April 22, 2006

The St. Charles Clean-Up Chronicle

by Steve Schnarr

St. Charles Preparations: Passing the Baton

Each river clean-up that Missouri River Relief undertakes is a unique experience. Some run as smooth as the Big Muddy on a breeze-free day while others present thorny obstacles at every turn. 2006’s “St. Charles/Bridgeton Great Rivers Greenway Clean-up” was a mixture of both.

Most clean-ups are organized by an event coordinator, who lays all the logistical groundwork, meets with volunteers to plan event tasks and itinerary and coordinates things on the river and ground the day of the event. This time, organizing became a sort of relay race, with the baton being passed several times in the process.

When our in-house coordinator, Jeff Barrow, landed a contract to write a book about our trash mentor Chad Pregracke and his Living Lands and Waters barge crew for National Geographic, we looked around for someone to fill his shoes for the St. Charles event. Longtime friends Tami Brunk and Stephanie Williams stepped up and covered all the bases early on for a successful clean-up.

In early April, Tami got a job as Program Director of the Heritage Land Conservancy (a group that develops Conservation Communities…purchasing big tracts of land, developing a portion, but leaving the majority as "preserve.") in New Mexico, and she passed the baton to our Executive Director Jim Karpowicz, an old hand at putting together impromptu clean-ups like our 2005 St. Joseph effort.

The last week before the event, Steve Schnarr grabbed the baton for the anchor stretch and the River Relief crew did their magic, turning several months of planning into a successful Missouri River event.

Making Lemons into Lemonade

Our Learning Festival, the day before the April 22 clean-up, had its own series of hurdles for Education Coordinator Lynne Hooper. Many St. Charles School District classrooms scheduled their annual MAP testing for that day, while many of our dedicated agency and non-profit presenters were involved in other Earth Day-centered events across the state.

Lynne just rolled with the punches, bringing together classes of fourth graders from other area schools and 11 river presenters, including five presentations by River Relief hardcore volunteers. The result was a more intimate, personal education experience, giving presenters a chance to get to know the students better and offering students a chance to ask all the questions they could come up with.

Life without the Box Truck

Our traveling clean-up circus has its mobile headquarters in a box truck. The week before St. Charles, a group of our boat drivers and trainees used the truck to haul a boat down to Bonnots Mill, Mo., for a preliminary scout of our May 6 “Mouth of the Osage River” clean-up.

Unfortunately, the box truck made the trip back to Columbia hitched to the back of a tow truck. With our headquarters out of commission, Equipment Manager Racin’ Dave Stevens and Steve Schnarr did a last-minute shift of our necessary gear from the box truck to our new 15-passenger van (which immediately became a five-passenger van). The Auto Tech mechanics let us do the transfer right on their shop floor, and we were on our way to St. Charles.

Without our central camp tent, still housed in the box truck, we put up shop in the pavilion at Frontier Park. Overlooking our beloved river, we felt right at home.

Clean-Up Day

A blood-red sun rose early over the misty Missouri River as the sound of wild turkeys drifted across the water. A group of River Relief “hardcores” woke up to the smell of a smoldering driftwood fire on the sandy banks of Bryan Island on Cul de Sac Bend, several miles downstream from St. Charles. Bundled up in sleeping bags, we boated back upstream to Frontier Park in downtown St. Charles, where the chilly morning air readied us for a day of introducing volunteers to the river we love and cleaning tons of trash from its shores.

This year’s clean-up, our third in the St. Charles area, was focused on a string of parks that will be part of the developing Great Rivers Greenway “River Ring” network of trails. One of the nastiest sites, located on the Bridgeton side of the river, was home to a mound of 88 huge truck tires and piles and piles of discarded debris. The city of Bridgeton will be developing the area as a boat-ramp, and they asked us for help in returning the site to its pristine state.

No problem.

56 volunteers got shuttled to the dump, including two boatloads of students from five countries in Central America and the Caribbean. Jim Karpowicz, who was site boss, called the ramp twice to “send more volunteers. Then he called again for Jeff Barrow when he realized he would need another “site boss” to manage all those trash-hauling crews. Over 82 tons of trash were cleared out of the site, with the help of a front-end loader brought by the City of Bridgeton.

The day before the clean-up, we hosted a group of 140 St. Charles area students at our Missouri River Learning Festival. Two of those students, Chelsea Rideout and Eli Orozco from Thomas Hart Benton Elementary School, got excited about the clean-up and showed up Saturday morning. MRR crewmember Tiffanie Jones offered to show the girls the ropes on doing a river clean-up. The two fourth graders even scored a color picture of themselves on the front of the Post-Dispatch St. Charles page. They were joined by teachers Jim Denner from Lindbergh H.S. and Jacki Janovsky from Parkway NE M.S., who each bring a flock of students to our St. Louis-area events each year (this year they brought 51 kids between the two of them).

