July 4, 2009

Siouxland Adventures...

Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up
June 27, 2009
Chris Larsen Park, Sioux City, IA
Scenic Park, South Sioux City, NE
Text by Vicki Richmond, photos by Carol Merbach and Melanie Cheney

Siouxland is a rare place on the Big Muddy. Three states (Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota) come together in this vibrant community. Development along the river is occurring rapidly, and folks really take advantage of the recreation that the river provides.

Our crew makes a long haul up there. Six hours for some, eight for others. A special commitment and a bit of bravery are involved in hopping into a van or truck and taking off for parts unknown. The Missouri River Reliefers were excited about getting back on the water; for some it was the first clean up of the year and a cause for celebration.

Something happened in Siouxland that we’ve not seen regularly. A local committee formed to take the event to new heights, hosting us congenially and doing much of the on-the-ground leg work. Working with an expanding crew is exciting. New folks bring new ideas to the table and help us old-timers hone our skills.

The River Relief crew’s first day on deck began with a field trip to the Wastewater Treatment plant. This plant is being renovated by American Water, so our crew was able to see how retrofits are being used to upgrade the treatment plant to meet new water quality standards to the Missouri River. We toured the grounds and lagoons and made our way into the lab.

The lab is quite unique. Among the beakers and samples normally seen in any laboratory, tropical fish swim in containers retired from their chemistry days. Plants grow on windowsills. A friendly staff took our intrusion in stride, allowing us to poke around and look through their microscopes. A poster on the wall caught some of our eyes, and Steve, Daniel and I returned to the microscopes to try to identify the organisms from their poster snapshots. Special thanks go to Desiree and Karl for hosting us on this educational trip, and allowing us to interrupt their busy days and to Sherry for sharing her knowledge with our interested crew. (photo on right are samples taken from various effluent sources that discharge into the wastewater treatment plant)

After our field trip, the crew moved to lunch, while I returned to the beautiful Marina Inn to get paperwork settled and ready for our crew meeting later that day. After a delicious Mexican lunch, crew was ready to take to the water to scout for trash that could be safely accessed by volunteers on a Missouri that was running high and swift.

Trash is different here on the first city of the channelized river. We don’t see the large concentrations of trash that flooding usually brings. Instead, fishing refuse and the trash transported on storm drains is predominant. Few dumps exist, although a decision to work on the site of the old municipal landfill was made. The heavy and bulky trash has slowly moved down the banks, escaping the confines of the landfill. We’d worked on this site before, and will do so again with the help of strong volunteers.

The scouting crews returned just in time for dinner at the Chris Larsen Park shelter, enjoying a fine meal provided by Curly’s. Ellen, Tasha and Desiree had made sure the entire crew was well fed! Our MRR crew mingled with the Sioux Crew, cementing friendships made last year and creating new ones. The support of the local Sioux folks was astounding, our old friends from the Sgt. Floyd Museum were there, as well as partners from Argosy Casino, the City of Sioux City, American Water, the Siouxland Mud Puppies, the LDS church and community volunteers.

We enjoyed the opportunity to visit with our friends, but the dinner had a purpose- we needed to get a clear view of who was doing what! People stepped up quickly to staff the sign-in table, orientation station, safety station and lifejacket checks. Our MRR crew would handle dispatch, helped by Paul Lepisto of the Izaac Walton League. Our captains and mates were paired, each bringing their own brand of education to the boat trips that shuttle volunteers to the locations we’d scouted just that afternoon.

Events like these depend on the partners that come to bring their unique skills to the event. Nebraska Game and Parks was bringing four boats, Iowa Department of Natural Resources was bringing two and the Army Corps of Engineers another. With our boats, a total of 11 boats would shuttle volunteers to their project sites.

To add excitement to the day, Sally and her wonderful Keep Northeast Nebraska Beautiful team had designed a trash contest with a cash prize for both the best find of the day and the group with the largest turnout. This contest augmented our own trash and treasure contest and will be a model that we will use up and down the river.

Saturday dawned with the threat of rain that kept the morning cool and our eyes on the horizon. As we set up pop-up tents and tables in the cool of the morning excitement grew as the agency boats launched, and the large fish tank brought by Nebraska Game and Parks was filled.

Quickly, sign-in was the center of activity as volunteers arrived, signed in and were equipped with reusable water bottles, t-shirts and gloves. Passing through orientation, safety and lifejackets, volunteers waited patiently while dispatchers boarded them into waiting boats, with last instructions. Each boat was assigned a reach of river that had been scouted on Friday, and the trash concentrations flagged.

Volunteers who were unable to join the on the water team set out for the trail. Tasha and Desiree began shuttling people and trash in Tasha’s ATV, bringing volunteers half way down the trail so that the trash pick up became the road home. Bags were left on the trail and picked up by Tasha and her crew. Trash was then loaded into American Water pick-ups for their final trip to the dumpster on the Nebraska side.

Over at the Scenic Park ramp in Nebraska, dumpsters arrived and a front-end loader began the ballet of moving trash form our heavily laden boats to the waiting dumpsters. Each boatload of trash is logged on a tally sheet, and these numbers compiled. Our trash lists are something of an archeology project, and show the wide variety of what is out there. Ruthie tallied the trash while John, Ty and Josh made sure it all made it to the correct dumpster.

About 2:45 my phone rang with a call for a room key and an invitation to go for a swim in the hotel pool. Checking the time, I was amazed that the clean up had progressed so far so fast. Our crews were done and the trash loaded by 3:00. This gave us time to take a break and a much needed shower so that we could again come together for a dinner to celebrate the day.

The weather cooperated, allowing us to hold the dinner in the shelter in Scenic Park. Just next to the shelter was an enormous jungle gym, complete with a spider web to climb. The crew began to giggle as we climbed aboard for a group photo. American Water had Aggies cater a dinner for the volunteers who had worked so hard all day.

Siouxland has a special connection to the river and a knack for making folks feel at home. Special thanks to the Sioux Crew planning committee: Desiree McCaslen, Ellen Myers, Tasha Barker and Sally Reinert for all of their time and talent. Our events could not happen with out the generous support of sponsors, and that list will appear in another post on this blog.

1 comment:

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