (the hosts with the most!)
Confluence Greenway - Trailnet
Dominos Pizza - Blackjack
EcoWorks Unlimited (Karla Wilson!!!)
Hazelwood School District
Mighty #211 Stream Team
Missouri Stream Team
Missouri River Communities Network
Spanish Lake Fire Dept.
Tri-Rinse, Inc. (took our tires for free!)

October 13, 2008

Cleaning up the Confluence...

Confluence River Clean-up
September 13, 2008
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Vicki Richmond & Tom Ball

Our cleanups at the Confluence are always special events. This year was a great mix of old pros and brand new, interested people coming to help out. I’d just like to highlight a few of these groups and stories.

Arnold Stream Teams –
In the world of Stream Teams, the “Arnold boys” (as we tend to call them) from Stream Team #211 are legends. These folks seem to be out there cleaning up trash from the Meremec and other rivers just about every weekend in addition to several large events they schedule each year.

They often come with their own battery of tools, and we try to find a project that only they have the skills and expertise to handle.

This year, we put them on the removal of an old shed partially buried in sand at the Jones-Confluence State Park . We’d noticed the shed on our 2006 MegaScout trash survey and wanted to get it taken care of once and for all. If you want it done, you send the Arnold boys! This year, it was Bernie Arnold and Chris and Brian Waldrop.

They were joined up with Tom from the DeSoto Body Shop Stream Team in Arnold. By the time lunch rolled around, they had the shed wrapped up. So then they hopped on a boat for the trash haul and stuck around until the last boat came in. Thanks guys!

Confluence Greenway –
For the last two years, Confluence Greenway and Trailnet have been lucky (in our opinion) to have Tom Ball as their Americorps Stream Team Asst. Tom (self-portrait on right) is a one-man stream advocacy machine. If you need to know what’s going on regarding water issues in the St. Louis area, this is the guy to ask. He worked hard all day Saturday, topped off with a three hour canoe clean-up with Mike Clark from Big Muddy Adventures, Then he came back Monday to help us haul our tires to TRI-Rinse for disposal. After the crazy hurricane rains, he went back to work, leading in a post flood clean-up on Deer Creek. Here’s some links to his Facebook albums, with some great clean-up pictures. Canoe clean-up album, Clean-up album #1, Clean-up Album #2.

His Americorps replacement, Barbara Maynard came to help too, and she looks to be another asset for the Confluence. Confluence Greenway looks to bring groups and citizens together to restore and appreciate the Confluence area. Check out their cool website:

Big Muddy Adventures
Last year, we were running a chase boat for the Greenway Network’s Race for the Rivers when we saw a canoe outside of the channel not paddling at all. We tried to figure out from a distance if it was one of our racers and couldn’t see a racer number. “It’s probably Mike Clark,” I said. Sure enough, as we drew closer, it was the legendary local river rat.

Mike is out paddling in the Confluence area almost every night. He also runs Big Muddy Adventures, the only canoe outfitter in the area that specializes in paddling adventures on the Missouri River. (check out his website –

After running a popular exhibit at the Confluence Watershed Festival on Friday, he came back with his big “Clipper” canoe that night to take some of us on a moonlit canoe ride upstream to a tiny sandbar. With seven paddlers, including his friend and fellow river rat Scott Mandrill, that massive canoe moved upstream with no problem. We went for a swim in the moonlight and listened to Mike’s stories about sneaking up on a heron rookery by canoe during the flooding of Columbia Bottom earlier this year.

On Saturday, he came back after lunch with the Clipper again. He took a crew of die-hards downstream to cleanup Duck Island on the Mississippi, but they filled the canoe with trash before they even got there. After a clean-up at the Canoe/Kayak access, they returned victorious.

Student groups –
Some of our biggest supporters in the Confluence area are student groups and teachers that come year after year. Jacki Janovsky organizes the Nature Nuts at Parkway North Middle School, and brought a crew this year. I don’t know if it’s because they work so hard or they can’t avoid a mud fight, but year after year these kids come back smeared with Mighty Mo mud. Jim Denner rounded up a huge crew of Lindbergh High School students again this year. The Alpha Phi Omega Service fraternity at Washington University came out in force.

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area staff –
Mike Caby (right) drove the skid steer until the last load came in, hauling trash directly from the boats to the dumpsters up the ramp (saving a bunch of backs in the process). Ron Cooper and Tom Ledwon worked hard and loved it, and naturalist Pat went along on the canoe cleanup. Behind the scenes, they supplied straw bales, helped move tires out of the way when the river rose on Sunday, brought extra trash cans and let us store our boats in their maintenance yard.

