December 9, 2015

15 Years of Tallying Trash

Well, I don't think we kept accurate trash tallies in years 1-7...but we did start compiling them and publishing them on here all the way back to 2008 under the tag "Trash Tally's.

2016 will mark 15 years for Missouri River Relief.  So what can we say about all of this trash that YOU have helped us collect?  Well, let's take a look.  (Also, check out a cool photo compilation of our 2015 Treasures)

Here is just a partial list of what YOU helped clean up in 2015, from St. Louis to Omaha:

2015 Trash Tally

1,340 bags of trash
139 bags of recyclables
7,070 lbs of scrap metal
485 tires
2 tire rims
312 chunks o' styrofoam
32 propane tanks
150 fireworks remnants
6 refrigerators
1 chest freezer
4 hot water heaters
1 pressure tank
1 Freon tank
27 coolers
13.5 chairs
4 TVs
3 gas cans
5 metal gas tanks
2 duck decoys
1 goose decoy
4 fishing poles
1 bow and arrow
9 - 5-gal. metal buckets
16 - 55-gal. metal drums
43 - 55-gal. plastic barrels
61– 5 gal. plastic buckets
9 2-gallon plastic jugs
2 small metal drums
2 20-gallon plastic water tanks
3 200-gallon oil tanks
1 trash can
2 mattresses
3 box springs
1 air mattress
3 fire extinquishers

15 Most Unique Finds in 15 Years

1.  Messages in Bottles (approximately 40-50 over 15 yrs)
2.  Chicken Dance Elmo
3.  1 Sturgeon DNA Sample from the USFWS
4.  Beavis & Butthead sitting on a Couch
5.  Wind Chimes made out of Bud Light Bottles
6.  1 pair of ruby red slippers
7.  Full Jug of Atrazine
8.  Pair of Angel Wings
9.  Giant Candle shaped like a Strawberry
10.  1957 fiberglass Saber boat
11.  1 set of national bylaws from the Hell's Lovers Motorcycle club
12.  1 Kilo of Cocaine wrapped in duct tape -turned into police
13.  Cobbler’s Shoes
14.  1 shot-up Sign that reads: “$50 Reward for information leading to arrest and conviction of any person or persons found willfully mutilating or destroying this sign. The O.J. Gude Co. NY”
15.  Dead Baby Dolls--Doll Parts-- and one Inflatable Love Doll

plus many, many more strange and unique items:

Saddest Item:  Dead Garter Snake entwined in Fishing Line
Strangest:  so many kids toys, how do these end up in the river?
Curious:  I always find it strange that we find so many fire extinguishers, we probably find at least 5 a year.

1 replica of the Ameristar Casino behind the Ameristar Casino in St. Charles
1 Leopard Print Stiletto
1 boot filled with concrete
2 1/2  Jet Ski's
1 Nintendo Gun
1 Blow Up Can of Pork and Beans
Hot Tubs (at least 3)
1 “The 4 Most Important Things I Know” CD by Pastor Brian Zahnd with the Word of Life Church in St. Joe, MO still in the wrapper
2 live blue catfish attached to a free floating jug
1 antique sewing machine
1 airplane sponson (pontoon)
1 frisbee "Look Who's Over the Hill and Can Still Get it Up"
1 plastic Swampthing Toy
1 Dog Collar w/ complete dog skeleton & rabies tag
 The body of an Electric Guitar
1 unopened bag of Fruity Pebbles
1 framed dolphin print
1 desk and the entire contents of a person’s office, including file cabinet, electronic goods, computer manuals, briefcase, a Bible and much, much more dumped along the Riverfront trail and covered with a tarp
1 Adam Sandler DVD "Going Overboard"
1 Glass Chandelier
1 Studebaker hubcap signed on the inside with a name & city from Oklahoma
1 full, sealed bottle of Virex AIDS medication (valued at $400)
1 steel trap w/ finger bones
1 My Little Pony Lunch Box
1 very ugly Old Woman Rubber Mask
3+ Christmas Trees
1 Teletubby
1 Piano
1 16” Ice Skate
Several Ceramic Toilets

And the Kitchen Sink!

and then there's the...

Top 10 Most Common Items Found on the Missouri River

#1 - Styrofoam
#2 - "single-use" Plastic Bottles
#3 - "single-use" Plastic Bags & Food Wrappers
#4 - Other Plastics (bottle caps, straws, chewing tobacco cans and 5-hour energy bottles)
#5 - Tires
#6 Plastic Buckets, Barrels, Tubs & Coolers
#7 - Scrap Metal (steel cables, rods, angle iron, metal strips, poles, t-posts, sheet metal, rebar, etc.)
#8 Balls of every shape, size & color
#9 Shoes & Flip Flops
#10 - Fireworks Remnants, Party & Fisherman's Trash

This is obviously a very generalized list for a graphic I'd like to work up.  But I think it reflects what we find out there based on compilations of trash tally's I have been pouring through.  Since we don't tear open every bag of trash and count it, I really can't give you accurate data.  Just pieces.  Like this one...

August 4, 2015

We Have Rivers - a poem by Mitch Story

The 10th Annual Missouri American Water MR340 was July 28-31, from Kansas City, KS, to St. Charles, MO. This was the largest ever, with over 600 paddlers in 400 boats. It's such a mixture of challenge, inspiration and courage...all with the backdrop of the beautiful Missouri River. Missouri River Relief is proud to be part of the safety boat crew for the race since 2007.

