August 28, 2009

Cleaning up with the St. Lou Crew - Chapter 2

Confluence Clean-up with Whole Foods Market
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area
August 21, 2009
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Melanie Cheney, Steve Schnarr and Valarie Brunjas

The St. Louis area has two Whole Foods Markets – one in Brentwood and a new one in Town and Country. In July, they invited Missouri River Relief to set up booths at each store for a day to tell customers about the Missouri River and the work we do. In return, they donated 5% of their proceeds for the day to us – it came out to an amazing $7,550!!!

That day, the idea kept bubbling up that we should do a clean-up with the Whole Foods team members. Take a bunch of energetic nature and health conscious folks on the Big Muddy to pick up trash? That’s a no-brainer! So we decided since we were already going to St. Lou for the Operation Clean Stream, we’d do this the day before. Perfect.

We were joined by several area friends. Christine Favilla of the Piasa Palisades Sierra Club has been organizing a clean-up in Alton every year (This year it's part of the Earthtones Festival in Alton on Saturday, Sept 19). She brought her expertise to the house. Karla Wilson has been an organizer and crew member with us for years and helped with set up. Tom Ball, a lifelong river educator and cleaner, was on board from the minute he heard about it. Jeff Barrow, Anthony Pettit, Melanie Cheney and me all came from Columbia.

The Whole Foods crew showed up right on time. Marcia Whelan and Jill Duncan organized the affair, and we had 14 team members show up. Which is an awesome number for a spur of the moment clean-up during the work week! Plus, it was perfect, because we could have one group for each boat – which makes for a better group bonding experience.

We split into to groups: one headed straight to Confluence Point State Park (“The Awesomes”) while the other headed upstream to finish cleaning a rack-pile we’d started in March (“The Copperheads”). Pretty soon the bags started rolling in…

After we dropped off most of the Copperheads, we kept two of them and headed downstream a little ways to clean-up the fishermen accesses. It was a treat, because they were cleaner than ever before. I think people are catching on! Then we snagged a Coast Guard buoy from an eddy where it had washed up.

We returned to the main group just as they were finishing up. We loaded up and headed down to the Confluence, so they could see the joining of the nation’s two biggest rivers – an experience everyone in the area should have. Because the Missouri was so high, its current headed straight out into the Mississippi – quite a sight. Tom Ball gave a talk about the area, and some of the industrial pollution it has suffered in recent memory. Then we headed to Confluence Point to meet up with the others. On our way in, we got a lesson in silver carp – they were jumping around us like popcorn but none got in the boat!

Everyone took a picture at the Confluence, then we boarded boats and headed back to Columbia Bottom ramp.

Lunch was served: yummy Whole Foods sandwiches, fruit and snacks. Everyone got a Missouri Stream Team shirt, and then we were on our way. The best reward, in addition to the over ½ ton of trash we picked up in short order, was a remark by Marcia Whelan. She said she was almost driven to tears several times by the experience. “It was just amazing to be out here, to be out on the river. This is real life and we got to come out and help clean the river.” Real life, indeed!

Check out our flickr file of photos from the day:

Special thanks to St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District for donating the dumpster and to Crown Excell for delivering it.

And, as always, thanks to Columbia Bottom Conservation Area for giving us permission to run our event out of their awesome ramp. This area is a gem – featuring seasonal wetlands, bottomland forest and wet prairies, it is a haven for migrating waterfowl, amphibians, small mammals and deer and pollinating insects. And it’s part of a much larger (and growing) complex of public lands managed for wildlife in the Confluence Greenway area.

Here’s a little piece of news about Columbia Bottom: a local developer is considering putting in a casino and resort complex just south of this amazing wetland and floodplain resource. For more information, check out the Belleville Daily News story:

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