Other groups –
We had great support from some other long-time clean-up helpers. Ruth Berry from Bank of America brought another crew. Francis Baum, organizer of Boeing Employees for Environmental Protection, stuck around all day to help dig out an outrageous heavy equipment tire. All in all, 168 folks showed up to help and worked their butts off! Thanks to everyone!

September 30, 2008

Learning down by the Riverside

Confluence Watershed Festival
September 12, 2008
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area

text by Steve Schnarr; photos by Jen Courtney & Melanie Cheney

The confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers is a special place. Two of the mightiest rivers in the country join together to become one flowing force moving down to the Gulf of Mexico.

If you zoom out from a map of the area, you can see just how much natural wealth is packed in that one region. Going upstream on the Mississippi, you head almost immediately to the west, wrapping St. Charles County in a massive, flowing moat. The Illinois River, whose wetlands were once the most productive ecosystem in the area, enters just upstream, flowing through a maze of islands. The Piasa Bluffs look southward across the whole area. Large public land tracts, managed by the Corps of Engineers, Illinois and Missouri Depts. Of Natural Resources, Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and Missouri Dept. of Conservation, are at work restoring habitat and providing access to nature lovers.

Driving a boat or, especially, paddling a canoe across the Confluence, you feel the swirling tug of two powerful rivers as they merge into one. On one side of the turbulent line they create is the muddier Missouri River. The other side of that line is clearer, with bubbles of muddy water popping up onto its surface. But from that point on downstream, folks are more likely to refer to the Mississippi River as the “Big Muddy”.

Our clean-ups and learning festivals at the Confluence are special events, with the growing numbers of Missouri River lovers coming together to work on its last few miles. This time, the weather constantly threatened to jump in, but it held off until Sunday morning. The huge pulse of water brought by Hurricane Ike running into a western cold front didn’t run down the river until after the event.
US Fish and Wildlife Service Biologists Chris McLeland and Andy Plauk show off a shovelnosed sturgeon. photo by Jen Courtney

We started the weekend with a Friday Confluence Water Festival at the boat ramp in Columbia Bottom Conservation Area. A few schools cancelled because of the threat of storms (which skirted just north of us) but still 206 fifth and sixth graders from the neighboring Hazelwood School District came down to the river to learn about their watershed, its wildlife, river skills and safety and water issues.

Mary Kay Church from Show-Me Missouri Backcountry Horsemen discusses the "Leave No Trace" philosophy, and shows off her incredibly well behaved horse. -photo by Jen Courtney

All senses were engaged. Students touched bighead carp, shovelnosed sturgeon, aquatic turtles and even a horse. They competed at “Big Muddy Jeopardy” overlooking the river. They found their school on a watershed map and saw where their stormwater flows. They gathered around beakers of muddy water, transforming them through chemistry and filtration into clean tap water. They hunted macro-invertebrates in artificial streams, giving each stream a water quality rating. They walked down the beautiful confluence trail, pausing in silence to write down the sounds they could hear. They put on lifejackets and learned the techniques of big river paddling.

A special treat was playing the H2Orchestra, a collection of instruments that use water to create different tones, sounds and notes. This amazing interactive exhibit was donated by the River Kids, a self-motivated group of river activists from New City School, who sadly couldn't make it because of scheduling conflicts.

The exhibitors were a mix of biologists, land managers, non-profit experts and engaged citizens. They were tasked with coming up with hands-on learning experiences, and the variety of experiences they shared with the kids was inspiring. No power-points and only the briefest lectures. Engage their bodies, minds and imaginations.

Jeff Barrow from Missouri River Relief discusses where trash on the Missouri River comes from. -photo by Melanie Cheney

Fifth and sixth graders are the perfect age for this kind of education. They can’t hide their excitement with new experiences. Yet they have enough experience under their belt that they can compare different things and come up with new conclusions.

As the last busses left, exhibitors chatted with themselves, sharing ideas and mixing their energies. Once again, the opportunity to teach children on the river’s edge brought about a confluence of active people working for the future of this region in their own ways.

Special thanks to Spanish Lake Fire Dept. for bringing their fire truck onsite before the festival to fill up the H2Orchestra. Thanks to Tom and the staff at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area for their hospitality as we took over their boat ramp parking lot for a weekend. Thanks to Missouri American Water for bringing water and cups and for sponsoring the event. Thanks to Open Space Council for loaning a couple pop-ups.

Extra special thanks to Susan Raney of Hazelwood School District for pulling in some wonderful teachers and students, and Karla Wilson of Ecoworks Unlimited for arranging the fantastic array of presenters.