Mitch Story, who ran ground crew with Kory Breuer for his brother, paddler Matthew Story, posted this wonderful poem on the MR340 Facebook Page and gave us permission to repost it here.

Enjoy -

Dedicated to all the wonderful MR340 racers, Scott Mansker and all the other organizers, volunteers and safety boat volunteers and to my people - the great ground crews running up and down the roads and the river banks with me and Kory Breuer and to Matthew Story, our paddler, especially:

We Have Rivers

Following them down
we need to be there ahead
when they come in
or if they decide to go on by
we wait with whatever they need
even if it's only a wave and a shout.

Compared to the toughness of their struggle
they can be so fragile
it must be why they are out there
to find the sinew of their soul
and test it against the blade of the day
or night.

Some are without support
out there on their own
with their thoughts
despite the others who are out there too
but who of us isn't in a way out there
on our own?

Sparkling as it lies in its bed
so soft and brown
from eons of wear the highest
peaks of rock rendered into oozing softness
so difficult to fathom what
transformation this water will bring.

Baking heat like the top of a rust brown anvil
freshening breezes promising rain and cool
rank shallows reeking of decay and waste
silvery fish splash in long trails of moonshine
high birds and green bands of feathery trees
voices in the dark from between faint lights.

Coming into Dover in the heat of the day
or across Dalton Bottoms in the night
or a no place you've ever been before
hoping to find a spot of bank ahead of them
because they can never go back
you find you are looking for "our people."

If you find a place with "our people"
you can know you'll have help if you need it
kindness we may look for but can't always
find is here as was said at the celebration
out here in the race - on and between
these banks is the real true world.

Some start and finish and some do not finish
we're all trying - that's enough to learn the
lesson of our pursuit
there are gifts in this world that flow from grit
and mud and salty tears
muscles and hearts aching with pain and joy.

Some have mountains. We have rivers.

Mitch Story

For tons of info and links on the Missouri American Water MR340, click here. 

April 30, 2015

Washington River Festival Trash Tally!

Washington River Festival and Missouri River Clean-up

Rennick Riverfront Park, Washington, MO
Rivermile 68.3
April 18, 2015

Check out complete event results here. 

Clean-up Results Snapshot

Augusta Arts Alliance created this catfish from river trash and
stuff picked up from the parking lot!
Volunteers - 168
Boats - 5
Rivermiles - 7 (mm 64.3 – 71)
River Level - 6.2 ft. on Washington gage
Tires - 46 (estimated .8 tons)
Landfill Trash - 3.6 tons (est.)
Scrap Metal - .3 tons
Recyclables - .6 tons
Total Tonnage - an estimated 5.3 tons

Agencies & Groups involved - Missouri River Relief Crew, Missouri River Relief Crew, Kohl’s, Walmart, Brentwood High School National Honor Society, Missouri Stream Teams 1, 211, 4660, 3419, 1875, Kayak Swarm, Washington University

Clean-up Team Names - River Dawgs, River Trolls, Swear Bears, Largemouth Bass, Crushers, Cobras, Mighty Unicorns, Pink River Dolphins, Morels, Trash Trolls, Unerstall Family

Trash Tally!!!

193 Bags Trash!!
Hot Water Heater...the hard way. 
39 tires on wheels
4 tires w/out wheels
1 fat tire tricycle
2 motorcycle tires
1 half dolly
16 glass medical injection vials
1 10’ antenna tower
1 propane tank
1 Freon tank
1 hot water heater
9 coolers
1 30 gallon water tank
Medicine vials found on the river. 
2 Corps of Engineers dike markers: REV2865STA 11+31 & END OF ROCK PILE #2
1 guy wire anchor
1 refrigerator
1 hot water heater
1 bed spring frame
17 very large chunks of Styrofoam
1 large sheet corrugated metal
11 plastic bins (2 with lids)
1 half jet ski
6 chairs
1 basketball
1 football
3 softballs
Message in a bottle!
1 baseball bat1 1” thick heavy duty PVC pipe, 4 feet long
1 buoy
9 50-gallon plastic barrels (3 with lids)
3 50-gallon metal barrels
17 5-gallon plastic buckets
5 5-gallon metal buckets
7 2-gallon plastic jugs
1 2-gallon metal oil can

February 13, 2015

Two Honors in One Week!

MRR appears on back cover of Missouri Conservationist and receives G. Andy Runge Award

Last week, Missouri River Relief was humbled to receive two really cool honors in one week. We're not letting it get to our heads, but we do want to brag a little bit. Of course these recognitions are really honoring the work of the dozens of River Relief Crew volunteers and thousands of river cleanup volunteers and partners that actually make it happen.

First of all, we received our monthly copy of the Missouri Conservationist in the mail. This high quality and educational magazine lands in the mailboxes of 1/2 million subscribers for free each month. (Missouri residents click here to subscribe)

The back cover is always a nice photo and story about normal citizens working for conservation in their communities - a feature called "I am Conservation". This month, there was a photo of Steve Schnarr and Melanie Cheney from MRR! What an honor to represent the thousands of volunteers that clean up the Missouri River.
Click here to check it out online - 

Then, later in the week, we were honored to be awarded the "G. Andy Runge Award" from the Missouri Chapter of the Wildlife Society in a banquet room full of our conservation partners from across the state at the Missouri Natural Resources Conference. We had been nominated for the award by Ashley White, a Resource Assistant for the Mo. Dept. of Conservation that had driven boats at several of our river cleanup and education events this year. Her submission statement is below.

