November 8, 2007

Digging in for diversity

Overton Bottoms Tree Planting
November 3, 2007
Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge

text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Melanie Cheney
(Note: The hardwood trees we planted were donated by Living Lands and Waters ( and Forrest Keeling Nursery. The native bottomland shrubs were purchased at more than 50 percent discount from Missouri Wildflower Nursery. Refuge staff selected the site and species and mowed the area. Friends of Big Muddy and Missouri River Relief coordinated the event. 37 volunteers from Kansas City, Orrick, Columbia, Rocheport, Lupus & Boonville planted the trees)

We drove down the steep hill from the cabin, crossed the railroad tracks, and drove across the bottoms. A light frost, soon to melt, blanketed the grass and the table we had set up the day before.

Just as the gloves, t-shirts and coffee were laid out, the first volunteers started to arrive. The immediate task at hand was wrapping the trunks. 150 trees were wrapped by a growing army. Another group grabbed shovels and headed down into the lower terrace with refuge Asst. Manager Barbara Moran to plant shrubs: elderberry, rough-leaved dogwood, false indigo & buttonbush.

A trailer was loaded with wrapped trees and pulled through the planting, with a couple folks unloading five trees at a time into small clumps. The trees got laid out in a grid (for easy mowing…not natural aesthetics…) and pretty people split into pairs and were planting away.

Looking across the planting field, scattered with young oaks and backs bent putting them in the ground, the background was a dark line running five feet high throughout the woods edging the bottom. The line marks the height of this spring's flood, serving as a reminder that any messing around we do in these bottoms is subject to the whims of the river herself.

The morning was perfect down in the valley. The sugar maples along the bluffs were at peak color, brightening as the morning went on. It was quick work, and soon we realized…we’re done.

37 folks took part, including some very small children who did everything from gathering empty pots and flags to patting down the soil around the young trees.

The effort was symbolic. Another new tract of land had just been added to the Big Muddy Refuge, and here was a bunch of river loving folks showing up early on a Saturday morning to help shape it. As the last pots and flags were gathered up, most of the folks went with refuge Asst. Manager Barbara Moran and Troy Gordon of Friends of Big Muddy for a walk down to the river, passing through the thick, new cottonwood forest, patches of older forest and past several scour hole ponds created in the 93 flood and continuing to harbor waterfowl throughout the winter season.

We met back at the beautiful blufftop cabin for lunch and a presentation on the refuge. Everyone still had energy and time to enjoy the beautiful fall day.

Click here to check out the great Columbia Tribune article on the day!

Restoring what?

Overton Bottoms Tree Planting
November 3, 2007
Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge

text by Steve Schnarr, photo by Melanie Cheney
These tree plantings are often called restorations, but that is probably the wrong word for what’s happening. If you want trees to grow in most places of these bottoms, you just stop mowing. You’ll get trees – you don’t have to plant them. These hardwood plantings are actually a real artificial attempt to bring something back to the area that nature rarely, but importantly, provided before historic times.

The situation on the ground now is that a majority of land on the refuge is undergoing a rapid natural succession cycle. There are patches of older forest, but most of the visible bottomland is cottonwood, willow, silver maple and sycamore grown up since the 95 flood. It’s a race for sunlight, and these fast growing trees are tall and slender. Only the oldest trees have branches that stretch out into the forest.

Those trees that get crowded out die and fall to the ground. The forest floor is criss-crossed with logs, branches and fallen vines – slow-release fertilizer for the future. In this scramble for the sky, slower growing trees like oaks don’t have a chance. When the river ran free across the bottoms, accumulating patches of disturbance, varied soils and topography, trees like oaks and hickories found places where they could get a foothold. In this new situation, where suddenly thousands of acres of land are being taken out of cultivation and allowed to grow up in trees, where are these footholds?

So humans make decisions, based on a lot of ecologically irrelevant reasons (like property boundaries, previous land uses and available funds), to artificially bring a little diversity to the equation. History and old survey lines show that there were rare pockets of oaks throughout the Missouri River bottomlands, attracting their own mix of wildlife. Most of these were logged for firewood, to fuel steamboats and as railroad ties. Occasional pockets of pecans were found in the Missouri River bottoms. Some speculate that these were all planted by Native Americans who saw how useful and flood tolerant they were.

So, once again, nature and human intention are mixing. It’s yet another time of rapid change in the Missouri River bottoms, and once again, people and the many forces of nature are in a push-pull effort. We just hope that this time, our efforts will help and not harm.

October 25, 2007

Tally Ho in the Big O!

Omaha & Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up
September 22, 2007
Riverfront Marina at Lewis & Clark Landing

We had another amazing weekend working in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area for our second Missouri River cleanup in those wonderful river towns. Watch this space for more stories and pictures of the event, but here are the results from the day.

Thanks to everyone who helped out (the list is long....), but especially the Army Corps of Engineers, Back to the River, Inc., the National Park Service and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. All the trash from the day was collected on an Army Corps of Engineers barge brought down the river for the occasion.

Total Volunteers:
River Relief Core Crew:
River Miles:
15 (river mile 610-625, both banks)
Tons of Landfill Trash:
5.4 tons
Tons of Scrap Metal:
1.29 tons
Number of Boats:
15 (US Army Corps of Engineers-2; Nebraska Game & Parks Commission-6; Missouri River Relief-4; Iowa Department of Natural Resources-1; National Park Service-1; Izaac Walton League-1)
Groups Represented:
Boy Scout Troops 3572, 430 & 494, CASS Program of Iowa Western Community College, Izaac Walton League.
Names of Volunteer Crews:
“Spanish”, “Red Hot Chili Lobsters”, “Holy Cross”, “Ballers”, “Troop 3572”, “McCarty 5”, “Trash Pirates”, “Yellow”, “Dirty Dozen”, “River Beavers”, “Troop 494”, “Flaming Dragons”, “Pink Salamanders”, “Air Force 1”, “Boy Scouts”

