May 2, 2010

Stories from Washington

Washington River Festival and Missouri River Clean-up
Rennick Riverfront Park, Washington, MO
April 17, 2010

text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Vicki Richmond, Melanie Cheney, Tom Ball

(for more photos, stories, links etc, see our Washington event webpage. )

Man, did we have a good time in Washington.

In fact, there was so much going on, most of us only got a glimpse at a few pieces of the whole. Here’s a few stories that happened that people have passed along to me.

Drift Piles and Willow Thickets and Box Dikes
It’s been several years of high water along the Lower Missouri River. Much of the trash along the river has been pushed up high in the floodplain. The Washington reach of the river is really productive agricultural land with little public land. So a lot of the trash volunteers recovered was from piles of driftwood pushed together by flooding eddies.

The river levels had dropped a lot in the previous week, as low as it’s been in months. The low willow thickets that gather trash were actually locked behind exposed rock dikes that had been underwater just a week before. We call these “box dikes” because the rock walls actually box the areas off from our clumsy motorboats. This all meant a lot of work for the volunteers that were bagging up trash and hauling it to where our trash boats could pick them up. Or rolling refrigerators or tires. These were a tough bunch of volunteers!

The Augusta Bottoms Scour Hole
Last time we went to Washington in 2008, a group of Augusta Bottoms residents pointed out some trash in the series of “blew holes” along August Bottoms Rd. Unfortunately, our clean-up that day was cancelled because of a flooding Missouri River and we didn’t have enough volunteers to pull it off.

This time, Scot Heidbrink and Bernie Arnold led a team of Kohl’s employees and locals to tackle the site. Once they started, they found they couldn’t stop. What looked like some recent dumping turned out to be about 25 tires and two trailer-loads of junk illegally dumped along the road.

This was one of several scour holes dug out in the 1993 and 1995 floods. Still popular fishing holes, they are home to migrating flocks of waterfowl and are crammed with turtles. It felt good to get them cleaned out! Hopefully we can come back when the water is really low!

Colter’s Clean-up by Canoe
The Wyman Center contacted us several months ago. Jason Rose, the Wyman Program Manager, was entering the Missouri River 340, a canoe race we are involved in, and checked out our website. He was intrigued and offered the Wyman’s canoe fleet for a clean-up in the area. We chose the Washington clean-up for our trial run.

The group met at the Washington ramp early and headed up to Colter’s Landing, where the Wyman Fleet was waiting. Big Muddy Adventures’ Betsy Tribble and Mike Clark arrived with the Clipper Canoe – a massive 10-person canoe just begging to haul trash. Everyone headed downstream on the Boeff Creek gathering trash as they went. The coolest thing they found wouldn’t fit in a canoe - our trash boat had to pick it up later: a really nice picnic table buried in a sandbank. We took it to our riverside cabin the next day!

The mouth was the first stop, and several trashy spots along the way. Luckily, the Washington Boat Club Commodore Fred Hartbank and a couple of his buddies grabbed lunches and headed up to meet the paddlers for lunch around 1 p.m.. Then the canoe clean-up crew had the energy to finish ‘er off!

River Celebration!
Last time we attempted a clean-up in Washington, Mike Smith volunteered to help coordinate it. Then his good friend, Gloria Attoun Bauermeister offered to organize a river festival in conjunction with the clean-up. That was 2008…the clean-up ended up flooded out, but the festival went on as planned.

This year it was even bigger and better. With music from local river lovers, educational booths on a wide variety of river and nature-related topics, art and good food – it was a true celebration of the river that remains the center of life in Washington.

The World Bird Sanctuary kicked it all off with their popular display of rehabilitated raptors from around the world. The whole festival wrapped up with an old-timey dance, complete with a dance caller. In the meantime, a lot of families got to get involved in hands-on art projects, a bird walk with Bill Davit, and a whole lot of learning about local organizations dedicated to history, restoration, care of our resources and more.

Kohl’s and Washington Middle School
Two of our largest groups were from the Washington Kohl’s store and the Washington Middle School Environmental Club. Because of a great national program through Kohl’s, the two groups teamed up to work both on the river and the Augusta Bottoms site.
The bonus: Kohl’s will be donating $1,500 to the Environmental Club! According to Club faculty sponsor Michael Batsie, the club will use the funds to purchase new recycling bins for the school, as well as t-shirts and native plant training for the environmental club. An absolute win-win for everyone!

We were pleased that our crew was invited back to Michael and Gloria’s little piece of paradise in the Augusta Bottoms. The former site of a little railroad town called Nona, the old general store is now the studio and gallery for Michael Bauermeister’s amazing wooden sculptures. We set up our kitchen under the awning, camped in the yard around and enjoyed the beautiful spring evening after the clean-up. Many friends from Washington, Augusta and St. Louis joined us for an evening campfire and “pass the feather”, where everyone told a story about how the day went for them.

Many thanks to the many cooks who kept us fed all weekend. It was truly a group effort!

We were kept company all weekend by several barred owls. Josh got this picture of one of them!

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