Here are the words from these two honors -

"I am Conservation - Feb. 2015" 

Steve Schnarr is program manager and Melanie Cheney is assistant program manager at Missouri River Relief, a nonprofit organization with a mission to connect people to the Missouri River. “We mainly do this through river cleanups, education events, and stewardship activities,” said Cheney. “Our main goal is to introduce people to the river — to physically get them out there on it — and experience it for themselves, while doing something positive for the environment.”

Both Schnarr and Cheney got involved with the program by volunteering for cleanups. Their volunteer work turned into full-time jobs with the organization. i am conservation 02 2015“The Missouri River needs more friends and allies,” said Schnarr. “Since 2001, we’ve organized 133 river cleanups, helped other organizations on 75 cleanups, and engaged with 21,005 volunteers to remove 801 tons of junk from the Missouri River banks and floodplains in 26 different communities in seven states.”

Both Schnarr and Cheney have spent most of their lives in Missouri and feel a strong connection to the Missouri River. “The Missouri River is the longest river in North America and serves as the drinking water source for more than 40 percent of Missouri citizens, said Schnarr.

“When you fall in love with a place, it’s hard not to care for it,” said Cheney. “I think people naturally just gain more of a sense of appreciation and respect for the river after getting to personally experience it, and feel empowered by the physical results of cleaning it up.”
—photograph by Noppadol Paothong, text by Cliff White.

G. Andy Runge Award

Given to Missouri River Relief by the Missouri Chapter of the Wildlife Society
submission statement by Ashley White, MDC. 

While working as an hourly for the MDC this summer, it has given me so much more than merely an income.  As someone who has been passionate about the river, I couldn’t believe my fortune when I was hired on as part of the HAMP crew to work out on this beautiful river every day.

Thomas Huffmon, Darby Niswonger and Ashley White of MDC
discuss the Brunswick cleanup plan with MRR Crew. 
However, having this passion within just me is commendable, but being given a medium to spread this message to others was the real treasure I found in several people here at the MDC.  Those people are the resource scientists at the Chillicothe Field Station who led me to the Missouri River Relief (MRR).  Up until I met these wonderful people I had done events on the river such as Race to the Dome and the MR340, but I wasn’t promoting stewardship or conservation in others like I wanted. These scientists told me about their involvement with MRR and I knew immediately I wanted to join this movement. (Note - the biologists from the Chillicothe Missouri River Field Station were awarded Missouri River Relief's "Partner of the Year Award" in 2013-these folks are incredible allies!).

MDC fisheries boat unloads a ton of trash at the
2014 Brunswick Grand & Missouri River Cleanup. 
Since then myself, and these scientists, have been a part of the Brunswick, MO cleanup, the Boonville, MO cleanup, and you can be sure boats will be going this coming weekend to the Jeff City, MO cleanup and Hermann, MO cleanup in a couple weeks (and these are just cleanups that I became involved in, their involvement with cleanups go back years before my time).  While it has been a great experience getting to meet everyone involved in MRR, I have also used my new-found affiliation with them to bring friends of mine into the fold.  This continuation of stewardship and conservation is invaluable, as that is how others learn to value these qualities, and rather than let the legacy flounder with one person, they spread the word to others long down the road.

The work the MDC has been able to be a part of in conjunction with MRR is almost too much to take in.  During the last two cleanups alone, over 280 volunteers of all ages have gathered in Boonville or Brunswick and hauled away more than 5.5 tons of trash from Missouri’s rivers.  This has included the big, ugly trash like 66 tires, refrigerators, 55-gallon drums, and freezers, all the way down to thousands of bottles of all shapes and sizes.  Looking at just this summer’s trash totals, they sound pretty impressive, but in the 14 years MRR has been pulling trash out of the river, they have hauled in 756 tons of trash by almost 20,000 volunteers!

Ashley White and Catlin Ames from MDC lead a crew
of volunteers at our 2014 Boonville Cleanup. 
All of this work came to fruition in 2001 when a few people in mid-Missouri “simultaneously recognized the need for engaged stewardship of the Missouri River and the desire of citizens to take part in watershed solutions” (“About Missouri River Relief”).  Since 2001 they have showed no signs of backing down and my hat truly goes off to them for the hours of planning and coordination that goes into pulling off one success after another in terms of conservation and increasing stewardship.

While the trash haul is so overwhelming, the really astounding part of all this organization does, and there is a lot, is the education.  If you talk to anyone on any MRR boat they will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the Missouri River.  This includes how the river used to be viewed in terms of conservation, how it is viewed now, and where they would like to see attention in the future.
Attracting hundreds of volunteers to a cleanup says a lot about the atmosphere surrounding people in these river towns and beyond: they are there and ready to step up and take a stand to keep the Missouri River beautiful, just as these founding members in 2001 realized.  And it is not just adults who believe this, but children as young as grade school.  I’ve seen them out there running around like maniacs trying to pick as much trash as they absolutely can, and asking the challenging questions that future generations will have to ask in order to continue this legacy of conservation started by MRR just 14 short years ago.  The work MRR does in local schools to help further this knowledge in children is really them investing in our children and our river’s future, something that it is often hard for others to grasp the importance of.

In conclusion, I hope I have conveyed to you the importance this fine group of people have played in my life, and the lives of all the people we can impact together thanks to their involvement in conservation, particularly the conservation of this amazing resource we have right here in our own backyard which so many take for granted, the Missouri River.  So, I would like to formally nominate Missouri River Relief Organization for the G. Andy Runge Award for their outstanding work educating and offering up their time in service to our beautiful state and its resources.

