November 8, 2010

Back in ol' St. Joe

St. Joseph Missouri River Clean-up
French Bottom River Access and Boat Dock, St. Joseph, MO - Rivermile 150
October 16, 2010
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by John Wood, Hana Kellenberger, Vicki Richmond, Steve Schnarr, Alicia Pigg
(for more cool links and facts about this clean-up, click here)

I spent a lot of time in St. Joseph getting ready for this clean-up. It was originally scheduled for June 26, but St. Joe was experiencing its third highest flood since the dams were put in, and we had to postpone the event. With our busy summer and fall, October 16 turned out to be our free weekend.

So I got to return to St. Joe several times in the planning stages. When you postpone an event like this, you always kind of worry that the energy may fizzle out and you end up with a shadow of what could have been.

Luckily, in St. Joe, the opposite happened. More people got interested and the energy built. The line of folks at sign-up was impressive.

Many groups of scouts came to help, and it was like they were on a mission. Troop 45 turned the event into a campout on the river, setting up their headquarters in the woods behind the Remington Nature Center. Several local companies gathered together crews of employees to pitch in, including Missouri American Water and Boehringer-Ingelheim. Alpha Phi Omega chapters from 3 universities (including from Springfield!) showed up to help. Missouri Western State students from several clubs put it on their calendars.

River Rat on Duty
Our local “point of the spear” for getting the word out was Ken Reeder, a local river rat who’s made it his mission to reconnect St. Joseph to the river that created the city. Ken serves on the Missouri River Recovery Implementation Committee, a federally mandated group of stakeholders in the river that represent each state and tribe along the longest river in North America. He’s one of the few citizen members of the committee, traveling to meetings on his own dime and representing the interests of citizen recreation on the Lower Missouri River. Here's Ken in the yellow greeting returning clean-up volunteers.

Ken played a major role in acquiring funds for St. Joseph to install one of the few public boat docks on the Lower Big Muddy. He adopted this clean-up as his own, and even “adopted” the French Bottom Boat Ramp through the Missouri Stream Team “Adopt-an-access” program. He was invaluable in spreading the word about the event, and helping me meet the people I needed to make it happen smoothly.

Good Food is SOOOOO Important
One of the folks Ken introduced to me was Craig Traverse from Terrible’s St. Jo Frontier Casino. The casino is located right next the boat ramp. The restaurant has a great view of the river. Craig immediately offered to cater lunch. It’s been a while since we had lunch catered to a clean-up, but never with tables and chairs set up in a nice white-picket fenced yard next to the river with steamer trays full of a variety of lunch options. It was a great scene to see all the hard working volunteers eating good food together, wearing the variety of t-shirts we had available to give out.

Biologists Sampling River Trash
One of our biggest partners of the event was Missouri Dept. of Conservation. They brought 5 boats from two offices to haul volunteers, and helped spread the word in St. Joe and help me scout sites to tackle by land. A lot of these folks spend many days on the river, trying to gauge the health of the fish and wildlife that live in this massive, muddy ecosystem. The fact they are willing to hop on the river again, on their weekends, to help this effort makes us really proud.

On the right is MDC fisheries biologist Darby Niswonger introducing a new group of volunteers to the Missouri River.

Harold Kerns was the St. Joseph MDC fisheries supervisor when I first started working on this project and had been a huge help at our previous St. Joe event. He is also an area leader in the Boy Scouts, and really helped spread to word to troops what a valuable and fun experience this is for the boys. By the time the clean-up happened, though, he had retired and his local staff picked up the slack. Congrats on a great career, Harold, and may you have many more river days to enjoy!

Troop 45
The Boy Scout and Cub Scout troop that turned the weekend into a camp-out, Troop 45, decided to stick to land at the clean-up, and they scoured the part of Waterworks Rd. that skirts through Sun Bridge Conservation Area. They hopped in a couple of our vans driven by Racin’ Dave and John Brady and headed to this steep, narrow gravel road where folks have been dumping tires and trash for years.

Those scouts and their parents pulled 76 tires and a pickup truck and trailer full of junk out of that area. It was an astounding pile from some really hard working and fun volunteers. It was a pretty dangerous spot to be working, but everyone worked together and took their time and the work got done.

As a special treat, we all got to meet our Region 7 EPA Administrator Karl Brooks in the afternoon. He came out for the trash haul, to see all the work volunteers had done and help get it to shore. He immediately fit in - and saw the value of citizen cooperation in taking care of our environment. Here is helping unload a boat full of junk from the river:

French Bottoms Access, and the Remington Nature Center parking lot, was built on an old landfill and EPA Superfund site. There are several areas like this in different communities along the river. Where cities and companies once saw the river as a convenient dumping ground, communities are seeing these cleaned up dumpsites as opportunities to reconnect with the river.

Trash Contest
For some folks, the trash contest during lunch is the highlight. They’ve found these cool trash treasures on the river and it gives them a chance to show them off. The display of found goodies was awesome. A complete washers game set beat out a Spiderman fishing rod (still in the packaging) for “Best Darn Find of the Day.” Guess which of these won "Wierdest Trash"...

(it was the leg)
A Haven
After a day showing the river to hundreds of people, getting boats in and out of the water, hauling trash and rolling tires and barrels, putting pop-up tents up, then moving them, then taking them down, our volunteer River Relief crew is pretty exhausted. Having a really nice place to relax, crack open a cold barley-pop and eat a good meal around a campfire is key. Phil and Maryanne Weaver opened up their perfect riverside clubhouse up to us, and even let us dip into their firewood stash. Hy-Vee donated a supurb fresh catfish dinner and we traded stories over a campfire on a beautiful, clear night capped off with a moonlight boat ride around the bend. This is what keeps us coming back!

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