October 17, 2009

A Magical Evening on the river

River Camp Sandbar Banquet
California Island
Manitou Bluffs Conservation Opportunity Area
September 17, 2009

text by Steve Schnarr
photos by Dory Colbert, Steve Schnarr, Melanie Cheney, Ruthie Moccia, Francis Baum, Vicki Richmond
click here to see the photo file from the day

There are a couple of core beliefs that lie behind everything Missouri River Relief does. The first is that if you get enough people working together on a common project, the impossible becomes possible. The second is that if your goal is to engage citizens in the health and future of the river, you first have to get them out on it. By direct experience and action, the river becomes “our” river.

Much of our effort is put toward river clean-ups and education, but we have long had this desire to get our partners and sponsors together out on the river to meet each other and enjoy a perfect moment out on the river. What a better way than to have a fantastic dinner with music, a stunning river backdrop on our favorite sandbar?

So right in the middle of our River Camp week, we invited hundreds of friends to hop on a boat and enjoy a feast on California Island.

As with everything that happened this week, the weather was absolutely perfect. Of the 500 things that could have gone wrong, none of them did. A brisk, sand blowing wind died down just as the first guests began to arrive.

The work began on Wednesday, as friends began arriving at Katfish Katy’s in Huntsdale to load boats with tables, chairs, plates, tablecloths, wine glasses and more (most of our serving infrastructure was generously donated by Lindsey Rentals in Columbia, thanks to connections with our crewmember Liz Doubet). Over the next twenty-four hours, there was a steady stream of help arriving to the island, and suddenly what had seemed impossible was taking shape.

Tables were set up in a half-moon like spokes around the campfire. A bar was set up next to our flying nun tent, ready to serve up lemonade, tea, beer and wine (all donated). Tammy Becker and Shanon Rieneke from our friends Living Lands and Waters came with two plate boats for hauling passengers, and an extra cargo of catfish to fry up, caught fresh on the Mississippi River.

Jim Karpowicz, River Relief founder and board member, had this idea of creating a scale model map of the Lower Missouri River (the stretch we’ve worked on so far, from the Gavin’s Point Dam on down to the Confluence). Ideas had been tossed around about how to do this, but when it came down to it, Joe Engeln’s geometrical mind met with the shovels of River Relief crew and a couple rolls of Missouri Stream Team trash bags and a blue ribbon of river became strung out through the sand.

Ruthie Moccia carefully scribed signs for each location along the river that we’ve done clean-ups and they got placed in the appropriate places. Wildflowers were collected, and mason jars filled with sandbar pebbles and tea lights. White tablecloths were stretched out, weighted down with handfuls of pebbles in each corner tucked in with rubberbands. Tiki torches were filled and strategically placed around the island.

Soda Popp rounded the bend in his little 6hp johnboat, loaded with coolers and fish-fry gear. Desmond Peters, our chef for the evening, loaded up a plate boat with food and desserts and began setting up his jambalaya machine. A bunch of new Americorps members from across the state, fresh out of their introductory training with the Missouri River Communities Network, arrived to set up camp and offer their services for the evening. They were quickly handed out duties doing parking, food table set up and prep. Rod Power’s two daughters, Roberta and Emma, showed up and immediately hopped in the kitchen to help Desmond prep.

Our dear friends “Naked” Dave Bandy, Mark Risch, Patty Farrar and Laura Billings brought out their instruments and began serenading the kitchen crew. Wood was piled in the fire pit, ready for a match.

Very suddenly, we looked around and, like a sandbar mushroom, an entire banquet set-up sprouted before our eyes (if you could ignore the slight nagging soreness of your back from schlepping each item on the island 2 or 3 times!).

And soon, the boats began arriving. Friends spilled onto the sandbar, many dropping their shoes as they hit the sand. Drinks were served as the kitchen frantically stirred, chopped, boiled and fried.

Pretty soon, most of the boats had arrived and Jeff Barrow grabbed Dave’s PA and gathered everyone by the river map sculpture. Everyone was asked to stand by their town, or their favorite place on the river. As I walked upstream, trying to figure out where my favorite place was, I heard comments like, “You’re from Kansas City, I had no idea!” and “Where’s the sign for Nona?”. Several of us headed up to Yankton, cuz we love it and someone needed to be up there. It was perfect.

Pretty soon, dinner was served…right on time! Delighted guests filled their plates and then filled the halo of tables. The sun was setting, and soon a crowd of faces were lit by the tea lights lining each table. Tiki torches flames sprouted around the island, and the band started up with a Missouri River tune.

Several guests had agreed to give brief talks (5 minutes, they were told…), but first we had an award to hand out. Last year we started a new award, the Troy Gordon Memorial Partner of the Year Award. In honor of our lost friend, the hard working force of nature behind the Friends of Big Muddy (and many other volunteer organizations dedicated to our natural world), we gave the first award to Big Muddy Refuge ranger Tim Haller.