Here's the list of amazing organizations represented:

Collinsville Area Rec. District
St. Louis Audubon Society
Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District
Missouri American Water
Show-Me Missouri Back Country Horsemen
US Fish and Wildlife Service (Columbia National Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office)
Wild Canid Survival and Research Center
Forrest Keeling Nursery
Litzsinger Road Ecology Center
Worldways Children's Museum - the H2Orchestra
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area
MO Dept. of Conservation
US Forest Service - Mark Twain National Forest
East West Gateway Council of Governments
Grace Hill Trail Rangers
REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.)
Washington University
Cooperative Weed Management Area
Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge
Jones-Confluence Point State Park
U.S. Geological Survey
Missouri Stream Team/Missouri Coalition for the Environment
Big Muddy Adventures
Gateway Greening, Inc.
Soil & Water Conservation District of St. Louis County
Missouri Department of Conservation
Missouri River Relief
The Confluence Greenway
Riverworks Discovery

The H2Orchestra was a special treat for the Hazelwood students. - photo by Melanie Cheney

Confluence Watershed Festival Photos

Confluence Watershed Festival
September 12, 2008
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area

photos copyright 2008 by Ruthie Moccia

Here's some more great photos of the Confluence Watershed Festival taken by MRR crewmember Ruthie Moccia. Enjoy!

Missouri American Water employees show how to change muddy river water into clear tap water.

Gateway Greening gave students seed and worm castings to plant them in. Students brought trays of planted seeds back to their classrooms to nurture into growing.

The Wild Canid Center taught about wolves, foxes and coyotes. Here was a real grey wolf pelt students could examine and touch.

Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologists showed how to identify fish, how to determine if they are legal size, and how to record creel data.

MDC agent Chris Morrow shows some rod & reel techniques for fishing in our big rivers.

Americorps Stream Team Assistants Melanie Cheney from Missouri River Relief and Stacy Arnold from Missouri Coalition for the Environment teach about macroinvertebrates by helping students conduct stream surveys on artificial streams.

Here students compare how different soils filter water differently, teaching about erosion.

September 19, 2008

Confluence Trash Tally!

Confluence River Clean-up
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area
September 13, 2008
photos by Jen Courtney & Tom Ball

Despite threats of rain, flooding, hurricanes, etc, our Confluence Clean-up was a great success. We had a lot of folks returning from past clean-ups, bringing new friends, and a whole slew of new faces. Here's some results from the day:

Total Volunteers: 168
MRR Crew: 19
Boats: 9 (2 US Fish & Wildlife; 2 MO Dept. of Conservation; 4 MO River Relief, 1 Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge)
River Miles: 11 Missouri, 1 Mississippi
River Level: 15.1 feet (St. Charles gage)
Trash Tons (not including tires): 4.1
Tires: 65 – (including one monster tractor tire 4 feet in diameter weighing over 500 lbs-total estimated tire tonnage: 1.25 tons)
Names of River Teams – “Oscar the Trashman, the Wally’s, the Thunderbirds, the River Rats, Stream Team 211, BEEP (Boeing Employees for Environmental Protection), Water Girl, the Nature Nuts, Grassy Grassos, the Mud Bugs, Altogether, the Odd Balls, Bank of America, Girl Talk, Rocks the Boat”
Stream Teams – 519, 2793, 1782, 401, the mighty 211, 1995 (DeSoto Car Shop Team), BEEP, 1875, 439 (Parkway North Nature Nuts)
Other Groups – Lindbergh High School, Washington University Alpha Phi Omega, Washington University Physical Therapy, Girl Scout Troop #607, Bank of America Employees, Big Muddy Adventures.

Trash Tally!!!!
(partial list of trash collected)
152 Large Bags of Trash
65 tires (including one monster tractor tire 4 feet in diameter weighing over 500 lbs)
5 refrigerators
2 chairs
2 blue 55-gallon plastic barrels
3 metal 55-gallon drums
9 large styrofoam chunks
33 pieces of scrap metal
2 five gallon buckets
1 inflated green floaty ring
1 Tigger toy ball
1 full beer can labeled “211” found by Stream Team 211
1 German plastic toy soldier
1 green plastic shed
1 bike frame
1 blanket
1 tent
2 gas tanks
1 Sit & Spin toy
1 douche
1 mail box
1 toilet float
1 sand-buried, dilapidated metal shed
1 hot water heater
1 metal sign
1 baseball bat
3 propane tanks
1 fisherman’s jug w/ hook
1 bicycle (well past its prime)
1 bed spring frame
1 table
1 large metal ratchet
1-30 gallon metal tank
2-50 gallon plastic garbage can
3 barge cables
1 construction barrel
½ of a metal drum
1 barge turnbuckle key
1 car seat
1 TV picture tube
wood stakes
1 truck headlight
1 cooler
1 toilet seat