Ashley White

MRR staff receive the G. Andy Runge Award from Tony Elliot of the
Missouri Chapter of the Wildlife Society. photo by Cliff White, MDC

January 13, 2015

Fish Poem - Alien Species

Fish Poem - Alien Species

by Nina Stawski


I wrote a poem in a hurry….
About a fish living here in Missouri.

Please be tolerant while I harp,

About the excitable Asian carp.

A nasty, slimy alien species…..

A reputation synonymous with feces….

It lives in every river, creek and tributary,

Making the lives of boaters, fishers and skiers very hairy.

It flip-flops worse than most politicians,

Launching into boats in dicey positions.

The only ones who appreciate these aerial attacks

Are those enthusiastic dogs: -- Foxy, Roxy, and Max.

Flying fish are a species----truly----successful indeed!

Taking over the Missouri waterways…with alacrity and speed.

Missouri River Relief Awards Banquet

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Stoney Creek Inn, Columbia, MO

The Missouri River Relief crew is an amazing group of people. These are the volunteers that form the heart of this organization. They help organize events, drive boats, cook food, travel all over the watershed, provide the human infrastructure and staff at clean-ups, and then they give the energy and love that keeps it all going. 

More than your normal non-profit, these folks form a tribe. An always growing, always caring family of river lovers that want to share the river with others. 
One of the ways we try to honor this tribe is through our annual "Post-Holiday" awards banquet.
The evening starts with dinner, followed by awards, and then music making. The awards start with a massive circle - everyone joins hands and Tim Nigh encourages us to move our energy throughout the crowd. It's a touching way to begin, and brings us all together instantly. Next, Nina Stawski read one of her poems to get us in the mood. This year she read "Fish Poem - Alien Species".  You can read it here.  
 We'll start with the "Special Recognitions" followed by our Annual Awards. Although the banquet took place in 2015, the awards are for 2014.

2014 Special Recognitions 


First Smile of the Day

Some of the stories I’ve shared with this guy are some of the best moments I’ve had with River Relief. Goat Island morel madness up near Yankton. Long campout weekends in his front yard, with a side of fried catfish and a trip to the big sandbar. Three in the morning solar boat rescues on the 340. Hushpuppies and catfish for 150 on California Island at sunset. Hearing Osage River history idling down the Osage River in the moonlight. This guy turned the job of “Parking” into a performance. There’s no one I’d rather have as the first person people meet driving up on a cleanup morning than Soda Popp. And you can feel that good energy ripple on through the rest of the event. We’re so lucky to have you as part of the family, Soda.  

Here’s to the First Smile of the Day award recipient, Soda Popp!

Trash-to-Art Laureate

This next award recipient is one of our downstream treasures. She has been the keystone for building community on many levels—from growing fertile gardens and organizing food circles to restoring old buildings and presiding over town councils.

Her true passion is artistic expression and, for several years, she has taken discarded, ugly river trash and created beautiful metal sculptures. These treasures on display at the Washington River Festival have raised both awareness about river issues and money for River Relief.

This year, we dumped next to her forge a pallet of scrap metal gathered at river cleanups and she created magnificent sculptures for the Art Auction in McKittrick. But that barely scratched the surface—she also was a key organizer for the Benefit in October and helped gather fantastic pieces from local artists. She arranged to use the mercantile store. She wrote the menu, organized the cooks and made delicious dishes. She linked up with local businesses and she offered her house and yard for a weeklong camp. As Mayor of McKittrick she opened up the town green for our tribal fire. And she even invited us to come back—although perhaps not during Octoberfest.

Please join me in recognizing our trash-to-art sculptress who took generosity to the highest levels, thank you, Joey Los

Good Cheer Go-Getter

When I say Missouri, you say River.  Missouri… River…. Missouri… River!  When I say Big, you say Muddy.  Big… Muddy… Big… Muddy!  Remind you of anyone?  This award recognizes River Relief’s own river cheerleader.  After taking an extended break from the clean-up crew for several years, this headstrong mama came back better than ever.  Only with a 4-year old mini-me. We love our river family, and couldn’t be happier to have this spirited sparkplug back amongst our ranks.  

Please help us recognize this year’s Good Cheer Go-Getter, Jax Acton.

Favorite Family

Previous winners – Stew & Crew, the Richmonds, the Franks, the Penningtons, and the Hemmelgarns.

This year we finally got to spend some quality river time with this family. If it wasn’t enough that these are two of the most talented, hardest working people I know, they have two boys that bring a shining light of positivity. Plus they recruited a solid bunch of really great friends to help us on the river. One of the parents got thrown head first into the River Relief vortex and whipped together our first ever Leavenworth clean-up, really tapping into the community and creating a great, but soggy event. The other parent is a laughing force of nature, who brings a solid get-er-done ethic along with a standup comedian’s timing. And their sons Ben and Luke reminded us of the joy of the river moment. 

Deepest gratitude and love to the Mattern Family, Kris, Jeremy, Ben and Luke.

Mise en place

If you have ever used someone else’s kitchen to cook, or had someone put dishes away, you know how frustrating it can be to have things out of place.

“Why are the mixing bowls where the plates go?”

Well, it stands to reason that the more people you are cooking for the larger the kitchen and the more frustrating unorganized kitchens can be. The sight of willing helpers sorting through bins to find a bowl, a spatula, or the uncommon seasoning was rather common early in the year. Often as we were packing up you would hear, “Oh here is that pan I was looking for earlier!”

