August 16, 2009

Formed by a river - the MR340 phenomena

Missouri River 340
Kaw Point Park to the Lewis and Clark Boathouse
Kansas City to St. Charles
August 4-7, 2009
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Vicki Richmond
(for more photos, see our flickr page:

The Mission of Missouri River Relief is not limited to cleaning up trash on her banks. To get our citizens to work for the health of the Missouri River, we first need to get people to know her. Get people out on the river. Through action on the river, we work to create ripples that will, in the short and long run, change the way people view the river. And therefore, change the way people treat her.

No event that I’ve been witness to accomplishes this goal like the Missouri River 340. This paddler race, from Kansas City to St. Charles gets a bunch of people who have never been on the river together with others that have already fallen under her spell. They start training on the river, learning about its communities, its weird, fickle ways, and the mysteries of navigating it. They get out on it at night, when moonlight transforms the river into a wilderness of water. They discuss intricacies of the Missouri River on the race forum.

Because of this, Missouri River Relief is honored to be a part of this massive river ramble. We provide safety boats on the river during the race, available to respond to calls for help or rescue. We get to meet the racers at checkpoints and on the river, becoming part of that roving family sweating its way downstream.

I remember one of the first times I paddled on the Missouri River, over a decade ago. We put in at Rocheport, grabbing a snack at the Trailside Café before hitting the river. The owners of the store, when hearing of our plans, begged us not to get on the river, warning of whirlpools that would suck our boat down and currents impossible to navigate through.

Luckily, my friend had been paddling on the river many times, so we thanked them for their concern and hit the river. As the sun set and the moon rose, lighting up the Manitou Bluffs, we rarely set our paddles in the water, letting the current gently twist our boat around.

And we saw no one else on the river that night.

It’s usually like that here in mid-Missouri. We often see fishermen, and their numbers are growing – working trot lines and jugs, line fishing and exploring newly opened side chutes. Jet Skis and speedboats pop up on the weekends. But you can often get out on the river and see nobody.

What really popped out at me this year was the number of paddlers out on the river. Anytime of the week, paddling at night, making miles. This is part of a general growth in Big Muddy paddling, thanks to the work of people like Brett Dufur, Mike Clark and Heather Bass – taking large groups of folks paddling on the river to show how it’s done. And all the other folks who gave it a try and then told their friends how cool it was.

Let’s face it, the word is spreading: the Missouri River is huge, its channel is strong and tricky, it’s remote in some places and it changes day to day. But in most situations, a good paddler can be as safe out there as on any small stream in the Ozarks. And the feeling of floating silently on top of the flow from 1/6 of the United States is powerful.

But there is no doubt to me that the explosion of Big Muddy paddling this year was because of the Race. Racers spent their free time getting out on the river and learning its ways, practicing their strokes and pace. They exchanged tips about certain tricky bends of the river and discussed nighttime barge lighting.

During the last night of the race, I was walking down the road in New Haven, picking up passing discussions amongst ground crews, those dedicated souls that gave up a week of their lives to make sure their friend or family was safe, fed and cheered as they approached each checkpoint. I heard some people that didn’t really know this river before this race. Talking about wing dikes and chutes, Berger Bend and Asian carp.

All the checkpoint volunteers become instant ambassadors for their town, and they see “their” boat ramp or riverside park from the point of view of these flocks of visitors by road and by river. They meet each and every racer that passes through on their shift, and chat with the ground crews.

Everyone meets everyone else. It’s a web of relationships formed by a river.

We’re honored to play a part in this drama, and we learn a ton every year. Thanks to Scott, Karin, Russ and Travis for inviting us to help. These are some of the most generous and humble folks you’d want to meet.

Rivermiles, the organizers of the race, have selected MRR as their charitable partner. Proceeds from sticker sales from the race go to support our efforts. Racers organize fundraisers to donate more money. Some racers even donate their awards to our clean-ups. It all creates a kind of synergy that is impossible to describe.

We are humbled by the generosity and good will of all the racers and the race staff.

Special thanks to:

Jeff Totten and Larry Day – these guys raised $800 in a local fundraiser for MRR, and $800 for another charity.
Bryan Hopkins – and others put on a paddling clinic and raised $360!
Alpine Shop Team – They asked customers to donate to MRR during the race.
David and Teresa Lackey – placed a sticker order for $200!
Carol Heddinghaus and Abigail Tuttle (team "We Got This, Go Home!") - won second place in Womens' Tandem and donated their award to MRR - $250 in quarters from Tiny Bubbles Laundromat!
Natalie Courson – Donated her 2nd place award to us: 62.50!
Jason Locke, David Hill – both donated $100.00!
Don Wilkison - who donated $68.00!
JoJo Newbold - she helped us at a fundraiser at Whole Foods Market in Brentwood!

Special recognition to “Team Kruger – Race to Heal” - this three-boat fleet included a team with 12 and 14 year-old friends that raised over 10,000 for breast cancer research!
Check out their blog here.

And special thanks to Thad Lefebvre, who has donated hundreds of dollars worth of welding on River Relief boats, including one last minute job the week before the race!


Warrior Ant Press Worldwide Anthill Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. said...

nice job river relief. a great pleasure to see your smiling faces all up and down the river. your input is really helping to make this event grow as well as to increase awareness of river issues and the importance of community in making things happen. river relief and rivermiles are doing some awesome, positive things for all of us. rock on.

River Notes said...

Thanks MOI -
may you continue to spread the information, and may it find the right places for action to happen.

Someone just gave a friend of mine a bumper sticker that says "An activist is not the one that says the river is dirty, but the one who cleans it up." I immediately thought, well that's not quite right because I know some extremely active people who are working their tails off to tell us just what kind of crap we are putting in our rivers. And the picture in my mind was the Warrior Ant sampling after rainstorms in the Blighted Blue.