September 18, 2013

Cleaning up the river in old Glasgow!

Glasgow Missouri River Clean-up
Saturday, August 17, 2013
Stump Island Park, Glasgow, MO - Rivermile 226

text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Doug Elley, Kimberlie McClain, Melanie Cheney & Laurie Ferretti

An Old River Town

Glasgow is one of the finest river towns the Missouri has to offer. It’s perched on a bluff overlooking one of the sharpest bends on the river. It marks the spot where the Big Muddy funnels from a wide, meandering valley into a narrower gorge lined with Mississippi limestone bluffs, the very edge of the Ozark uplift.

Because it was built so smartly to begin with, it has a long history despite the ravages of the river below. The library in town, a beautiful old building with wooden and glass cases of old books in its well kept second story, claims to be the oldest continuously operating library west of the Mississippi.

Glasgow is on a crossroads between Marshall and Fayette, and the cross street is the river. More than anyplace I’ve been in the state of Missouri, Glasgow uses the river as a part of life. The boat traffic in the morning is fishing boats and boats checking their trotlines. The boat ramp parking lot…not a small area…is full. In the afternoon people tug kids on innertubes up and down the river, and other put in canoes or take them out.

photo by Doug Elley
Up the hill are several fantastic restaurants, a winery and the classic Fish Beak saloon where you might catch live music, a table shuffleboard game or a dollar beer. And the town is crawling with really nice people.

In the evening, the boat ramp parking lot is still full. It’s the last weekend of summer before school, and there’s also a river clean-up going on.

Getting to Town

We arrived on Thursday afternoon. Soda Popp claimed the camp with his RV. A few lucky souls came up in a van and box truck dragging a few boats. We were blessed with a Brownsville, Texas-style taco feast courtesy of Soda and his one-burner cast iron pan set up. Mark and Twila Chambers set up their RV up the hill.

Setting up Camp

On Friday morning, the crew began trickling in. As so many friends arrived, our “Flying Nun” kitchen tent got set up and the box truck spilled its contents into our clean-up camp. By lunchtime we were almost ready to hit the river and scout our trash sites…except we several of us needed to check our emails and put out a few fires before the weekend hit.

Four of us hopped in a van and headed up to the winery (honestly, not very far away). Bushwhacker Bend Winery is on First St. The back of the building opens up onto a deck that overlooks the river. They let us get some internet there (and sample some of their Norton Reserve). Overlooking the stretch of river we are spending our weekend on, we quickly caught up with loose ends back home.

For me, Glasgow is a cell phone black hole. I’ve got AT&T. I might get your text tomorrow. But not your phone call and I can’t listen to your voice mail. Chasing signal up the hill never worked... It seems that Verizon and Sprint work there, as well as some affiliated companies. Except for Glasgow, I’ve never had to coordinate a clean-up with no cell reception. And only in Glasgow, where everything you need is right there, could it work so effortlessly.

Scouting the River

Our scout did not reveal much trash. We generally limit ourselves to spots where volunteers can safely access the banks. Our dispatches, who will be handing out maps to boat drivers the next day, check out each spot along the river to take its “trash pulse”. We spend an afternoon wandering through the riverside forest looking for accumulations of floodborne trash, with our pilots hopping into and away from the banks, finding places deep enough for our boats to get to shore.

We mark locations of dumps and party spots,  note what tools we’ll need,  how many people each site will need and mark it on maps. And cross our fingers. The goal is that there is enough work there for volunteers to keep engaged for at least an hour and a half. And if not, that there is a way to move them somewhere else where they can get at it.

This clean-up we noticed small patches of trash located in many spots, but very few places where volunteers could spend two hours bringing junk to shore. So the strategy changes. It’s bumping people to a variety of sites as the river allows.

As our last scout crew approached the Glasgow bridges, we saw a massive combine tractor tire floating in the river still on the rim. We tied off to it and dragged it to the ramp, where we pulled it up to the top of the ramp with a chain. There was a lot of discussion of how many 100’s of dollars we could get if we sold it, but decided to leave it at the head of the ramp to haul away on Sunday when we left. Unfortunately, it walked off on it’s own. Someone helped themselves to the tire and it was gone by Saturday evening. Oh well, at least we didn’t have to deal with it again…

Look what our scout crew found floating in the river!
photo by Melanie Cheney
Local river lover Tom Bentley, who lives just up the hill from Stump Island, allowed us to raid his firewood stash, so we got a big pile ready for a weekend of campfires.

As the sun set, more friends arrived. The clean-up Crew was taking shape. From across the state people came to Stump Island to set up tents, grab dinner and find out what they would be doing the next day.