Partial List of Trash

Large Trash Bags
(several required
5-8 people to lift) 233
Wheel Chair
(Excellent Condition) 1
Tent with Mattress 1
55 gallon plastic barrels 7
Lawn Mower Decks 2
Tires 15
Fence Posts 2
Pieces of Carpet 6
Blankets 2
Car Battery 2
Steam Camp Heater 1
Safe 1
Coolers 1
Wooden Door Slab 1
Tarps 3
Baby Stroller (no baby) 1
Wad of Insulation 1
Mesh Fence 30ft
PVC Pipe 60ft
Tire Pieces 4
Metal Tent Poles 18
Styrofoam Chunks 12
Metal Stand 1
Rubber Hose 1
Large Plastic Disc’s 5
Frying Pan 1
Sign 1
Cooking Pot 1
Bike Tires 5
Fire Extinguisher 1
Truck Parts 1
Basket Balls 2
Scrap Metal 23
Milk Crates 2
Wire Cable 25ft
Kickstand 1
Propane Tanks 3
Wheelchair Arm 1
Chairs 11 1/2
Lazy Boy Metal 1
Bicycles 9
Stainless Steel Kitchen Sink 1
Tire Rims 5
Exhaust Pipes/Mufflers 3
Shovel 1
Refrigerators 2
55 Gallon Metal Barrels 5
Carpet Pads 2
Metal Springs 5
Fishing Table 1
Metal Grill 7
Baseballs 10
Large Nylon Tents 2
Sleeping Bag 1
5 Gallon Buckets 4
Large Banner 4
Plastic Ornamental
Tree w/Stand- 1
Mattress’ 2
Plastic Trash Can 1
Plastic 100 Gallon
Chemical Tank (broken) 1
Tables 2
Electrical Conducters 2
Stripped Electrical Cable 100ft
Plastic Cafeteria Tray 1
Full Bud Light 1
Propane tank with written message: “This property guarded by unfriendly pets”
½ of a Cooler
Large Cardboard Spool

Cooper's Clean-up Trash Tally

Cooper's Landing Clean-up
September 15, 2007
Cooper's Landing Marina at the Port of Nashville

Here's the results from our Cooper's Landing Missouri River clean-up on September 15. Thanks to Dyan Pursell for keeping such a meticulous list! And thanks to Veolia Environmental Services for donating a rolloff dumpster, Jimmy Rippeto for hauling off our scrap metal, AutoTech for dealing with the tires and especially for Civic Recycling, who took our plastic, aluminum and glass (one of the only places in the state that will take river-ravaged recyclables...)

Total Volunteers: 36
River Relief Core Crew: 20
River Miles: 8 (168-174 both banks, plus 2 miles up the mouth of the Perche Creek)
Road & Trail Miles: 3
Tons of Landfill Trash: 1.1
Tons of Scrap Metal: estimated 1.4 tons
Recyclables: 128 cubic feet of plastic, 400 lbs. glass, 20 lbs. aluminum
Number of Boats: 3 (Missouri Department of Conservation: 1; River Relief: 2)
Groups Represented: Friends of Big Muddy
Names of Volunteer Crews: “Trash Gordon”, “Jo-Rod”, “The Roadies”

Partial List of Trash

note: of the 59 bags of trash, 21 were thrown
in the dumpster after sorting out the recyclables
59 bags of trash
18 tires
6 folding chairs
4 styrofoam chunks
1 message in a bottle from Wathena, KS, at rivermile 439
3 refrigerators
3 washing machines
2 fiber boards
2 poly 3-gallon jugs
2 pieces PVC pipe
2 decoy ducks
1 ziplock bag full of superhero action figures
2 coolers
2 left dancing shoes
2 parts of plastic lawn chair
2 plastic tubs
2 car floor mats
2 propane tanks

2 bicycle tires on rim
1 sleeping bag
1 bathroom sink
1 big TV
1 ceiling fan
1 10x13 propeller
1 stainless steel countertop
1 roll rubbing sheeting
1 1/2-foot garden hose
1 plastic baseball bat
1 car seat
1 house door
1 exercise bike
1 house door 1 super soaker
1 5-gallon plastic bucket
1 folding camp chair
1 caution sign
1 outdoor chair pad
1 message in a bottle
1 woman’s net underwear
1 Honda motorcycle fuel tank
1 winnie the pooh ball

1 FILA tennis shoe
1 binoculars
1 plastic mop bucket
1 paddle boat
1 steel 55 gallon barrel
1 plastic 55 gallon barrel
1 30-gallon metal barrel
1 buoy
½ of a plastic feed container
scrap metal
1 DVD of some pretty raunchy porn

October 22, 2007

The Craziest River Race Ever

Second Annual Flying Carp Canoe & Kayak Races September 15, 2007
Cooper's Landing at the Port of Nashville
River Ladies Auxiliary & Missouri River Relief

text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Melanie Cheney, map by Tim Nigh
If any of you were lucky enough to catch the second ever Flying Carp Races at Cooper's Landing last month...I imagine you'll never forget it.

The trouble with canoe races on the Missouri River is that they're difficult to watch. You can watch paddlers one by one cruise by your spot, but then you've got to get up and move if you want to see more. And let's face it, there's just not a lot of places to see the river.

The River Ladies Auxiliary, a group of longtime River Reliefers from the mid-Missouri area, have that problem solved. Just make the paddlers go upstream!

Sept. 15 was gorgeous, and a slew of paddlers showed up to strut their stuff and brave the ridiculous course designed for them by the RLA. The first race was with one adult and one child in canoes. The paddlers had to cruise upstream, navigating around wing dikes and several placed buoys. When they got to the sandbar at the mouth of the Perche, they had to hop out and find one piece of recyclable trash for each catagory: glass, plastic, steel & aluminum. They bagged up their stash and then ran back to their canoe to continue downstream, past Cooper's then back up to the ramp.

Tim Nigh and Heidi Bennett came up with names for all the obstacles and Tim put together this map:

The upstream part of the race was brutal. But the heart that these kids and their parents showed was totally amazing. No one gave up and everyone finished with huge, exhausted smiles.

The second race was run with two classes at once: tandem canoe and solo kayak. Here's the lowdown on how the race was run: Folks started at the wingdike by Cooper's ramp. They ferried across the river, around the buoy at "Carpbait Curve". Then they muscled upstream, passing through a pair of buoys at the end of "Deadman's Dike". Crossing the river again, they flew downstream to snag a flag from the beach called "Scurvy Sandbar". Back in the river, they entered the mouth of Bonne Femme Creek (the "Maiden's Mouth"), swung around a buoy, then hit the channel again, passing Cooper's ramp and maneuvering around a very tricky buoy in the eddy at "Pirate's Cove". The final push was upstream again, over a wingdike and into "Cooper's Bay."

It was an outrageous race. Tim Nigh and Dyno did the play-by-play over the PA, with occasional on-the-spot reports from Racin' Dave on the roving safety boat. One person tipped over, just as the first place canoe and kayak were passing over the final wingdike. Each race entrant had a name. There were play-by-play reports like this: "The Pirates missed the Maiden's Mouth! And now look, the Booty Snatchers are now snatching the lead. Folks, just goes to show that you should never forget the Maiden's's a mortal sin!"

Racers got great prizes like pies, massage gift certificates and the "Cooper's Cup", filled with beer or root beer.

The action was followed up by a jam by Naked Dave & the Blue Cats and a dance-off hosted by Los Desterrados (called, in typical Heidi Bennett style the "Charlie Brown Boogie-Down Danceoff"). Once again...just about the coolest party of the year, celebrating the river and the amazing community of river rats that call Cooper's Landing home.