Having consecutive events only a week or two apart can leave little time for reorganizing.  Leading into our Fall cleanup season this person took it upon herself to get the kitchen in order and establish mise en place which is a French phrase that means “putting in place.” By having things in place people were able to contribute in preparing the delicious meals from the Flying Nun Kitchen. There is no doubt that the meals were delicious and prepared with love by the River Relief community thanks to the leadership of this amazing camp chef! 

This year’s Mise en place Award goes to Gale Lauber Johnson.  

The William Clark Cartographer Award

River Relief hosts events throughout the lower Missouri River basin, from Yankton, SD to St. Louis and beyond. Often we are on unfamiliar waters trying to find out where to go and how to get there. This special award is for a long-time member of our core group that has time and again shown us the way.

Her thorough knowledge of GIS systems and her dedicated work ethic creates the detailed maps of the river we use to find the trash, distribute the volunteers and make sense of the territory. Her positive attitude as a registration expert, safety and orientation coordinator and map-maker has saved our bacon many times. She was a tireless participant in making the data collected during our river “Mega Scout” useable. She is always there to make serving the volunteer lunch go smoothly. At most of our events she quietly contributes her quick thinking and insightful perspective to make the whole thing run smoothly.

Despite her inability to properly break the champagne bottle at a boat christening, we unanimously hold her in high regard. Among a sea of treasured crew members of River Relief, this lady shines because of her dedication to the cause and her true heart. If you earn her respect, you are doing something right. Please join in a show of appreciation to our personal river cartographer, or rio-grapher if you will, this generous geomancer, Dyan Pursell.

Most Honorable River Dog

Last year we said goodbye to one of River Relief’s most honorable river dogs, Ms. Sombra.  Sadly, we lost another lovable canine recently that is just as deserving.  This little fellow could have been a cat for his many lives and the adventures he survived. The most extravagant tale I seem to remember is the little guy getting plucked out of gator infested waters down in Louisiana.  He also took a tumble off of a moving sternwheeler in the middle of the Mighty Mo.  Yes, he survived many boat rides, on many a boat, and more than one mighty river.  He loved catching flying carp, and he loved his people faithfully, leaving behind many friends.  He was a passionate river dog and River Relief Ambassador, going between boats and land to clean up with all of the seasoned crew who he loved and trusted greatly. 

He was a trooper, companion, protector and snuggler.  A Most Honorable River Dog, Mr. Foxy.

2014 Annual Awards


The Floating Classroom Award

We all know that the future of our world lies in the hands of the next generation and that there’s no better way to ensure a child cares about the river, than to get them out on it. The annual Floating Classroom award goes to the educator who branches out beyond the classroom to help Missouri River Relief get students on the river where they belong!   

Previous year’s recipients were:  Douglass High School Science Teacher - John Reid, Dave and Fran Stous of Kansas City, and Janet Moreland with “Love Your Big Muddy”.

Quality educators are one of the most valuable resources of any society. They are the headwater streams of every watershed and like those streams they possess the potential to inspire and produce beautiful, healthy rivers downstream. It takes the efforts and commitment of a high quality educator in order to get students on the Missouri River; an educator who places the real world needs of their students above irrational fears, and understands the power of getting students outside of the comfort and routineness of classroom education in order to create lasting experiences. 

This person is committed to the mission of Missouri River Relief and has continued to support the education program beyond their school. Not only is this educator a headwater stream, through her dedication to what we do, she has become a confluence of many streams.  

This year’s Floating Classroom Award goes to Ms. Tony Jean Dickerson, Benjamin Banneker Charter Academy of Technology.

Troy Gordon Memorial Partner of the Year

 Partnerships are key to building an organization that reaches & includes a wide variety of individuals, agency’s & organizations.  In 2008, we tragically lost a good friend & inspirational partner, Troy Gordon.  Troy epitomized the nature & essence of what it means to give of ones self, include others and inspire action toward the mission & goals of Missouri River Relief; Troy was the ultimate partner.  The annual Troy Gordon Memorial Partner of the Year Award is given to that individual, agency or organization that best represents the spirit of Troy.

Previous Year’s Winners:  Tim Haller (Big Muddy Refuge), MDC Stream Unit, Scott Mansker (Rivermiles), Gloria Attoun-Bauermeister, Patrick Lynn and the MDC Chillicothe Boatdrivers.

2014 saw an amazing bounce back to Boonville after many years away, with a wildly successful clean-up that squeezed us to capacity, alongside a massive river festival with all of the educational bells & whistles.  One outstanding and energetic Boonvillian, stepped up to the plate to make it all happen. 

A seasoned clean-up volunteer, she began organizing her own annual event for the last four years called Pick Up Boonville.  Early on, she invited us to participate with a team, set-up booths, meet other key partners and became our go-to gal with gusto.  Soon there was a committee, artwork being arranged, numerous media opportunities to include a 4-part series about Missouri River Relief and how trash ends up in our water, ads were donated, presentations made to civic groups, classroom visits, and then a VIP boat ride was organized.  There was even a parade.  

With enthusiasm, this person donated both huge amounts of time and resources to help us make our Boonville comeback a huge success.  When it became “go-time”, she attended late night planning discussions around the campfire and helped us problem solve along the way as rain, heat, floods & mud tested our skills. Most of all, this lady’s simple dedication and passion for cleaning up the river and getting people on it, truly stood out.  

Please help me give our thanks to this year’s most deserving partner, Joan Read.