If you look across the river from Frontier Park (which is impossible not to do), all you see is a steep, mud and rock bank topped by a wall of impenetrable green. This is the Riverwoods Conservation Area. This wild urban jungle will soon be made accessible by a bike path, in a partnership between the City of Bridgeton and the Great Rivers Greenway. MRR hardcore Lynne Hooper took a crew of volunteers over there and scoured for trash, river to levee all the way to the I-70 bridge. They came back for lunch, then got right back out there to get more. Lynne reports that she also found three morel mushrooms (“Only three?” said one of her crewmates, who found none.)

The Woodmen of the World cooked up lunch for the whole volunteer and boat driving crew. A fresh, grilled hamburger on the riverbank (with sauerkraut if you so desire) cannot be beat.

Even without a central camp, we had almost thirty River Relief hardcores on our crew, from Kansas City, the Mississippi and everywhere in between. We again proved to be a self-directed super-efficient clean-up machine. Many of us spent at least one night in the Quality Inn, where the City of St. Charles graciously put us up for three nights. A post-clean-up shower is a rare but wonderful thing. Check out the Trash List below for details on the diversity of items we pulled from one of the most urban stretches of the Missouri River in the state.

Special Thanks to Brent, Mike, Steve and John (and more!!!) of the City of St. Charles. Thanks to the St. Charles mayor Patti York and City Councilperson Bob Kneemiller for stopping by for the clean-up. Thanks to Dennis deJong of Bridgeton Parks and Rec for some on-site assistance. Super special thanks to our crew of professional boat drivers from the Corps of Engineers, Missouri Dept. of Conservation and the St. Charles Search and Rescue and to Stephanie Williams for publicity, outreach and volunteer recruitment. As always, our volunteers had a safe adventure on the Missouri River, many of them for the first time.

Allied Waste and PSC Metals handled our trash and scrap metal. Richard Lang and his son hauled away all 181 tires that came to shore. Thanks to all of you.

From the River Road,
Steve Schnarr

River Miles: 10
Tons of Trash/Debris: 96 tons
Number of boats: 11 (5 Missouri Dept. of Conservation, 1 Army Corps of Engineers, 2 St. Charles Search and Rescue, 3 Missouri River Relief)

Trash List (Frontier Park Area): 206 bags of trash
  • 181 tires
  • 1 car dashboard
  • 2 bicycles (1 adult, 1 kids)
  • 3 feet fencing
  • 2 metal gas tanks
  • 1 dryer
  • 1 garage door
  • 1 freezer
  • 2 CO2 tanks
  • 1 pressure cooker
  • 2 washing machines
  • 1 chair
  • 3 plastic coolers
  • 1 styrofoam cooler
  • 1 Mizzou hat
  • 1 plastic liquid storage container
  • 1 car battery
  • 1 auto brake disc
  • shattered blue “Bayliner” boat (apparently dropped from the 370 bridge)
  • 3 TVs
  • Message in a bottle (from Memorial Day 2004, Brunswick, MO)
  • 2 50-foot air hoses
  • 1 30-foot water hose
  • 1 five gallon bucket
  • 65 feet of metal barge cable
  • 1 ten-foot piece of garden edging
  • 1 piano hammer
  • 1 small propane tank
  • 3 shoes
  • 3 refrigerators (1 with approx. 500 bullet holes, 1 covered in amateurish graffiti, 1 simply in poor condition)
  • 1 hot water heater
  • 1 laundry rack
  • 1 bedframe
  • 1 plastic barrel w/lid
  • 1 set baby stroller wheels
  • 1 giant truck suspension spring
  • 1 carseat
  • 1 piece of 4”-thick rope
  • 1 basketball
  • 1 piece of blue tin roofing
  • 1 waterski
  • 1 red navigation buoy
  • 1 car fender
  • 2 lengths of guttering
  • 1 boat seat
  • 1 motorcycle seat
  • 1 football
  • 1 dishwasher
  • 4 driveshafts
  • 1 car rear end
  • 1 lawn chair
  • 1 air conditioner
  • 1 gas can, metal
  • 1 gas can, plastic
  • 1 plastic of 3M developer gum
  • 1 highway construction flasher
  • 1 traffic cone
  • 1 truck leaf spring
  • 1 bar stool base
  • 1 truck wheel mount
  • 1 metal plate
  • 3 plastic barrels
Trash List (Bridgeton Dump Site) - with the help of the City of Bridgeton front-end loader, our volunteers collected 82 tons of debris from this site: 5 mattresses
  • 1 comfy foam mattress
  • 4 sofas
  • 1 “Craps, Hi-Lo” mini-casino machine
  • 1 trashcan on wheels
  • 3 toilets – 2 full, 1 partial
  • 1 Mickey Mouse comforter
  • 1 cabinet door
  • 1 office desk
  • 1 car bumper
  • 4 hubcaps
  • 5 quarts of oil (2 full!)
  • 2 car seats
  • 1 TV
  • 2 PVC window frames
  • 1 refrigerator
  • 1 small fridge
  • 3 box springs
  • 10 ten-foot metal tubes
  • 2 bicycle wheels
  • 6 lengths of PVC pipe
  • 2 car wheels
  • 4 car metal bumpers
  • 1 Singer Scholastic sewing machine
  • 4 tomato cages
  • 1 compound chop saw
  • 1 pick-up truck bed liner
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 4 microwaves
  • 5 paint cans (gallon)
  • Partial arcade game w/quarter slot
  • TV casing
  • 1 metal vent
  • 1 metal door
  • 2 car hoods
  • 1 car jack
  • 1 bed headboard
  • 4 PVC pipe w/concrete base
  • 1 “do-it-yourself” desk kit (“with golden hardware!”)
  • House siding (enough for one wall in your house)
  • 7-10 linear feet of picket fence (no, it’s not white anymore)
  • 1 flattened metal tank
  • 1 toilet floater
  • 1 package addressed to Peter Napoli of University City