Here's the rundown of winners:
Cooper's Cup, adult & child tandem: "The Hartsburgers" - Bill and Maggie Rotts
Cooper's Cup, tandem canoe: "The Booty Snatchers" - Eric Hempel & Rod Power
Cooper's Cup, solo kayak: "Dump Diva" (or "ankle-biting sand flea") - Jessi Just (back from Oregon!)

Homeport Celebration....

Cooper's Clean-up & Flying Carp Canoe & Kayak Races
September 15, 2007
Cooper's Landing, Port of Nashville
River Ladies Auxiliary & Missouri River Relief
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Melanie Cheney

The River Ladies Auxiliary has been going strong for a couple years now, putting together clean-ups and outrageous riverside events at our homeport of Cooper's Landing on Providence Bend. This mysterious group of river rats always throws the best party of the year down there, raising funds for river events and raising up the community energy.

This year, Heidi Bennett was intent on hosting the coolest paddler race ever on the Missouri River. In typical River Relief fashion, we decided..."well, while we're at it, let's do a clean-up, too."

So on Sept. 15, we started our day with a small, local clean-up and followed it up with a river celebration, RLA style. The clean-up focused on trashy party spots in the area and a massive drift pile chocked full of trash from this spring's flood. Some folks walked our "Adopt-a-road" stretch along the river and the Katy Trail, gleaning several bags of trash and a chest freezer. A road crew headed to the McBaine Bottoms to pluck several appliances recently dumped on the roadside near the big bur oak tree.

We had a couple of boats hit the water. One of our boats was down, so we called Jeremy Kolaks from MDC to come in at the last minute, and he scoured the river road banks with a crew. Another crew went up the Perche Creek, looking for a half-a-paddleboat and a porta-potty a local river rat had reported. Found the paddleboat, still missing the porta-potty....

We kept this clean-up small on purpose...we wanted a more relaxed local effort before the afternoon's races. The energy that came out of it was anything but small, though. The recyclable sorting scene was frantic as always, and there was amazing homebaked goodies from Su Saragnese, Krissy Heitcamp and Jeanie Kuntz.

Brett Allen from Civic Recycling offered to take our plastic, aluminum and glass (he's the only one in the state that we know of that will accept river-ravaged recyclables). Local scrapper Jimmy Rippeto hauled off the scrap and appliances and Veolia donated a rolloff bin for everything else. AutoTech, our steady car mechanics, took our tires (although after looking at the stack of muddy tires with the rims...he may have regretted it).

Special thanks to Mike Cooper and the gang for hosting us again. And thanks to all you river lovers that came to help. One again, we got an amazing amount of trash with just a few handfuls of folks. Next year we'll do a big clean-up in the area!

And this is a photo of veteran clean-up queen Robyn Ricks with her newborn son Harrison. Robyn's husband, Sam Wright, raced in the Flying Carp races in the afternoon with Dave Dittmer (under the name "Lumberjerks") - they placed fourth!

Kansas City Collage

Dave Richter sent some photos into animoto...these are mostly shots from the morning at our Oct. 6 Kaw Point Clean-up.

October 1, 2007

September 10, 2007

A Hot Day in the Old Town...Again

St. Charles Missouri River Clean-up
August 11, 2007

text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Dave Marner
The major thing on our minds as we got ready for our August 11 clean-up in St. Charles (our fifth in old San Carlos) was the heat. We made plans for extra water, extra pop-up tents, a couple on site cooling area and extra water… We decided to bring people off the river a half hour early and to keep the sites close to home base. And we made sure to have lots of extra water.

We weren’t the only ones with heat on our minds. Craig Holt, our oldest St. Louis-area regular, was already on site when we showed up in the morning with a cooling station set up at the base of the ramp and a couple jugs of iced water and Gatorade. Bob (didn’t catch his last name) from the local CERT team showed up with a mini-ambulance, a fan, a tent with a cot, and a bunch of cooled, wet towels.

We had 250 signups on our website for the day, but didn’t know how many folks would look at the forecast Friday night and still think it was a good idea to scramble around the banks of the Missouri River digging out trash. They started trickling in early. The Meremec Strike Team were there an hour early, ready with a bag of tools, extra water and a gas-powered chop saw.

Just as new boats were freed up, more volunteers arrived, and pretty soon we had 144 people working hard on the river. A lot of regulars showed up, along with Fox TV and KTVI. We took a bunch of new folks on the river, many for their first time, and tackled some wicked spots.

The Meremec folks went at a 61 Impala half buried in the bank, with another crew tackling an old dumpsite near the Blanchette Bridge where we had worked every year we had been in the area. Folks scoured the Frontier Park riverfront.

A spot that had been our major dumpsite last year, absorbing over 50 volunteers and yielding more than 100 tires, was almost clean. A cooperative effort between the City of Bridgeton and Great Rivers Greenway had turned the area into a beautiful park with a riverside trail and bridge. Access to the dumpsite had been blocked off and a major blight on the riverfront was eliminated.

Crews headed five miles upstream to a massive drift rack chock full of plastic, glass and a few appliances.

Meanwhile, another reclamation activity was going on simultaneously. The vehicle of a woman who had been missing for several weeks was found Friday by search crews dragging the bottom of the river. It had drifted several hundred feet downstream from the ramp she drove into the river at, where we were launching boatloads of volunteers.

A boom crane was brought to shore, and the truck was lifted in one piece from the bottom of the river. By the time lunch was served they whole operation was being packed up and the vehicle hauled away to be searched.

At this clean-up, we made a special effort to recruit other Missouri Stream Team members, and it really paid off. At least 16 teams were represented, including ourselves (#1875).

Thanks to our hardcore volunteers Ruthie Moccia and Dareth Goettemoeller, we showed off our newly stenciled crop of lifejackets. They had painstakingly stipple painted all the new jackets, and scraped and touched up a slew of the old ones. They looked fantastic in the St. Charles Journal article by Steve Pokin, which you really should check out by the way. He did an excellent job of describing the experience of being abandoned on the riverside with one job in mind: cleaning up the riverbank.

That evening, we retired to our hotel (courtesy of St. Charles Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and Quality Inn) for our usual St. Charles urban clean-up experience. Instead of eating gathered around a campfire, we hunkered down in the “Lewis and Clark” meeting room with plates full of food Jeanie Kuntz had prepared at home, hauled to St. Charles and heated up in crock pots.