The Rising Star Award

The long term survival of Missouri River Relief depends on the continual recruitment of volunteers and crew members dedicated to our Mission.  While all ages of volunteers are treasured, outstanding young people are the next generation of River Relief. The annual Rising Star Award is given to youth who have risen and shined as outstanding River Relief crew members.

Previous Year’s Winners:  Alex Jansen, Hana & Eli Kellenberger, Campbell Richmond, the Liz Kids, the Dattilo Brothers and the McClain Clan.

We met this guy back in 2012. He and his brother came and helped all day during a cleanup. And then helped break down camp the next day. This year, he was around camp all weekend, helping with everything before anyone could think to ask for help. He even played a mean guitar around the campfire. Well, his commute was short. He literally lives at the boat ramp. I wonder how many times he’s rolled a basketball down the ramp! This year’s river cleanup flier had his brother, Dallas Short, in full color. Jeff Short asked if he would be on the flier next time. Well, we just made one up for you. We have huge gratitude and respect for this year’s Rising Star recipient, Jeff Short from Brunswick, MO.

The Dive-in Head First Award

The key to the success and longevity of any organization is a continuous supply of new, energetic volunteers and crew members.  The Annual Dive-in Head First Award is meant to recognize the most outstanding newcomers to the River Relief crew.

Previous Year’s Winners:  Jen Sieradski, Rod Power, Bill Fessler, Mel Haney, The Kellenbergers, Liz Doubet, Alicia Pigg, Josh Pennington, Gale Johnson, Nanci Mon, Tom Smith, Tina Casagrand & Jim Stewart.

Many people get bitten by the river clean-up bug and quite a few express a desire to expand their influence with river stewardship.  Few people can make that happen.

Our award winners are two exceptions to the rule. One came as a volunteer at river clean-ups and then returned to her college to re-invigorate the student environmental group. She presided over monthly meetings, raised money for events and organized two river clean-ups and a camp-out. On her graduation day, she skipped the cap-and-gown ceremony and showed up at a Missouri River clean-up wearing mud boots. 

The other winner came to us highly praised as a trash-collecting warrior by the Mighty Stream Team211. As a new MU student, he joined Sustain Mizzou primarily to serve as their Stream Team coordinator. In that position, he organized several creek cleanups and the annual campout and cleanup with River Relief. He dedicated full weeks at the Summers@Mizzou camp and the MR340 race as a crucial crew member. This guy also pioneered the sport of “buoy rodeo” by riding a renegade red nun buoy for more than 60 seconds. 

Let’s give it up for the co-recipients of the 2014 Dive-In Head First Award, Anniya Priesberga and AJ “Red Bull” Feicht.

 The One Step Ahead Award

Few organizations survive without individuals who are persistently watching out for what needs to be done and simply diving in and gittin’ her done.  The Annual One Step Ahead Award is given to that individual that has exhibited a go-to-it-ness that exceeds all.  They are recognized for their selfless recognition of what needs to be done and doing it.

Previous Year’s Winners:  Anthony Pettit, Janie Becker, Racin’ Dave, Sarah Pennington, Jodi Pfefferkorn, Craig “Iffy” Holt and Laurie “Ready” Ferretti.

When this guy started coming to lots of cleanups this year, we suddenly had a volunteer for every unfilled task that needed doing. “I’ll do that” is something that he seems to blurt out as often as breathing. It’s become a game to find a task he hasn’t done yet and have him complete it with style and ingenuity. Signage, site leader, cook, ramp, whatever. We’ve got a list for next year. Plus, he’s tall enough to monkey on top of our box truck Ol’ Yeller to retrieve wind-blown pop-up tents. Tina thought it would be cute if we gave you the “Dive-In Head First” award, which she got last year so you guys could have matching fleeces or something.  Instead, we think you are the embodiment of what it means to be “One Step Ahead”.  

Praises and Thanks to this year’s recipient, Duncan Foss!

The Metamorphosis Award

Equally important to new blood, the growth and evolution of crew members into positions of responsibility is essential to our continued success.  The annual Metamorphosis Award recognizes a seasoned crew member who truly grew in their contributions to the organization this year; transforming themselves into positions of more responsibility as a leader, boat driver, staff member, board member or other positions.

Previous Year’s Winners:  Scot Heidbrink, Dave Richter, Bill Fessler, Joe & Allison Kellenberger, Racin’ Dave, Daniel “Habibi” Belshe, and Patty Farrar & Dave Elsberry

This October marked the one year anniversary of a fresh and sprightly new crew member that really demonstrated her determination and grit.  After getting a few clean-ups under her belt, this dynamic doppleganger scheduled a lunch meeting with us to offer up her services as a part-time intern in exchange for learning the basics of how a non-profit works.  She wanted to do it all, learn the computer programs, write grants, and coordinate event outreach.  Starting out just one day a week, we soon convinced her to help us take on organizing the Boonville River Festival, which pretty much turned into a full time job, and then some. For someone who had never been on the Big Muddy until recently, she overcame any fears of driving a big boat on its murky and swift waters, to learning how to gracefully dodge flying carp.  She even received her first river baptism during the week long 340 race.  She helped with classroom presentations, and drove our boats & trucks to and from events.  With an amazing attitude and the ability to do whatever needed to be done, this little lady grew from just a sprout into a flower.  

Please join me in congratulating the 2014 Metamorphosis honoree, Jen Davis.

