May 13, 2011

Upriver to Omaha!

Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up
Riverfront Marina - Narrows River Park
April 30, 2011
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Steve Schnarr & Vicki Richmond

We headed upriver on Thursday, April 28 to begin a string of clean-ups for a week and a half. First, we’d be taking on Omaha-Council Bluffs. After wrapping that up, we’d be going to the Missouri National Recreational River near Gayville, SD, to help the National Park Service clean-up an old farm dump for a couple days. Then we were splitting up crews and doing a cleanup in the Siouxland area as well as helping Yankton with their annual event.

We drove straight to the Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs to set up camp for the weekend. We camped in a beautiful stand of cottonwoods on the river side of the levee just a short walk from the river. Dave Stous drove up from KC and met us at the site, helping us throw up our Flying Nun kitchen tent and gather wood.

Because it was Racin’ Dave’s birthday, we headed into the Old Market area looking for a good steak. We found them, but were shocked when we saw the prices on the menu. In typical Racin’ style, though….price was no object. Sombra even got a really good bone out of the deal…

A Boat Full of “Dignitaries”
We got our boats in the water in the morning, and headed downstream to meet our first passengers of the weekend at the Riverfront Marina near the Qwest Center. We were taking the mayors from each town as well as the Colonel from the Omaha District Corps of Engineers out on the river (as well as our partner Jolene Hulsing from the Corps). Our second boat took out some local media as well.

River Trip with Omaha & Council Bluff Mayors & Army Corps

We showed everyone what we would be working on the next day – some of the abandoned camps you could see from the river and debris scattered by the 2010 floods. But the main topic of conversation was the high river levels and what predictions were for the spring and summer. Because of the late, cool spring the Corps had just revised their runoff predictions and were in the process of ramping up releases from upriver dams to make room for more mountain snowmelt. Any major rainfall in the James or Big Sioux Rivers is likely to make things dicey down in Omaha.

Prairie Wind
As we headed back to the marina, the wind really started to kick in. As we began our scout in the afternoon, it got worse. One stretch just up from the I-80 bridge became a maelstrom with 3 – 4 foot waves rolling upstream. Anthony and Jody stayed at camp to keep an eye on the Nun, which was pulling stakes and loosening cords. The wind kept up until late evening and rolled throughout the cleanup. It wasn’t til Saturday evening that it really let up, although we’d be battling prairie wind the rest of the week.

Crews arrive
Before and after the scout, crews continued to arrive. Brady, Mel and the Franks rolled up with a boat. Jeanie and Jonesy showed up and immediately Jeanie whipped the kitchen into shape. Each clean-up we have a “Food Angel” who is in charge of the kitchen. Jeanie is the original and best Food Angel on the bench. She pre-cooks everything to make preparation simple and easy. And completely revamped our kitchen set-up to fight the wind. We had two guys manning the stove to relight it everytime a gust puffed it out. David Richter, Bill Fessler, Larry Shepard, Vicki Richmond and the Dewitte family rolled in to beef up the crew.

The Clean-up
A couple of our boats needed to be put in at the Narrows River Ramp, so several vehicles headed up that way. Only to find the (mostly flooded) ramp blocked by a massive tree. It took some serious creative wrangling to get it out of there, but that’s why we’ve got Racin Dave and Indi.

Clearing the ramp
Team Tardy!
The rest of the crew set up registration and dispatch at the Marina, boats arrived and the game was on. We were treated to some really great Americana tunes by the River Town String Band (who also stuck around for lunch – thank you guys!!!) Volunteers trickled in nice and easy and we got them right out on the river. We had lots of great groups, from Gallup Green Team, Corum Deo Church, Stalnaker MC and Lamp Rynearson & Assoc. A crew of ConAgra Foods employees headed by van to a landsite under the I-80 bridge where they quickly created a huge pile of trash by the river.

The ConAgra Crew

Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up 4-30-11

After all the boats were out, we pieced together a crew of River Relief diehards to tackle what became known as the Mansion Camp – an abandoned tent/tarp complex on the side of the river that had been flooded last year and strewn throughout the woods. When those guys made it back, they went straight for the hand-washing station.

After several hours of hard work, everyone returned to the marina for lunch and the trash contest.

Here’s the entry for the “Most Fashionable Trash”:

"Most Fashionable Trash"

And here’s the “Best Darn Find of the Day”:

Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up 4-30-11

Then the trash haul was on.

Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up 4-30-11
This was Indi’s first time hauling trash, and everyone was extremely impressed with his boat handling skills in the crazy wind. (He often gets stuck running a skid steer at the ramp). We were lucky that Council Bluffs Public Works showed up with a front-end loader. I didn’t catch the operator’s name, but he stuck around to the very end and was amazed at all the work the volunteers did. (Quote of the Day: You guys came all the way from Missouri to clean our river?)

We all returned to camp, exhausted but smiling. And the wind finally died down. We gathered around the campfire and exchanged stories from the day.

On to the next clean-up!!!!

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