Our photographer for the day, Dave “the River Slave” Marner took us out to see some of his buddies play blues in the 120+ year-old Corner Bar, featuring the most amazing harp player I’d ever seen in such tight quarters. We even got to play the old three-pin bowling game downstairs (manned by a swift high schooler rolling balls back and setting up pins) before being kicked out by the group who had rented out the space (oops!). I have to mention that I got three strikes in a row…

The event and organization is supported by Pat Jones, the St. Louis/Jefferson Solid Waste Management District, Great Rivers Greenway, City of St. Charles, St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau, US Army Corps of Engineers, Missouri Department of Conservation, US Fish & Wildlife Service, AEP River Operations, Bass Pro Shops, Boeing Employees Community Fund, Missouri American Water, Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, Ameren UE, Quality Inn, Anheuser-Busch and Waterways Council, Inc.

Here's the results from the day!

Total Volunteers: 146
Missouri River Relief Core Crew: 18
River Miles: 10 miles (RM 24-34, both banks)
Tons of Landfill Trash: 2.21 tons
Tons of Scrap Metal: .84 tons
Tires: 81
Number of Boats: 10 boats (3 MDC, 2 USFWS, 1 USACE, 4 MRR); plus 1 safety boat from St. Charles City Fire Dept.

Names of Volunteer Teams: The Wild Cats, Trailer Trash, Team River Trash, The Super 8, Ram Rod, Arnold, White Trash, Swamp Turkeys, River Rats, Joe’s 2nd, Pink Elephants, Down&Dirty, River Warriors, Beepers, Extreme Nature Nuts, Major Appliances

Stream Teams: 2950, 462, 346, 2499, 1857, 288, "Mighty 211", 1008, 1875, 1711, 347, 2300, 1439, 3164, 2788, 3427

Partial trash tally:

81 tires
107 large trash bags of landfill trash
5 Styrofoam chunks
3 plastic coolers
1 metal cooler
1 double sink (lemon yellow)
5 plastic buckets
1 washer
1 washer motor
1 drier
3 refrigerators
2 chest freezers
1 water heater
1 car rim
1 shovel
5 metal culverts
1 metal flashing
23 railroad spikes
1 trash can lid
1 plastic patio endtable
1961 Impala (1 door, 1 wheel assembly, 1 steering column, 1 rear axle assembly with tire attached, 1 hood, 1 bumper, 1 fender, 1 left-front suspension unit)
1 car-door window pane
1 large spring
1 highway sign with broken blinking light
1 section of a front-end loader
1 pink floral comforter
1 moving-van quilt
3 meat cleavers
1 hunting arrow
1 Ken doll head
1 cell phone
1 fishing rod
2 metal 55-gallon drums
2 blue plastic barrels
3 bicycles
1 large green (ugly) stuffed tiger
1 couch
1 bundle of shingles
1 2 foot piece of heavy duty spring
1 piece of a front-end loader bucket
1 piece of a plow
1 4-ft piece of barge rope
1 orange construction barrel
1 truck spring
Countless scraps of rusty metal and pipe

August 16, 2007

Life and Times of a Vagabond Refrigerator

Mouth of the Osage River Clean-up
July 28
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Jen Courtney
Earlier in this blog I mentioned a very interesting piece of trash...a refrigerator that travelled this spring all the way from St. Joseph, MO, to very near the mouth of the Osage River.

At our July 28 clean-up, we finally got the thing off the river!!!

Here's the story...

Last summer, Missouri River Relief engaged in a very interesting journey. We mapped trash on the Missouri River all the way from Ponca State Park, NE, to the Mississippi River - 754 miles on both banks. We called it the MegaScout. (see our MegaScout blog for more stories:

Each river mile was given a 0-5 "trashiness" rating. Dumps, appliances, massive accumulations and large trash items were GPS-ed and photographed if possible. Large floatable objects (refrigerators, hot water heaters, 55 gallon barrels, etc.) were "tagged" - we spray-painted the river mile, date and our initials ("MRR") on the side.

This would give us the chance to know, when we pulled these things out of the river, that it was something we saw on the MegaScout AND just how far it had travelled in the interim.

When I was scouting with Soda Popp before the Bonnots Mill clean-up, we spotted one of these refrigerators in a rack pile of driftwood. It was "tagged" with the rivermile 460, from Mill Creek Bend just above St. Joseph, MO. It had travelled 326 miles during the spring flood!!!

We knew we absolutely had to get that thing out of there at the clean-up.

It wasn't easy!

Here's a photo journal of this crazy, vagabond refrigerator:

1. Melanie Cheney "tags" it up above St. Joseph in July, 2006, at river mile 460.

2. Soda Popp takes a picture of it with his cell phone in June, 2007, at river mile 134.

3. Clean-up volunteers use a log to lift the refrigerator up so Troy Gordon can attach a come-along.

4. Using two come-alongs and a chain, Tim Nigh lifts the fridge out of the rack pile as Big Muddy Wildlife Refuge Ranger Tim Haller looks on.

5. They roll it onto the boat, then haul it to shore.

The MegaScout project was turned into an interactive GIS map of the river by our GIS Specialist Dan Belshe. The "first draft" of the project is available in two forms:
1. MegaScout 1.1 - An Arc Reader version of the map. Includes the free software necessary to read the maps, it is a "read-only" document. It doesn't include aerial photos. On a single-layer DVD.
2. MegaScout 2.0 - An ArcInfo map dataset. Includes all of the MegaScout data along with aerial photos, a shapefile of the Missouri River, dike files, public land files, streamdata, roads and more. On a double-layer DVD, it requires that the user has ArcGIS software.

If you are interested in either of these products, contact Missouri River Relief at 573.443.0292 or

Anatomy of a trash get

Mouth of the Osage River Clean-up
July 28, 2007

Photos by Jen Courtney and Lindsay Tempinson
Text by Steve Schnarr

Coast Guard navigation buoys are a common trash item to find on Missouri River clean-ups. The buoys are used to mark the navigation channel for barges. As you boat
downstream, red buoys are on your left, green buoys on your right. As river levels come up and down, bringing rafts of drift along with them, buoys become unmoored and float downstream until they catch up on shore or in drift piles.

They are extremely heavy and a super pain to get out of there. Most scrappers won't take them, because they're filled with cyanide foam. The Coast Guard used to offer bounties for them, but now they won't even take them for free. We've decided, rather than leave them on the river, to pull them out anyway and stick them in a landfill.

At the July 28 clean-up at Bonnots Mill, we had a crew of diehards working a driftpile several miles up the Missouri. Watching their creativity and sweat in getting this buoy out of there is pretty impressive stuff:

1. Members of Friends of Big Muddy and the Sierra Club tie ropes to the buoy to pull it free of the drift pile.

2. It finally comes loose!

3. They then drag and carry it to the boat to haul to shore.

4. W.T. (his first clean-up) heaves the buoy up onto the bow of the boat.

5. It take four people to safely move the buoy into MDC bobcat driver Charlie Nelson's bucket.

6. John Brady and Troy Gordon chain the buoy down before Charlie hauls it away.


Back at Soda Popp's

Mouth of the Osage River Clean-up
Bonnots Mill, MO
July 28, 2007

text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Lindsay Tempinson & Jen Courtney
(note: we're a little behind on postings...sorry!)