The Broken Prop Award

Every organization has their follies.  Despite all of our best intentions, the River Gods will play their tricks, and hey, let’s admit it, every once in a while the shit does hit the fan.  And as unfortunate as it may be---someone is usually standing there taking it on the chops.  The Annual Broken Prop Award is given to that River Relief crew member that has endured the biggest tragedy, the most audacious malady, the most outstanding mishap, or is the brunt of the most cruel accusations and stories of the river cleaning season.

Previous Year’s Winners:  Jeff Barrow, Anthony Pettit (& Scot Heidbrink by default), John Jansen, Anthony Pettit, Jeff Barrow, Tim Nigh and Jeanie Kuntz.

Choosing the recipient of this prestigious award is usually an easier task than it was this year. Most years there is one accident or incident that stands out from all the others and that can be judged to squarely rest on the shoulders of some well-intentioned trash warrior that just had a bad day and paid dearly.

The award recipient this year is one of the most proficient boat operators in our group. I have watched him, by careful attention to the equipment and to the river, progress from a boating neophyte to a sure and steady pilot who handles what the situation presents with a calm manner and sure skills.

In an uncharacteristic lapse in procedure, he neglected to check a vital part when installing the trailer hitch draw bar on a van. Unbeknownst to all, this innocent omission lay in wait for the right moment to rain on someone’s parade.  Some days later, a boat was hitched up to the van and a jolly crew took off to launch the boat at Providence Landing.  Downhill and over dale, his oversight lurked, not showing its cards all the way there.

As the van backed down to the river, the drawbar, lacking the pin that must be there to keep it attached, came loose from the truck. Only the safety chains prevented a runaway launch.

This years’ Broken Prop Award goes to someone who will never again fail to check for the pin, Mr. Steve Schnarr.

The Cornerstone Award

Every organization has its unsung heroes, people who do the dirty work of making sure the organization is legal, well funded, organized, staffed and steered in a direction that ensures that we are viable and sustainable.  The Annual Cornerstone Award is our organization’s highest honor.  It recognizes a veteran River Relief crew or board member that has dedicated many years of service to the organization’s well being.  Their leadership and commitment to our mission has been essential to our success.

Previous Year’s Winners:  Joe Engeln, John Brady, Jeff Barrow, Dave Richter, Dave Stous, Racin’ Dave and Tim Nigh

This year’s recipient has been with us for more than 10 years. She has been a board member, served on and chaired many committees, donated generously to our mission and been a wise voice during times when we wandered.

She guided us in furthering our educational efforts, leading the process to hire Alex, our education coordinator. She also led the effort to find Sarah Martin to help with fundraising. She has written grants and letters to search for funding for our efforts and gone behind the scene to forge relationships with possible donors. She has marched with the River Relief crew in the True False parade and even donated use of her private retreat in the Ozark National Scenic River ways as an auction item for our film festival.

Beyond all of that, she has always been a wise observer of what is both helpful without impeding current progress. Her soft-spoken manner belies great powers of perception and problem solving. We know we can count on her for good ideas and wise council when a tricky situation arises. Besides, she’s also a wicked envelope stuffer.

Please help recognize and thank this wonderful friend as River Relief’s 2014 Cornerstone Award recipient, Kathy Love.


And to our amazing crew... we couldn't do it without you!  Join us in 2015.

January 5, 2015

Message in a Bottle from 1964

It was in a green glass lime juice bottle that said "We squeeze you pour" with a metal screw cap, and was rolled up inside this envelope piece, and then taped closed like so.

A very brittle envelope rolled up on the outside of the message had a return address that said “Morrison-Knudsen Company & Associates, P.O. Box 1678, Grand Forks, North Dakota”.

The message inside reads:  “9-19-1964.  Meramec, Missouri.  Thrown in the river at Jesses James hideaway cave, Meramec, Missouri 9-19-1964.  Please write when found.  H.J. Laine, Ontonagon, Michigan”

There is a picture of how I found it (a beautiful green glass bottle surrounded by snow). 

Found by Melanie Cheney, Assistant Program Manager with Missouri River Relief, February 15, 2014 at 5664 Meramec Bottom Road • St. Louis, MO 63128 during a clean-up dubbed "the Untouched Floodplain since 1993 Cleanup" organized by the “Arnold Stream Team 211”.

Missouri River Relief is Stream Team #1875, and as such has developed working relationships with many like-minded organizations and Stream Teams across the state working on river clean-ups for the past 14 years. 

Who is Missouri River Relief?  Missouri River Relief is a community & equipment based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to connecting people to the Missouri River through hands-on river clean-ups, education events & stewardship activities.  In its fourteen years of operation, Missouri River Relief has expanded its reach to more than 800 miles of the Missouri River, organizing events in communities stretching from Yankton, South Dakota all the way down to the confluence with the Mississippi River in St. Louis.  Since 2001, we have organized 133 river clean-ups utilizing more than 20,000 volunteers, and removing more than 800 tons of trash (a million and a half pounds!) from the river.

In addition to organizing our own clean-ups, we travel with our boats & equipment to other people’s clean-ups, resulting in over 70 “Away Teams” we've participated in throughout the years.

