August 28, 2009

Cleaning up with the St. Lou Crew - Chapter 1

Duck Island Clean-up with River Kids and Big Muddy Adventures
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, Spanish Lake, MO
August 20-21, 2009

text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Steve Schnarr

For four years, we’ve been going to help out at Operation Clean Stream, the oldest community river clean-up in the state (this is its 42nd year). This year we make a little more out of this trip. Several of our St. Louis friends had been asking for us to come work with them, so we decided to pile on several clean-ups at once.

River Kids and Big Muddy Adventures

The coolest river organization I know is the River Kids. It was started at New City School by teacher Ben Griffiths and a group of students that were inspired by Chad Pregracke’s Living Lands and Waters. It has become a student-run/student-organized force for river education and action. These are fourth to sixth graders by the way! They started a non-profit and do restoration and clean-up work, helping out at other organization’s cleanups, adopting their own stretches.

As Ben said, “It’s gotten to the point where you hear third graders saying, ‘I can’t wait until I can be a river kid!’ Plus the older kids are coming in and mentoring the younger ones, showing them how to do this even better.” Ben shakes his head, amazed at where the kids have taken this small idea.

The River Kids have been working with Mike Clark, the force behind Big Muddy Adventures, the only Missouri River paddling outfitter I’m aware of in the St. Louis area. Mike has been taking the River Kids once a month out on the Confluence, showing them how to paddle the big river, then cleaning up Duck Island, a beautiful sandbar-ringed island just downstream of the Confluence on the Mississippi.

This Thursday, with school just about to start, only two River Kids showed up, but they were awesome. Mary is a River Kids veteran, while this was Parker’s first time. Together with Ben, they cleaned up the upstream beach, while Tom Ball and I cleaned downstream. Meanwhile Mike Clark readied a bed of coals for some fresh organic sweet corn and a weenie roast. Our friends Karla Wilson from EcoWorks Unlimited, Christine Favilla from Piasa Palisades Sierra Club, Tom Ball – river worker extraordinaire, all set up camp and gathered firewood.

Soon, music was playing, bellies were full, kids were laughing and the stars came out.

A beautiful night on the river followed by a beautiful sunrise.

Check out the River Kids Blog -

& the Big Muddy Adventures website - (BMA just got back from a raft trip down to New Orleans with a German film crew – they’ve got some great stories on their blog about this amazing adventure)

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