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 www.2muddy.com)

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 www.riverrelief.org


River Notes said...

I'm super sad that I was too exhausted to go on the moonlight float Friday night! It sounded really fun dang it. oh well, perhaps next time during a non-ragweed part of the season.


River Notes said...

Hey Mike, whatever happened to the title of your future journal that resulted from the clean-up? Wasn't it something like "Mud is hot"? I liked that ;) ~Mel