November 12, 2008

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.

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