When we got to Soda Popp’s, Craig Holt had already been there for a day. Soda put him to work, digging a latrine, fashioning a privy out of tarps and t-posts, collecting and stacking firewood.

Craig is an old clean-up regular, although we hadn’t seen him since last year on the Osage. He arrives with his (newly rebuilt) pickup, throws up a tent camp and makes sure we have an overabundance of firewood. Often he shows up a day early to get ready. Like most of this crew, he looks for something that needs to be done and does it.

Soon, the crew began to arrive…boats storming down the Osage to tie up at Soda’s Gas Barge and rigs kicking up monster clouds of dust on God’s Country Road (Soda’s address is 1 God’s Country Road).

The box truck was emptied and the Flying Nun tent erected for a weekend as our collective kitchen. A badminton net was hung and pretty soon dogs were chasing birdies all over under the cottonwoods and pecans.

It rained when we scouted for trash on the river, it rained when Ruthie tried to paint MRR logos on our new lifejackets, and it rained as we gathered for our pre-clean-up pow-wow. Which knocked a few degrees off the temperature at least.

Beanie, our River Relief mascot, a tough old river dog from Alligator Cove, was having a tough time getting around. His fishing partner, John Breyfogle, stayed by his side as he stumbled down the gas barge ramp, getting his foot caught for a few minutes. He soon extracted himself and moved on, with Brey one step ahead or behind.

The crew was a mix of folks new to River Relief and a bunch of diehards. Rusty came back with my old friend Robert. They fried up catfish and boiled corn (Soda, the daily fisherman, snickered when he heard the catfish came from Moser’s). Jeanie and Dee worked up some veggies and we feasted before the rains came back.

We talked through the next day’s mission tucked dry under the Flying Nun. By the time we finished, the rain had stopped and the fire was kicking. We sang a few songs and crashed hard in our tent city along the Osage.
Clean-up morning
From our camp at Soda Popp’s, it’s a short boat ride across the Osage River to Bonnots Mill Ramp, clean-up headquarters. But the drive is about 45 minutes, winding your way out of the river hills, crossing the Osage by the Mari-Osa Delta, and winding your way back down to the beautiful rivertown of Bonnots Mill.

That’s what Racin’ Dave and Joe had to do, working Ol’ Yeller the box truck through the Osage hills.

The rest of us loaded gear, ice water and lifejackets into the boats, pored over the maps, gulped some coffee and cruised across to the ramp just as Dave pulled into view.

Folks from the Mouth of the Osage River area, from Jeff City, Columbia and Mokane, and even St. Charles started rolling in, signing up and getting their safety talks. A couple local boaters came up to get bags and t-shirts. Connie Berhorst, who has a cabin across the river, showed up with her three children Lexie, Tucker and Lanie (who had put 50 fliers up around the area for us).

Tim Haller (Big Muddy Wildlife Refuge) came in with a boatload of volunteers, and Patty Herman (lead technician for USFWS) led a group of biologists and teen volunteers in a couple of science boats. Jared Milligan from MDC came ready to haul folks on the rivers. Jamie Coe and Warren Taylor showed up in Jamie’s pontoon to take our sponsor Pat Jones, an amazing local conservationist, out on the river.

That’s when the thing we all got together to do happened. Folks started hauling trash out of the river and its banks.
If you got worries, just come out and help
Earlier in the week, the Osage River hit the local news. This time it wasn’t record fish or high waters, it was local tragedy. A fisherman pulled anchor near the mouth of the Maries River and caught a glimpse of a human hand before dropping his anchor, shocked. The river was dredged and divers searched, but nothing was found.

There was one mother who was especially interested. Peggy Florence’s daughter, Jasmine Haslag, had been missing for over a month. Peggy called our office before the clean-up, asking us to keep track of any suspicious sightings of personal items.

Just as the last boat took off, Peggy arrived at registration. She explained her situation- a week full of dread mixed with hope on top of a month full of worries - then asked what she could do to help. As the first boat came in, she became the “Tally”, keeping track of the refuse we dragged from the river shores. As she went from stranger to intimately involved, she regained her smile and strut.

The first boatload was a dump from a creek bank just downstream, what Soda referred to as the Bonnots Community Dump. Dumps often contain the most fascinating items, and this was no exception. A rabbit hutch fashioned from chicken wire, 2x4s and roofing tin; some tires; a weight machine. Old magazines, old farm implement pieces and a bunch of scrap metal. Gutters, angle iron and fence posts.

As folks came back, a wonderful handmade lunch was served and folks reclined in the shade.

All told, we cleaned up the point dividing the Osage and Missouri, a monster pile of trash lodged in driftwood upstream (near the historic mouth of the Osage), a bunch of “floater trash” scattered throughout the woods, and stuff washed along the banks of the Osage. Folks that have cabins along the Osage keep things pretty clean, so most of our efforts were on overgrown and public land.

As Charlie Nelson from MDC (a veteran of the first Missouri River Relief clean-up in Easley) hauled the last bucketload of tires to the pile with his bobcat, we crashed in the shade then headed across the Osage for a swim.

Another view of the river:
As we sat down to another wonderful meal put together by Jeanie Kuntz, Dee Kinnard and Krissy Heitcamp, we had a couple surprises. Soda Popp arranged for an MU grad student who had been studying paddlefish on the Osage to come talk about his project. He did a great job fielding all our river rat questions and we all learned a ton about this amazing prehistoric creature and its spawning habits.

We also got a visit from the MR340 canoe race crew, on their way back up river to Kansas City. Scott Manser talked to us about the race and some of the memorable stories from the week. Our own MR340 racer, Jeff Barrow, arrived at camp just then, still reeling from his hot week on the river. Perfect timing!

Special Thanks:
These things would be nowhere near as efficient or memorable without the help of agency boat drivers like Colby Wrasse, Patty Herman, Tim Haller and Chris McLeland of USFWS or Jared Milligan of MDC. Muchas gracias! And a super-duper river rat holler out to our old friend Charlie Nelson for driving the ramp bobcat.

Our thanks to Allied Waste and Galamba Metal for their donations of rolloffs for landfill trash and scrap metal. Jim Salmons came all the way from Fulton to haul off our 53 tires, and gave us a good deal. River Ratz club let us use their water hose.

Missouri Stream Teams, as always, donated first aid kits, t-shirts, gloves and their huge, heavy duty trash bags. Troy and Jeanine Gordon set up a booth for Friends of Big Muddy, and brought their beautiful daughters.