This year, it seemed fitting, in the 20th Anniversary of the Missouri Stream Team program, that we would show our appreciation for the part of the program that had been the most active in working with us. Through the MO. Dept. of Conservation Stream Unit, we’ve received clean-up supplies, free promotion, assistance getting boat drivers for clean-ups, connections to other stream teams, water quality monitoring assistance and that most elusive of support: a stable funding stream. While all of the partners in the program have been extremely helpful and selfless, the Stream Unit has worked the closest with us.

Our board president handed out the award, a simple framed photo. We were lucky enough to have three representatives of the Unit to receive it, Sherry Fischer, Paul Calvert and (from Stream Team #1) Mark Van Patten.

We then heard brief talks about the importance of the river, and of gathering interest in stewardship of the river. Robb Jacobson from US Geological Survey discussed how hard science research is only one piece of the puzzle in river management that means nothing without the non-scientific public becoming aware and acting. Frank Kartmann from Missouri American Water spoke of the crucial importance of this huge river, and how the water it carries effects our lives in ways most of us don’t realize every day.

Barbara Moran from the Big Muddy Refuge described their efforts to reconnect the river with its floodplain, and to manage it for the benefit of wildlife. Our friend Bryan Hopkins, who has had a personal love affair with this muddy river for years, talked about the crucial importance of bringing attention to this resource. And he introduced the director of Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources, Mark Templeton. Mark had moved to Missouri to head the agency, and had never been on a Missouri River sandbar. And with that excited energy we’ve seen in so many folks introduced to this river, he vowed it wouldn’t be his last visit.

Then the music began again, with swirls of campfire sparks rising into the starry sky.

Each table setting had a small piece of paper asking folks to write or draw their “Vision for the Missouri River”. As dinner wound down, folks took those little cards and tied them to a driftwood sculpture created by Joe Kellenberger and set up on the water’s edge. We called it the “Vision Tree”, and we’ve compiled everyone’s comments and drawings for everyone to read. Click here to see those

Boats began shuttling folks back, as others hung around the campfire or took starlight walks along the beach. Dishes were collected and washed and packed. Our friends Michael and Gloria Bauermeister, the lone residents of Nona (a ghost town near Augusta), pulled out their instruments and jammed with everyone else. Foshees began to fly as Dave Mosby pulled out his djembe and started drumming.

Getting people out to and back from the island was a daunting challenge made possible by the help of Living Lands and Waters,Colby Wrasse and Wyatt Doyle from USFWS and our skilled River Relief operating crew. There were difficulties with night lighting systems, but we teamed up and made it work. Thankfully, John Brady had created a new lighting system for our boats that allowed us to use a spotlight and nav lights at the same time.

The final boatload went out at midnight, and we had to pull the last stragglers along with us (including chef Desmond and all his gear).

Since that evening, we’ve heard comments like “magical”, “unforgettable” and “better than our trip to Paris” !!! The magic came from the harnessing of a whole bunch of generosity, creativity, hard work, vision and love. Thank you to everyone who added their spark to the bonfire!

The evening was supported in part by grants and donations from-
Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation
Teaming With Wildlife
Conservation Federation of Missouri
Pat Jones
Jamie and Debbie Coe
Gloria and Michael Bauermeister
Here’s some of the folks who donated food, supplies and drinks to make it perfect:
Lindsey Rentals
Chef Desmond Peters
Susan Schapira of Abigail’s in Rocheport
Commercial fisherman Chad Izaak
Les Bourgeois Vineyards
Wenwood Farms
Redwood Creek Wines
Flatbranch Pub and Brewing
Rick Goodman of Rainbow Produce
Missouri River Communities Network
Americorps Clean Water Assistant program

And extra special thanks to the River Relief crew that made it possible (and then tore it all down in the morning to head off to the Jeff. City Clean-up!)
Liz Doubet
Melanie Cheney
Joe and Allison Kellenberger
John Brady
Racin’ Dave Stevens
Rod Power
Joe Engeln
Ruthie Moccia
Dyan Pursell
Jeff Barrow
Dave Richter
Vicki Richmond
Scot Heidbrink
Anthony Pettit
Jim Karpowicz
Indi and Jody Frank
Francis Baum
Soda Popp
Desmond Peters
John Breyfogle
Josh and Sarah Pennington
Dory Colbert
Dave Huffman
Bill Fessler
Ruth Van Wye
And…a deep bow to the Missouri River Community Network folks and Americorps Clean Water Assistants that got thrown into the mix at the last minute, and shined!
Steve Johnson – MRCN
Sarah Pennington – MRCN
Julia Karll – MRCN
Lance Mallette – MRCN
Rebecca Spicer – MRCN
Rosanna Hernandez – Top of the Ozarks
Caroline King Toole – Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Assoc.
Kellie Herman – James River Basin Partnership
Noelle Wyman – MO Coaltion for the Environment

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