Spring River Excursions
La Benite Park, Sugar Creek, MO
April 11, 2010
April 11, 2010
text by Vicki Richmond, photos by Vicki Richmond and Jim Armer
Missouri River Relief has become famous in some circles for providing a terrific opportunity to meet the Big Muddy face to face in all of her seasons. We’ve been out there in freezing cold, bundled in blankets, we’ve been out there with the rain driving into our faces, and we’ve been out there roasting in the hot sun. But the river shows her softer side now, in the spring, when the water is chilly, the sand damp and the willows just greening.
As a River Relief staffer, there is much in our day that just isn’t as pleasant as being on the water! The phone and computer, trucks and trailers, fliers and t-shirts become the train that we ride to each new destination. Some weeks we don’t even see the river we are passionate about. And the weeks that we do become the real payday.
Hosting people on the river is more complicated that one might think. We must over think each step in the day- supplies, food, shelter, banners, tables, transportation- all with the end result that folks have met the river and found her a friend. We depend on devoted and dedicated crew to provide a stress-free experience.
Missouri Master Naturalists Field Trip
In February’s chill I received a call from Bill Fessler asking if we’d be available to take the Osage Trails Chapter of the Missouri Master Naturalists on the Missouri for a field trip and small-scale clean up. We checked the schedule and decided that April 11 was going to be the day! Bill, acting as liaison to the group on MRR’s behalf got the word out and the sign-up rolling. Supplies and t-shirts generously provided through the Missouri Stream Team program were loaded into the truck. A trip to the grocery store provided a picnic lunch. An early start was planned, to be ready for the team of Naturalists joining us at La Benite to be shuttled to the “350 bar”, a constructed island and chute located just down stream of the park. The KC crew has found this island to be a little paradise, and often take crew practicing their boat operation skills there for practice.
A beautiful weekend was forecast, and with the early start in mind, the little crew assembled decided to put the boats in the water on Saturday and enjoy a night camping on the island. Putting the boats in the water at 5:30 pm on Saturday sounded a lot more enticing that splashing them at 5:30 am on Sunday to be ready!
We shared the island with many nests of Canada geese who were a little miffed by our presence. We’d brought the dogs along with us, two young Labradors who carefully brought us unbroken eggs in their soft mouths. Several trips back to the nests to replace eggs were conducted, until the “girls” understood that the eggs were to remain cozy and warm in the down nests and were not something to be brought to camp! A midnight swim distracted the pups thanks to Ruth. I imagine the geese were more relieved that the people who were to share tents with the wet, tired pups!
The Osage Trails chapter of the Master Naturalists is a special group of people. They have spent nearly 4 months in training classes, honing their knowledge of Missouri’s natural history. Each member must provide at least 40 hours of service each year, helping out on projects as varied as the naturalists themselves. They execute a Capstone Project- sort of an Eagle Scout on steroids effort- that provides a learning experience and sustainable project for the citizens of Missouri. All told, this was a group that could be expected to be raring to go!
In the morning’s dim light, Bill and I prepared the boats and readied the supplies. Ruth remained in camp to tidy up the area and do a brief scout for trash. We pulled the two boats off of the sand and headed back to La Benite where a dozen naturalists waited patiently to board boats. After a brief safety session, the Naturalists donned lifejackets and were boarded into boats for a shuttle to the island. I cut the motor and offered a brief interpretation of the island, the chute and the rules of the road, river style! As we drifted, the inevitable questions came pouring out.
“Is it safe to canoe the Missouri?” Absolutely!
“Is that a whirlpool that will suck us down?” Not even close! The sand bed of the river is always moving and creates funnels of water that appear round. Just think of playing with the hose as a kid- remember the bigger the hole, the bigger the swirls of water?
“Is the water safe to drink?” Millions of people in 10 states and part of Canada drink Missouri River water after passing through a drinking water treatment plant.
“Are we there, yet?”
The boats pulled onto the sand with a quick “little bump” warning from the captains. Crew on the island offered a hand to those exiting the boats. “Grab a t-shirt and fill your water bottles, get some gloves and a couple of extra bags. We’ll shuttle you around to the spots where the trash has gathered.” The island became a bevy of activity as folks fanned out and began grabbing the trash that was caught in each and every pile of driftwood. The geese again moved away with the onslaught of so many humans.
One bag became two and two bags ten as the trash quickly began to pile up along the shoreline. A tire appeared, with its rescuer covered in mud and smiles. People began to feel comfortable on the sand, and started the inevitable catalogue of “oh my moments” that we are privileged to be a part of. No morels yet. Goose nests everywhere. Trash that has made its way down from 3 states away. Sun. Wind. Sand. The river slowly offers up her treasures until, with a job literally in the bag, we boarded boats again to be brought t o the tip of the island to enjoy a campfire and hot dog lunch.
With heads full of wind and water, and bellies full of hot dogs cooked expertly on sticks, we began the slow migration back to the boats to return these stalwarts to La Benite and their cars. A group was coming in the afternoon to haul the trash away. The job of the Mater Naturalists was done. 40 or so bags of trash, with two tires were the morning’s haul.
Woodruff Sweitzer on the River
River Relief has a unique opportunity this year. We responded to an RFP that offered the assistance of a prestigious marketing and communications agency that would assist MRR in growing our program. We are honored to have been chosen by the staff of Woodruff Sweitzer, a “next generation agency delivering unexpected ideas, nurtured in fresh air.” “Fueled by an entrepreneurial spirit, Woodruff Sweitzer is able to propel clients and their brands farther, faster.” We see it as a perfect fit!
So, how do you truly introduce a staff of marketing geniuses to our program? Well, we take them out on the river and pick up trash!
Jeff arrived from Columbia, ready to take the new additions to our tribe out on the river. The first step is always the same- safety briefing and lifejackets! These bright faces, some weary from a 2 hour trip, boarded boats and began trip similar to the one conducted earlier that morning. I watched this from the tiller of another boat, but saw the same gleam in the eye and questioning faces I had seen just hours before.
Again, déjà vu! The boats pulled up to the now warming sand and eager hands were clasped as the group left the boats. Again, a brief orientation and introduction to the island and chute prepared these new volunteers for their part of the day. Jeff again loaded people onto the boat and began the slower process of picking up the trash bagged and left behind earlier that day.
I stayed back on the island, putting away supplies and repacking the tools used so recently. The rest of the story is second hand- but I can imagine the tone and tenor of the trip back.
As a group, we “pass the feather”, offering our best moment of the day. Jeff was fortunate to facilitate this process, hearing first hand the impressions of the gathered volunteers. Jeff returned from delivering the trash to the ramp and the people to their cars wreathed in smiles.
It seems the river made many new friends this day!
We could not do these events without the help of generous sponsors and our hard working crew.
Special thanks to the Friends of Lakeside Nature Center, Stream Team #175 who provided bags, gloves and shirts courtesy of the Stream Team Program.
Thanks to our crew- Bill Fessler, Ruth Van Wye, Dylan Lehrbaum, Jim Armer and Yassi Armer (yes, Yassi is 3 and very adept at holding a line!) for all of their help. Thanks to Michael Richmond for once again wrangling food for hungry volunteers.
Thanks to Jeff Barrow, MRR Director for setting up the day with Woodruff Sweitzer, and again to Bill Fessler for setting up our day with the Osage Trails Chapter of the Missouri Master Naturalists.