We call it the “pow-wow”, but it’s not a real Pow-Wow. We gather around the fire and discuss the unique aspects of this clean-up and figure out where everyone fits in. Those that don’t get assigned a task have the important task of helping other boatloads of volunteers accomplish their work most efficiently.

Before Sunrise

Our breakfast chefs hit it early. The first thing is to get the coffee going. Luckily this time we can hook into an electrical cord at Soda Popp’s RV site. Eggs, veggies, bacon, sausage. Salsa, tortillas and salad greens. Everyone rolls up their breakfast in a tortilla and tackles their job.

Registration is set up under the nice picnic pavilion at Stump Island Park. Stream Team t-shirts, gloves, water, life jackets, tools, trash bags, banners, signs, pop-up tents, boats, radios…everything is put where it will be needed. And then more people come to help…

Getting on the River

Together with our partners at the Mo. Dept. of Conservation (Biologists and Agents).  a boat brought by a local 4-H family (the Prentzlers) and our own four working boats (one has a terminally ill motor), we were able to get almost everyone on the river  without making our boats come back and get more. This means the boats can shuttle volunteers to more than one spot, giving everyone a more effective experience. This is the efficiency that can make a clean-up with 100 people gather as much trash as a clean-up with 200. And it worked.
One of the crews hauled by MDC's huge fish sampling boats.
Photo by Doug Elley.


The Clean-up
photo by Steve Schnarr

We had one group (they called themselves the Bad-A** Boys, although they were not all boys…) attack the bank directly across the river from the ramp. I’ve heard that this was an old barge repair port, and the banks were littered with massive chunks of steel, cable, litter and tires. Oh, and three abandoned barges silted into the bank that we didn’t touch. The gas-powered chop saw ran in bursts all morning, liberating old cable from the riprap. And piles of trash bags gathered along the bank.

Jen Sieradski's crew digs out a barrel.
photo by Laurie Ferretti.
Some of these guys were the founders of Log Boat Brewery, a craft brewery slated to open this fall in Columbia. We love the's inspired by the original meaning of "Missouri" which translates to "River of Big Canoes". Check out their website, which tracks their progress building their business through a virtual map of the Missouri River. 

A couple of other boats had trash nets, and they floated through rafts of debris collecting bags full of crazy detritus from all communities upstream. And lots of balls. The Prentzler family took their boat to the Glasgow riverfront, where they filled their boat several times with old, abandoned junk. This was our first time cleaning in Glasgow with lower water levels, and it was great to get that stuff off the banks.
Very cool trash by Diane Oerly
There were 30 volunteers from the Steinmetz 4-H Club - families who know about cleaning up other people's trash. They have adopted a stretch of highway 5 near Glasgow. What a bunch of great people! 

Several spots were apparently the level of high water during recent flooding. In the middle of a clean forest of cottonwoods would be a lower depression full of plastic, a tire, and some large chunks of Styrofoam. It was all bagged and removed.

Most groups finished before their shuttle boat came to get them. Then they were stuck on the banks of the longest river in North America, forced to stare at this amazing flow of water rolling by and all the birds and wildlife that gather at its shores. Bummer.


The kind folks at the Farmer’s Pick Buffett at Boonville’s Isle of Capri Casino put together a huge lunch of sandwiches and fixins for us. All we had to do was pick it up. It was a treat to see all the blue Missouri Stream Team shirts lined up along the bank watching the river go by as folks ate lunch. We had a great trash contest, then hit the river again to bring all that stuff to the ramp.

Lunch was provided by Isle of Capri Casino. Beautiful view supplied by the Missouri River. photo by Kimberlie McClain
With all of our local friends, we got it done in short order. Our two small boats took groups of kids on the river for a boat ride, and we filled our hauling trailer and a boat full of scrap metal to be recycled on Monday.

Loading 1.75 tons of scrap metal.

An evening by the river

photo by Doug Elley
Stump Island Park has a bunch of big, beautiful cottonwoods and sycamore, and our camp was laid out below them. Tim Nigh and Liz Doubet led a cook crew that fed a huge group of people a fantastic dinner of grilled veggies and pork loins. As the sun set, we passed the feather and shared our stories of a great day cleaning up the river.

This cleanup was an opportunity for a lot of our local friends from the region to come for the weekend, set up camp and make this clean-up run smoothly. We had some friends that we hadn't seen in years and other newer members of the tribe. It all culminated with dinner around the campfire. We had over 40 people join us!

Our deepest appreciation goes to all the people of Glasgow. They love their river and it shows. It’s one of the cleanest stretches we’ve seen and it was a delight to spend the weekend there.

After clean-up relaxation. photo by Doug Elley.