Our board president and “designated adult” John Brady donated $500 for food. Our bellies thank you John.

Pat Jones, who lives just north of Bonnots Mill, up on the prairie border in Callaway County, donated generously to our program, allowing us to purchase a new (used) boat with a mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District Grant.

Jeanie Kuntz, our head “food angel”, Dee Kinnard, Krissy Heitcamp, Rusty Baker, Robert Riesenmey and Su Sarengense (with her amazing cakes and cookies) kept us well fed all weekend.

Most of all, thanks to Soda Popp, for putting up with our craziness for yet another weekend – and inviting us back! Ask about Mardi Gras beads at his Gas Barge next time you fill up there!

August 2, 2007

In Memory of Beanie

A Heckuva River Dog
by John Breyfogle, photo by Tim Cheney
This weekend, our River Relief mascot, Beanie the river dog, went to his last clean-up at the mouth of the Osage River near Bonnots Mill, MO. Beanie's been all over the state, the most loyal dog ever. On Tuesday evening, he passed away. His fishing partner, John Breyfogle, wrote this little piece about his friend:

In Memory

Beanie passed away at the Animal Emergency Center on August 31st from complications of pancreatitis. He was 13 years old. He will be remembered most as our beloved River Relief Mascot, perched on the bow of a boat — ears waving in the wind.

He was an official volunteer for Stream Team 1876 — “Alligator Cove” and retrieved about 100 pounds of “floaters”during his career — styrafoam, plastic, and glass bottles and many tennis balls. His eyesight was uncanny, both at day and at night. He once formed his own little pile of trash on the river bank.

Beanie retired from retrieving trash in 2005 because of Arthritis and weak hips. We were on the river bank one day and he just sat there — looking over the water. His expression was — “I quit”, and it was both funny and sad. He continued to wade in the river but never swam again.
Because he couldn’t swim, I felt it was only appropriate to make him a River Relief Search and Rescue T-shirt.

Beanie loved to camp, fish and boat. He was able to retrieve a hooked fish on a line underwater in the murky Missouri River. It was the most incredible thing I’d ever seen. He never got tangled in the line and never got “poked”by a catfish. Once the fish was in his mouth it became motionless — another mystery. I remember hooking a 7 pound Carp and the major battle that took place. It was difficult for Beanie’s mouth to fit around the big fish. There was much thrashing and splashing and soon the cove was all muddied-up. He never quit though, until the fish was on the bank. With great effort he carried the fish up the steps from the river, placed it in the shade and laid next to it with the widest grin I’d ever seen.

I never told many people about Beanie’s fishing, in fear that he might be stolen.

Beanie was featured on a Hallmark card in his younger years, in the pet section of the major stores. He was paid $200.00 for 5 hours of work. I kept $!99.00 and gave him 1 dollar. He was happy. He saw me through times of adversity and had the incredible ability to “make everything OK.”

One day we were driving in my old pick-up and he was sitting very close. I wanted more space — so I turned and burped in his ear. He then turned and burped in my ear, a little muffled dog-burp. I began laughing so hard, that he finally moved over.
He touched the lives of hundreds of people he met along Missouri Streams and Rivers. He was quiet, gentle and perceptive, but most of all —
he was just Beanie.....

God bless my fishing buddy.

July 26, 2007


Doin' Ground Crew
text & photos by Vicki Richmond

Missouri River Relief has, as a central part of its mission, the desire to simply bring people to the wonderful river that connects us all. If you’ve had a shower, a glass of water or some ice, you’ve probably been a user of the river today.

I am always intrigued by other ways to get people to the river that don’t involve trash! A boat ride, sunset on a ramp, a swim, a bit of sandbar archeology serve the purpose. In Kansas City this Tuesday morning, 75 adventurers found a great way to meet the Missouri- by competitively canoeing 340 miles of her from Kaw Point, Ks to St. Charles, MO.

This race, called the MR 340 is billed as the longest flat water race in the country. Last year, the inaugural race attracted 15 competitors, 1/3 of which did not complete the race. Paddlers must check in at 9 points along the way and complete the journey to St. Charles in 100 hours. It is a test of endurance. Many paddlers compete just to complete the trip.

Paddlers began arriving at Kaw Point Park at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers about 5 am. By 7, the ramp was jammed with canoes and kayaks of all types. Ground crews and paddlers worked on strategy, locating re-supply points and packed coolers, readying for the race gun. The calm waters of the Kaw began to show slicing wakes as paddlers took to their boats and warmed up.

Jeff Barrow, MRR coordinator, avid paddler, river rat, esteemed author and buddy of mine had planned his strategy for weeks. He would be paddling for Missouri River Relief and our crew was on deck to be ground support. I had the enjoyable task of being on hand at the start and his first re-supply stop. We met on the ramp amid the mayhem that precedes a race.

At 7:55, the strains of the National Anthem rang out as paddlers and supporters turned to face the flag flying at the Point. Kansas City, Ks Mayor Joe Reardon made brief remarks and Pro Bowl Lineman Will Shields began the countdown as the gathered crowd counted along.

5,4,3,2,1 CRACK-

With a splash of paddles and yells of encouragement, they were off. I’ll not soon forget the sight of 75 boats, all headed straight for the beautiful downtown skyline. It didn’t take a fine piece of camera equipment to capture the scene.

As soon as they all got into the channel, we headed fast for Berkeley Park. everyone was still in a group and 75 boats are impressive when they are all headed in one direction. That was something Kansas Citians never see. We stood on the levee and watched as the boats passed by, yelling encouragement to our friends.

I headed for home to pick up supplies for Jeff’s first stop. He started the race off light and we had a secret spot to re-supply. After picking up frozen water bottles, sports drinks, fruit and sandwiches, we headed off to La Benite Park in Sugar Creek.

Jeff called in as he passed La Benite without stopping. He was making good time and we would rendezvous 10 miles down river at Alligator Cove, home of Captain Brey and Beanie the dog. I did stop at La Benite in time to see the last half of the pack pass by. More shouts of support from shore rang out as lawn chaired cohorts encouraged their racers. After a check in to see how other friends were faring, I hopped in the truck and headed for our re-supply point.

I arrived at Alligator Cove in plenty of time to have a swim with my dog before the first of the paddlers passed by. First came the hot tandem rigs with performance attired paddlers never missing their rhythm, then the solo kayaks, followed by the less professional duos, then the pack in the middle- where Jeff was solidly placed. I went for a swim after filling Jeff's cooler and was paying attention again as the last few came by- the Old Towns with summer paddlers. Folks seemed pleased to hear my clapping and shouts of support from shore. Surprisingly, at only 25 miles into the race, about 2 hours separated the leaders from the back of the pack.

