April 21, 2011

Big Boats, a Cast Iron Tub and Icy Snow

Confluence Trash Bash
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area – 
Cora Island Unit of the Big Muddy Refuge  
March 28, 2011
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Melanie Cheney
Check out all of our photos from Confluence Trash Bash 2011 by clicking here. 

I’m attempting to catch up on blogs about the great clean-ups we’ve been helping with lately…Bear with me!

The Confluence Trash Bash is a really unique event. People from several different creek watersheds join in to have a massive stream and river clean-up on the same day. The connecting tissue of all of these watersheds is that muddy water that runs out of the Missouri River and hugs the west side of the Mississippi as it flows downstream.

The event is a partnership of countless community groups. The Confluence Partnership, Trailnet and the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District lead the way, but everybody makes it happen.

Confluence Trash Bash 3-26-11
photo by Melanie Cheney

While hundreds of community volunteers scoured the streams through their North St. Louis towns, we were one of several big river sites that day. And it should be said (as always, it seems, with the Confluence Trash Bash), the weather wasn’t the best.

Here's the other two big river sites:
Big Muddy Adventures and River Kids hopped in canoes to clean up Mosenthein Island – the massive forested island in the only “non-navigable” stretch of the Mississippi channel.They estimated piling up over 2 tons of tires, barrels and bagged up trash...which they spent the next couple days hauling to shore in canoes.

The Piasa Palisades Sierra Club and the Corps of Engineers tackled two big sites on either side of the Alton bridge on the Alton Pool of the Mississippi.4 tires, a recliner and the parts of a meth lab....so good to get that stuff out of there! Good work guys!

We put folks out in boats from the Columbia Bottom access. Because of the cold, blustery conditions and the threat of snow, many folks that signed up for our Missouri River site just plain didn’t show up. The solution to that was to rob volunteers from other sites that had more than enough.

The site groups were all gathered on straw bale rings near registration. One by one I was able to ask the groups…who wanted to help us on the big river - where it was cold, windy and dangerous. Most people would look at each other and shake their heads. A few in each group smiled. Those folks got maps from me and headed to Columbia Bottom.

In bad weather, there are two clean-up sites near Columbia Bottom that people can always work on. The cool thing is - they are directly across the river from each other just a mile and a half upstream of the boat ramp.

One is a low bank, outside bend spot that always collects tons of trash coming out of Coldwater Creek. Always lots of toys.

Confluence Trash Bash 3-26-11
photo by Melanie Cheney

The other is an old farm dump on the newly opened Cora Island Unit of the Big Muddy Refuge. We’ve been working on this for several years – along with a contractor with the Army Corps of Engineers. The heavy equipment hauled out the big stuff, volunteers are sweeping up everything else the hard way.

Confluence Trash Bash 3-26-11
photo by Melanie Cheney

Shovels and pry bars, ropes and teamwork. And it is just amazing to see the difference!  This year’s prize was a cast iron tub. It took six people to haul out through the cottonwood forest.

How many river rats does it take to move a cast iron tub?
 photo by Melanie Cheney

The piles that grew on both sides of the river were amazing. And felt so good.

After several hours of scouring the banks for trash, we hauled most folks back to shore. They were headed back to a great lunch and celebration at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Trash Contest…the whole deal.

We headed back out to bring all that trash back before the predicted snow. A whole bunch of folks stuck around for the trash haul, and it went smooth as it could be. As we finished, a hot lunch arrived from the Bridge and we hunkered down in the new Columbia Bottom pavilion and feasted.

Here's a beautiful thing: as we came off the river, all of our friends from the area that just finished up their sites came to help us finish off ours...and clean our tools and pack up. If my face wasn't froze I would've cried.

Confluence Trash Bash 3-26-11
photo by Melanie Cheney

We trailered our boats full of trash. Landfill junk got offloaded at the dumpster at the ramp. Everything else (tires, scrap metal, a cracked tub) we kept in the boats and dragged to the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge….that amazing, crooked pedestrian bridge across the Mighty Miss. We added our pile of junk to the amazing pile that people had gathered all day in a string of dumpsters full of metal, trash bags and tires.

Confluence Trash Bash 3-26-11
photo by Melanie Cheney

The ride home was into the teeth of the snowstorm, trying to get our boats and vans back home while we could still park them in our boat yard. It worked, but our boats and vehicles were all coated with a half inch of ice by the time we made it back home.

The snow was gone by the next afternoon.

Icy boat
photo by Melanie Cheney