May 23, 2013

Mission: A Clean Missouri River in St. Charles

Mission: Clean Stream Missouri River Clean-up
St. Charles, MO - Bishop's Landing at the Lewis and Clark BoatHouse and Nature Center.
April 6, 2013
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Patty Farrar, Francis Baum and Melanie Cheney

 Arriving in town
When we drove into St. Charles on Thursday to get ready for Saturday’s cleanup our first stop was the Lewis and Clark BoatHouse and Nature Center, perched above the river at the mouth of Blanchette Creek. We dropped off boats and split up. Jeff Barrow headed to Columbia Bottom Conservation Area to pick up a boat and trailer we had stashed there and Melanie Cheney and I headed straight to University City to a gallery talk at the Regional Art Commission space on Delmar.

It had been a tough day already – getting everything ready to hit the road in the morning, dealing with a broke down truck, shifting plans around, getting on the road then hitting I-70 coming into rush hour. But when we walked to the front door of the gallery, there were two massive wooden wall panels done by our friend Michael Bauermeister (whose studio we’d be camping at for a week just a couple weeks later), relief carvings in basswood of a forest scene. We’d been asking for a good omen and we got one. 

Michele Ryker-Owens had invited us to be part of a panel discussion about the intersection of art and social activism. We denied being social activists but were honored and excited to be part of the discussion. The group was a class of Wash U. art students and a diverse bunch of locals interested in the art and conversation.  The setting was a group of chairs in the middle of the exhibit put together by Michele and Ron Fondaw. The exhibit was called “Shifting Ground”. There was a collection of vintage globes slightly misaligned with plumb bobs dangling from above, a pool swirling with driftwood, a moss mosaic of the Mississippi watershed and a collection of sculptures you had to walk across a bed of broken ceramics and peer through a distorted window to view. 

But mostly fantastic conversation inspired by art and action. An awesome beginning to a weekend of work on the Missouri. 

Taking over the BoatHouse Beach
The Flying Nun kitchen tent. photo by Patty Farrar
We woke up to fresh coffee and jazz radio on the beach. Our friend Craig had moved in overnight and started a fire. Other friends showed up and soon the Flying Nun kitchen tent was up on the beach between the Lewis and Clark BoatHouse and the river. We call it the front yard. They call it the back yard. After lunch we were ready to scout the river. 

As always, we found some great sites for volunteers to clean up. Every year some sites get further from the river as the deep trash gets cleaned up, but others always need some work.

We had two friends join us that were about to leave on big journeys. Some bigger than others. Janet Moreland was about to head up to Montana to seek out the source of the Missouri River and follow it to its confluence with the Mississippi. She is going to ski, then bike, then paddle from Brower’s Spring to the Confluence. Her expedition is called Love Your Big Muddy, and you can follow it on her website or, with more frequent updates, on Facebook.

Jeanie Kuntz is going to be part of Janet’s ground crew, along with Janet’s daughter Haley, for the first section by land. But such a gift for the start of Janet’s journey. 

Janet Moreland is on an expedition to be the first solo female paddler to travel the Missouri River source from its source to the Confluence with the Mississippi River. photo by Norman Miller.
Just a few days before they were leaving, both of them came to the St. Charles clean-up. And Jeanie came with food, a plan, and knowledge of how to whip that River Relief kitchen into shape.
We feasted and figured out our plan for the morning around a campfire by the river. 

Tartan Fest and the Missouri River Clean-up
With coffee and hot breakfast over a sunrise campfire, the River Relief crew geared itself up and then set up the event before 8:30. Debris and rocks around the ramp were cleared off, tools set out, banners strung, lifejackets at the ready, trash bags ganged up in bags of a dozen, pop-up tents popped and maps hung. It was all done to a bagpipe soundtrack delivered by and incredible bagpipe band that was part of the Tartan Festival going on next door.

Our clean-up on the Missouri River was one site of many across St. Charles County in an event called "Mission: Clean Stream" hosted by the Greenway Network. The Greenway Network is a volunteer stream advocacy and restoration organization that is celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year!

Registration was a dual system. At the front of the line our volunteers would choose “1 if by Land” or “2 if by sea”. 1’s to the left, 2’s to the right. St. Charles Public Works dispatched the land crews. We stuck the “by sea” crews in lifejackets then boats and put them on the river. 

The system went flawlessly, and 150 volunteers hit the river. Some were cleaning up places that had been cleaned for many years but kept accumulating trash. Especially by parking lots, roads, trails and under bridges. A few of those folks almost seemed disappointed they didn’t find more trash. I have the same problem. It’s a sickness. But it’s also success. 

Some other crews tackled sites that obviously hadn’t been cleaned up before. More difficult to get to places along the river where flood debris had accumulated or dumps that had not yet been cleared out. Nate and Janene, a couple co-workers at the Biomerieux labs nearby, led a big clean-up site that still has more work to do. A bunch of folks that have come to many of these Missouri River clean-ups came to help out and we had a lot of new people. Whole families with three kids and one mom who just felt like this was the best thing she could do with her day. 

Army Corps Riverlands Crew. photo by Patty Farrar
We had a great crew of boat drivers. Danny Brown, a fisheries biologist for the Mo. Dept. of Conservation as well as a world-class wildlife photographer (browse and shop his website here), is a cleanup pro. He knows how to use this opportunity to teach the volunteers about this river and his work on it. And he efficiently got three groups of volunteers out on the river and back again. He was joined with Danny Patterson, an employee at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, on his first river cleanup trip with us. And we also had the pleasure of tapping into Ben Greeling and Chris Garcia of the US Army Corps of Engineers Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary who have been a national model of public engagement for the Corps. And our River Relief pros, Racin' Dave Stevens, John Brady, Indi Frank and Anthony Pettit rounded out the fleet.

Shane Jordan is a veteran river cleaner and a great liaison between us and local Walmart stores that provide funding and help organize volunteers. He came after the boats had gone out. Rather than wait for the next boat, he just grabbed a few trash bags and scoured the banks headed upstream. One of the treasures he found was not easy to get back. A massive scale model of the Ameristar Casino was found not far downstream of the casino. There’s really only a few ways it could’ve got there. I would imagine some kind of ceremony at the opening of the casino where the model was tossed from the side of the building. Or someone was cleaning up inside and figured…what the heck am I gonna do with this?

Shane Jordan shows off his "Best Darned Find of the Day". photo by Francis Baum.
Yet somewhere else on the river that day, a group of Ameristar employees were cleaning up the river they work next to everyday (in fact they were the last group of volunteers to get back from the river).
After a chilly and blustery morning, the winds really picked up during lunch, but we still had a great trash contest before hauling all the junk back in the afternoon. 

Patty Farrar shows off some of the treasures in the "Git That Garbage" Trash Contest. photo by Dave Ellsbury.
 We had some great new folks hop on for the trash haul allowing us to have three boats out there picking up trash. Carl and Chris from St. Charles Public Works were a team working the back hoe all afternoon on the ramp, hauling all the trash up the ramp to the dumpsters that had been donated by Republic Services. We quickly filled our hauling trailer with tires, and we hauled that first load to the Wentzville GM plant where all the tires from Mission: Clean Stream were being staged. Bridgestone/Firestone would be disposing of all of them. The River Relief crew was so efficient we wrapped everything up by 3:30. Amazing!

Unloading trash in a sandstorm. photo by Melanie Cheney
Trailhead Brewery put together a fantastic donated dinner for our crew. As the wind finally started calming down, we relaxed around a fire overlooking the Missouri River on the beautiful boathouse beach.

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