The Arnold Stream Team 211 members are a very special group.  We refer to them as the “Arnold Animals” because they are one of the toughest and most dedicated volunteer Stream Teams in the state.  Every weekend, two guys in particular are out working on streams, dumps, water quality monitoring and mapping.  A tire dump with 1,000 tires?  No problem for the “Arnold Animals”.  They will bring or get whatever resources are needed to get the job done.   As we developed a relationship with these guys, namely, Brian Waldrop and Bernie Arnold from Arnold, MO they began coming to our clean-ups, and in turn, if they are organizing a clean-up, a few of us try to come to theirs. 
211/MRR Classic Rock Star pose

So that is how a few of us River Relief’ers found ourselves in the Meramec Bottoms on a frgid February morning  Even though there was still a little snow on the ground, and temperatures would barely reach above freezing, no way the “211” was backing off or canceling this event. 

What intrigued me most was the “untouched floodplain” part of the clean-up.  Whereas I am usually driving volunteers around on the Big Muddy in a boat, and picking up tons of “single-use” plastic bottles, this was a chance for me to romp around the woods, finding unique and very old treasures for River Relief’s future “Trash Museum” (We have been collecting stuff for awhile now and have found just about anything you could imagine out there).  Finding treasures is actually one of the best things about picking up trash.  You just never know what you’re going to find, some scary looking baby doll head or kids toy, a piano, a sign that simply says “Be Courteous”.  Often times, someone will find a message in a bottle.  But never one from 1964!  I believe this is the oldest message in a bottle we have ever found, and by far the coolest!

After working for a good part of the day, my friend Laurie aka “Ready” Ferretti and I took off through the woods to go check out some of the ruins that had been left in this forgotten floodplain.  There was an old truck, and lots of foundations from houses that once stood there.  We were searching for the “stairway to nowhere” of which we found and took some pictures on.  After we found the stairs, we saw a really cool looking foundation further back, with the chimney standing tall.  It was here that we were hanging out and exploring, (I was thinking that this would be the greatest playground ever for a bunch of  kids growing up here) that I looked down to see the green bottle peeking out of the snow, clearly with a message rolled up neatly inside. 

I was so excited!!!  I took a picture of how it was found before I even picked it up.  I also waited until I got home that night to open it.  When I read the message I couldn’t believe it.  Who was this guy from Ontonogan Michigan?  There was still tons of other bottles & trash that did not get cleaned up that day, I walked by many bottles at the end of the day as far as the eye could see, it was just amazing to me that I stumbled up this one amazing treasure.

Some of the other treasures I collected that day included a plastic mug from the 1982 World’s Fair, a baby sandal, a plastic whale and some really cool old glass bottles, pictured here:

The Arnold Stream Team 211 recruited me with their facebook event page found here:

Here was their description of the event:  “This cleanup needs everyone's help. This land has been collecting trash since the Great Flood of 1993. There are 1000's of tires, hundreds of 50 gallon barrels, 3 boats, hot tubs, fuel-oil tanks, camper-shells, and a whole bunch of litter and trash. In some areas, you can walk across the trash without touching the ground. Yes, it is that bad.

This will be a two day cleanup, and still will not complete with this area. This will be a ongoing project for years, but we can make a large dent in the trash. With this amount of tires and barrels, the mosquito population is completely out of whack.

We will be having food on Saturday around the Noon hour and be parking in a small area past Butler Lakes and at Butler Lakes, then walking in to the site. Multiple dumpsters will be needed for this one.

**Look for the Stream Team Signs**

We could use ATV's and a Bobcat if you have them, possible with a trailer or two. This is also a good opportunity for Community Service for Scouts, church/school groups.”

It turned out to be a really successful clean-up, with a one 40 cubic yard dumpster crammed full of trash, plus many plastic and metal 55gallon drums kept out of the trash dumpster. Now, for the tires, we filled one dumpster with 27 passenger tires, 12 tractor trailer tires, 255 tires with rims and a whole pile of tires that still need to be loaded up in trailers on Monday.  Just incredible the work these volunteers are doing.

River Clean-ups accomplish a few things effectively:  they engage people proactively in stewardship of our water ways, often getting people out on the river for the first time.  They also educate people about the problem of solid waste on our streams and rivers and physically bring interested parties together to accomplish something real.  We don’t have to tell people how bad “single-use” items like plastic water bottles are for the environment – we show them.  Clean water is something I think we can all agree on, it is quality of life.  And we are proud to be a part of Missouri’s Stream Team program, of which there are nearly 5,000 in the state looking after and taking action on our waterways. 

Anyone interested in learning more about Missouri River Relief should check out the website at:  To connect with other Stream Teams or to sign-up for one yourself, check out

More on the message:  In the month following the finding of the message, a friend of a friend who writes for the River Hills Traveler and saw my photos on Facebook did some digging on the source of the message.  Here is what she found:

For 50 years, the bright green glass bottle survived the worst the Meramec
River could throw at it. Ontonagon is a town of 1,500 people, many of Finnish
descent, who migrated to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to mine iron
or copper.

In a town of that size, surely someone would know something. Several
evenings of internet sleuthing proved futile. We’ve forwarded a digital copy
of this note to the historical society in Ontonagon, and to the genealogical
society. So far, no answers.

Cheney sent a digital copy of the message to Traveler, which we forwarded
to Maureen Guseck, editor of the weekly Ontonagon Herald. She agreed
to run an item in her paper.

Within a week we found out that a Mr. Uuno J. Laine was buried in the
Riverside Cemetery. Looking at the message again-- yes the first letter was
a squared off U, not an H. Born 1911, died 1973 in Ventura, California.
Morrison-Knudsen no longer exists, but used to be a construction engineering

We’ve got a few more fishing lines out, still seeking more info on the author
of the message in the bottle, which miraculously survived 100 miles and
50 years, just to be found, and in the finding, create more questions than had
it stayed entirely obscure.