May 20, 2010

River Relief goes to Yankton

A few notes & thoughts from our recent trip up to Yankton, S.D.
...a clean-up "Away Team" organized by Keep Yankton Beautiful.
by Melanie Cheney
photo by Paul Lepisto

At our rate, the trip from Columbia, MO up to Yankton, S.D. usually requires a 10 hour drive. Hauling a 2 ton, 25-foot plate boat behind you in a driving North wind up in the plains isn't easy. We arrived at the Cottonwoods Campground in Yankton where the temperature had dropped into the 40s, with sustaining winds and bursts up to 40-50 mph. If it wasn't for Soda Popp who had drug his house on wheels behind him all the way from Jeff City, I would have been miserable all night long as the temps dropped down in the 30s and the winds continued to howl!!!

We met up with the KC crew who had arrived a few hours earlier, built a big fire, and discussed a game plan for the clean-up we were working the next morning. Luckily by the time the sun came up, the winds died down, and the sun warmed the 100 volunteers who also showed up bright & early that morning. Apart from the chilly boat ride on the river, it turned out to be a beautiful day!

We used our two plate boats to haul volunteers & trash, & just like that it was over. It was pretty clean up there as this was the 7th annual clean-up on that stretch, and we pretty much just cleaned up after the thoughtless fisherman who enjoy good fishing right below the 1st dam on this beautiful stretch of river. I collected about 1 bag of fishing line & styrofoam bait boxes alone. We ate lunch & headed back to camp.

In the afternoon, the sun shining, & the wind as still as could be, we took a little field trip over the dam to an overlook & trail on the big lake which is really, our river. We didn't walk very far before a little side trail appeared & we followed it to the most unexpected & beautiful beach in the Mid-West I have ever seen! It felt like a scene out of the Goonies or something. Huge chalk bluffs towered over the water, waves lapping at the soft pebbled beach, the sun reflecting into our faces, and we just sat there & soaked it up until our bellies started rumbling. Wishing we could stay for sunset, we headed back for camp.

We had a wonderful evening of camaraderie with our River Relief companions, new & old, we told stories around the campfire, & got a good nights rest before starting the next leg of our adventures.

Highlights from the days ahead included a 3 day & night stay in Ponca State Park (due to continual foul weather) on the Rec River with the Stous', a one day float thru a small stretch of river where I must have seen at least 30 different species of birds, one of which was a scene I'll not forget, Wild Turkey's in their full on courtship spreads trying to lure the females away from the other Toms, and several hikes around the area in search of our favorite Spring mushroom, the Morel. And best of all, the company of old friends cooking together & sitting around a campfire at night was just so nice. This relaxing little "mini" vacation also allowed me to get some good reading done in a wonderful book a friend lent us called "The Whale Warriors", which I highly recommend!

On our way home, we stopped at the Desoto Fish & Wildlife Refuge, an old ox-bow lake that had been cut off from the river with the coolest visitor center I've ever been to. They had excavated an old cargo steam ship and we got to see everything the ship was carrying in it when it went down. It was full of old tools, tonics, clothes, food stuffs, oil lamps, toiletries, you name it! In addition, huge picture windows & viewfinders looked out over the lake. It was still cold & drizzly out, and I only saw one lonely pelican. But it was a great stop on our long trip back to Missouri.

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