Jeff called from Boonville Wed. evening about 7. He was sticking to his plan of paddling at night and sleeping in the heat of the day. He was about half way there and sounded good. Slave and Skylar had re-supplied him during the day. I handed him off to Nancy, who promised a pizza and more cold drinks at the next stop.

Next year I’ll be there in some form or fashion. I am a summer paddler and don’t have the endurance or fortitude required to make the trip by paddle alone. But, MRR has boats, willing to be pressed into service as a support boat.

I’ll do that 340. I just might resort to a motor!

July 24, 2007

Post-flood clean-up

“Black Star”Clean-up at Alligator Cove
June 23, 2007
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Melanie Cheney
Bouncing Back
Many of the news stories of the Flood of 07 focused on the bursting of agricultural levees in Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas. For those that live right on the Missouri River, without levees, it was one long river of heartbreak. But floods are a part of life on the river, and these tough people cry when they need to but get right back up and rebuild.

Of course no one deserves the overwhelming work and loss that a flood brings, but river folks do know that eventually it’s going to happen. It takes vision, strength and community for folks to go through it and come back to the river. But they know that they have to get back, and the only way to do it is through a lot of hard work and calling in your friends to help get it done.

When floodwaters reshape your world, it becomes an opportunity to start a new vision, to clean up and make things even better.

At Alligator Cove (Rivermile 343), John Breyfogle had built a perfect riverside haven. Beneath towering cottonwoods was a cabin on pontoons, a two-tiered deck made from an decommissioned pontoon boat overlooking the river, and a music stage built on the flatbed of an old two-ton truck.

These things all got destroyed in the flood, which filled up and coursed through the whole place. John’s house was covered in mud, and all the carpet had to be ripped out. With the help of friends and family, and countless hours of after-work effort, the place was cleaned out, mud was scraped, utilities gotten up and running, the barn reorganized, the salsa garden replanted, John’s tiller dismantled and worked back into shape.

Demolition Derby
John figured his friends in River Relief would be good for doing some of the big teardown work. He put together a work day and invited us all out. Vicki arranged for a scrap dumpster and Michael cooked up some food. Racin’ Dave and John Jansen brought cutting torches and everyone showed up with a smattering of hand tools. Folks left Columbia around six, and everyone convened at the cove. Nick Recker, Stephanie Williams and her partner Ken surprised us all and showed up with tools.

It was a long day of destruction.

As we tore the rotting stage off the back of the truck, Racin Dave busted out his tools and started dismantling the cab, gas tank first. He shook his head and said, “This is one of those things where you just take off a week and go after it.” And then, with Lindsay’s help, he proceeded to reduce the truck to an engine block, a pile of plastic and upholstery and countless chunks of steel cut into three-foot pieces for scrapping. All in one non-stop day, before dinner.

Jeff Barrow, Michael and the John B’s focused on the “floating” cabin. The beautiful little cabin on pontoons did float, but was toppled by the force of the current, smashing the building and loosening the structure. The windows and any good lumber or siding was salvaged, but everything else went to the burn pile or dumpster. Nails were pulled, and the John B’s (Brady and Breyfogle) went at the pontoons with dueling chop saws.

Here's the cabin as they started working on it...

This is what was left when they were done...

During the flood, the deck overlook collapsed when the bank underneath slid into the river. Nick, Stephanie, Ken and Melanie worked it all day, pulling nails and stacking the joists and decking up on the remaining deck. All together, we probably filled a five gallon bucket with nails pulled from salvaged lumber. John Jansen came after work with his torch, and worked on an old piece of a dredge.

Anthony, Jeanie, Janie and Steve moved from project to project, helping the teardown when needed, picking up trash between stages of the destruction, preparing food.

Dinner was fantastic, and we gathered, exhausted around the campfire at night. John thanked everyone for helping, and, laughing, passed out black star pins as a reminder of the day.

It’ll be a while before John can move back in, but he’s excited that now he has a reason to build a home up on stilts. The vision of this place has definitely not been washed away, but it’s a fresh new beginning and we are all excited to see it blossom again.

June 15, 2007

Post-flood trash scout

Cote sans Dessein Bend - Mouth of the Osage River
by Steve Schnarr
Scouting out the mouth of the Osage

A couple weeks ago, I headed downstream to Soda Popp’s Gas Barge on the Osage River. In the mid-May “Flood of 07”, Soda’s place was hit hard. Although the water barely made it in his house, it left debris scattered all over his beautiful riverside park. He and friends had been cleaning it up for weeks, gathering it by hand and with an old mule hayrake pulled behind a tractor and burning the piles of wood and cornstalks.

By the time I got there, much of the work was done, the ground was drying out but the mosquitoes were intense. The first thing he did when I hopped out of the van was hand me a bottle of bug spray.

The water was still high on the Osage. Excess water from Truman Reservoir and the Lake of the Ozarks was still being let out to the Missouri, and the lowest part of Soda’s land was still underwater. He was obviously exhausted, but in good spirits none the less.

We hopped in our 50 horse Grizzly (the “Karp”) and checked out the scene. We found a dump we had missed last year and a good deal of “floater trash” collected in coves alongside the Osage. When we reached the mouth, we hopped out to look at the point between the two big rivers.

The flood had scoured the underbrush clean along the point, leaving deposits of sand and mud everywhere. And plastic trash dotted the landscape on the Osage side. But not nearly what I expected in that spot.

We jumped in the boat and headed around the dike structure that keeps the Osage tight against the towering bluffs on the downstream side. Upstream, on the Missouri now, we cruised through a small chute on river-right. The flood had obviously collapsed the high banks of the island, but we could see no trash deposits here. But upstream a bit, where we pulled several boatloads of trash out of the woods last year, was another large deposit of trash.

Driftwood was piled high along the banks. Lining the top and cascading down the bank side was a collection of typical Missouri River trash – balls, plastic bottles, coolers, tires, a couple buoys and, as we drew closer, we noticed a refrigerator stuck in the rack pile.

“That one’s got your spray paint on it,” Soda pointed out. Sure enough…scribbled on the side of the refrigerator was a date (7/06), a rivermile (460) and our initials (MRR). On last year’s MegaScout trash survey, we had “tagged” each appliance we could get to with the rivermile and date, so we could track how far big stuff would go in high water. I admit I was a little amazed when I realized how far this thing had gone. “That’s up in northwest Missouri,” I said, shaking my head. Just above St. Joseph on the Mill Creek Bend, to be exact.

We were at about river mile 134. Soda snapped a photo with his cell phone. Here it is:

Here's Melanie last summer "tagging" the same fridge 326 miles upstream.

Soda and I were at about river mile 134 – 326 miles downstream. That refrigerator had negotiated the bends of western Missouri, where levees were popping like mad, swung east at KC and wound through the Grand Bend past the new chutes at Lisbon and Overton, through the Manitou Bluffs and past the state capital.