April 10, 2006

Spring Cleaning Along the Great Rivers Greenway

by Steve Schnarr

If you’ve had a chance to visit the Missouri River this spring, you’ve probably seen “kettles” of turkey vultures soaring the thermals above the bluffs and hilltops that line the river valley. Every spring, “nature’s clean-up crew” of buzzards returns to reclaim the river from the bald eagles that dominate it all winter. That’s the signal for us river rats to get together and prepare for the spring river clean-up season.

Missouri River Relief’s first major Missouri River clean-up of the year is on April 22, headquartered at Frontier Park in St. Charles. The clean-up will be preceded by a Learning Festival on April 21, bringing area students together on the riverfront to learn about the Big Muddy from statewide river experts. Our trash-sorting guru Lynne Hooper has been planning the Learning Festival.

It’s our third visit to this historic riverfront community and our first since 2004. In the meantime, we’ve continued to grow as an organization.

Our crew of “hardcore” river rats has grown each year, showing up at clean-ups across the state to assist volunteers, cook food, host Learning Festival booths and run logistics on the river. “Admiral” John Brady has teamed up with “Captain Brey” (John Breyfogle) to train many of us in safe boat piloting on this tricky, muddy river.

During the past year, we’ve been “gearing up”, adding a box truck to haul equipment, a 24-foot aluminum plate boat named “Saskia” (tripling our trash-hauling capacity), a 15 passenger van to shuttle our growing crew and a pick-up truck for trailering boats. Which means a lot more work for Admiral Brady and our multi-purpose mechanic Racin’ Dave Stevens.

A big, muddy thanks to Bass Pro Shops, MEMCO Barge Lines and Boone Electric Community Trust for equipment donations!

In our six years cleaning up the Missouri River across the state, we’ve met some amazing river people and made a bunch of friends. When we’re lucky, they “jump on the boat” and help us on our mission. Tami Brunk, who got her feet wet back at our first clean-up in Easley, Mo., was back in Columbia for a few months and took on the challenge of coordinating the St. Charles/Bridgeton event. Last year, Stephanie Williams was working with Missouri River Communities Network in Columbia, helping us publicize our Cooper’s Landing Clean-up and “River Fest” benefit. When she moved to St. Louis, she promised she’d do anything she could to help us out. Steph came through for us this spring, handling publicity for the St. Charles event in a much more complicated media market than we’re used to back here in mid-Missouri.

We are again working with our partners in the Great Rivers Greenways District, helping to promote their “River Ring” concept of river-centered greenways. What better way to introduce people to the parks that anchor the “River Ring” than to drop them off by boat to clean up those parks’ shorelines?

The Cities of St. Charles and Bridgeton have jumped in to help once again and, as always, we are indebted to the boat drivers from federal and state agencies (Mo. Dept. of Conservation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this time) that donate their “stick-time” to ferry volunteers and introduce people to the river. Special thanks to Larry Henderson of the St. Charles Recreation Department and to Dennis deJong of the City of Bridgeton Parks and Recreation.

And a bloodcurdling pirate ARRRR to our Executive Director Jim Karpowicz for driving all over the Missouri River Valley developing partnerships, attending meetings and trying to find us a camp spot so we don’t have to stay in hotel rooms in downtown St. Charles!

From the River Road, Steve Schnarr