Right now is a fascinating time to be out on the river. The floods reshaped the banks and bottom, moved around trees and drift and repainted the landscape with human refuse. As the waters continue to drop (we hope, we hope), a new river landscape is emerging. It’s our new place of work and there’s a lot to do

You can watch the pulse of a river by watching the drift and trash. As the river and its many tributaries rise quickly, everything gets picked up and shoved downstream. At times the whole river seems so chock full of trees, plastic bottles and refrigerators that you could walk across it if it weren’t headed downstream at 7 miles and hour and constantly churning.

As pulses of drift move down, the channel where the river runs swiftest is actually higher than the slower water inside the bends and behind dike structures. The debris slides down the water slope and gathers in huge spirals in the eddies. This is why you can always find light “floater trash” on the inside bends. The river seems to sift it out. This happens every time the river goes up and down.

But in a raging flood stuff boogies downstream fast. Wing dikes don’t matter anymore and neither do river banks. This flood, at least in mid-Missouri, stayed at about the same level for five days, fed by record rains up the Grand River. A lot of stuff got moved on through and what is mainly left behind is stuck in drift and up on the banks where the flood scoured through the riverside forest.

Let us know what you’ve seen about the new trash scene on your stretch of the Missouri River. E-mail at

June 13, 2007

The Boatman's Lament

by John Brady

Inspired by the story of a difficult day in the life of our beloved Jeff Barrow. Brady claims every bit is true while Barrow denies everything.

I am a boatman through and through
Though that is not my trade
I spend my time at many things
At how my living’s made

But only on the water
Is where my spirit soars
For life, to me, is not complete
Except behind the oars

I came to motor powered boats
When I was fully grown
For motor craft I had no use
I paddled on my own

Still, time and life soon took its due
And so I came to see
That cruising on a powered craft
Was now the life for me

I studied it with all my skill
Each tiller arm and knot
At drift and draft and piloting
A novice I was not

In boating lore and boatmanship
I felt I held my own
And took the helm with jaunty air,
With styling all my own

T’was with greatest confidence
I headed out that day
Full laden down with teachers
On an education day

A sturdy craft with power plus
A captain sure and wise
We made our way up through the drift
Then came the first surprise

An underwater object, where others had found none
Ensnared the new propeller blades and took them one by one
My formerly courageous craft was left a helpless raft
As I became then quite unsure of how to guide the craft

O The seas ran dark and newly dire
As we drifted helplessly
Raw shame became my Albatross
As others rescued me

I swallowed pride and reaching deep into my sailor’s skill
Replaced the prop and launched anew to get my second thrill
With sober resolution, I shifted to reverse
The motor roared, no power poured
I came to know the worst

We drifted out upon the waves as I shifted to and fro
No matter how I flogged the thing, It simply would not go
I cursed and railed and prayed to gods, Yet nothing would avail
My passengers grew fearful, as down the stream we sailed

Stay Calm, I wisely told them
For I’m your Captain true
And sure as I’m your Guiding Light
No harm shall come to you

My words were scarcely uttered
And the crew to lose their frowns
When suddenly a woman screamed
“My God, We’re going down!”

Oh how I hate to tell it, the seas were pouring in
The plug that serves to keep them out was Out instead of In
The panic rose then with the flood, the passengers a mob
I feared a deadly mutiny as I fumbled for the cob

The sobbing wet humanity
Grew sober as we sailed
The plug installed, we drifted on
As several of us bailed

The crisis done, I mustered strength
And calmed the savage beast
As once again, my comrades came
And pushed us to the beach

A saying old as sailors holds that great waves come in threes
It’s true that boatmen curry luck and often bend their knees
That after all the practicing and studying is done
It takes a bit of fortune, if nothing’s to spoil the fun

Let this, then, be a lesson for boatmen great and small
That pride of craft and confidence do oft precede a fall
That even if you’re careful and do the best you can
The River gods will play their tricks and the s**t will hit the fan

June 6, 2007

Yankton, S.D. Clean-up - May 19, 2007

Little Hands in the Sand
text and photos by Ruthie Moccia

Destination Yankton, S.D. The 8 hour drive all day Friday in our van was reminiscent of a comedy club. Jokemeisters Karpowicz, Barrow, and Nigh continued with hilarity throughout the weekend at jam sessions around the bonfire. Add a couple of drums, guitars, a washboard, and other impromptu instruments (wire whisk brushing across the plastic feathers of our heron mascot) and you get some really cool sounds. Original music and lyrics were inspired by the Gilligan’s Island theme song audibly entwined with House of the Rising Sun punctuated by the voice of James Brown commenting effusively on strengths and weaknesses of the amazing riverbed mussel.

Racin’ Dave had staked out our campsite extraordinaire, a sandy island across the river from Benedictine steeple Caroline bells. Not a seasoned camper, I was in ecstasy to have sand instead of mud between my toes, witness the clarity and “swimability” of the Missouri River at Yankton, dine on exquisite food, and sense an atmosphere of safety and tolerance from much more experienced companions.

And that was just getting and being there.

Saturday morning we filtered through the Yankton volunteers over coffee and donuts introducing ourselves (for the record, Yanktonians drink their coffee black not even bothering to set out cream and sugar), happy to learn Yanktonians were genuinely grateful we had come to help with the cleanup. We arranged ourselves 2 to a boat in order to provide as much individual support as possible.

Karpowicz and I sat in our boat watching Yankton volunteers file by on the dock as a thirty-something dad approached toting 3 adorable sons. “We want you in our boat!” I hollered, and they complied. Just a few minutes earlier I had taken photos of them traipsing across the green in their newly acquired ankle length tees. I had become enchanted with the 3 of them.

But ultimately my heart was whisked away by the oldest most serious of the boys, 9 year old Jordan, who did not stop digging until he unearthed an ancient iron tractor wheel from the sand. Who knew how much time elapsed while he and I dug with sticks and rocks? We made timid conversation. We talked a little about the things we believed, about the things we had experienced, and even some about the river.

We had dug past the water table when a crewmate finally returned with a real shovel capable of removing real loads of sand. Finally, we were able to comprehend the wheel. It was 4 feet in diameter with double rows of thick decaying spokes, at least a foot wide where the rubber would have met the road. It took a line of guys on a rope to get that sucker out of it’s sandy hole and another couple of guys to roll it along the water’s edge into our boat.

Jordan posed in front of his find as we motored to the dock. It took 3 inmates to pick it up and load it into a trash truck.

I’m soon sending Jordan a certificate with blue ribbon attached. I’ll call it the “persistence” award. The certificate will say, “May all you have patience for never disappoint you.”