October 29, 2008

Hometown River Race

Cooper's Cup Flying Carp Canoe & Kayak Race
September 20, 2008
Cooper's Landing

Hosted by River Ladies Auxiliary
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Dave "the River Slave" Marner & Melanie Cheney

Nobody knows how long paddler races have been going on at the Providence and Plowboy Bends of the Missouri River. I’ve heard of races in the seventies, but the participants I’ve talked to have pretty foggy memories of what went on. Some claim the races went down the Perche Creek, while others remember paddling on the Missouri. How about in prehistory? I can imagine huge dugout canoes manned by ten paddlers each barreling up and down the wild and weird big muddy river. Why not?

To quote an unnamed river rat friend, “further research is needed.”

But to jump forward in time, on September 20, 2008, for the third year in a row, a very strange phenomenon has taken place at this beautiful waypoint along the Missouri River. It’s so difficult to describe, it even has two names: The River Ladies Auxiliary’s Flying Carp and Cooper’s Cup Canoe & Kayak Races.

Doirienne & Keenan O'Brian catch a glimpse of the race namesake on the Perche Creek. photo by Dave Marner

We’ve become accustomed to long distance, downstream races on the Big Muddy. But this thing is a very short race. In fact the length of it changes every year. But there are a few really cool things about it: 1) No shuttle required. 2) You don’t need a ground crew 3) Spectators can see almost the whole thing from one spot on shore. 4) It costs five bucks to get in the race (and, hell, if you’re really pushy, you can enter even as the racers are gathering at start point).

The day has two races, but three classes. The first is a tandem canoe race with one adult and one kid (16 and under). The second race has two classes: single kayak and tandem canoe race paddling at the same time.

It begins and ends at the same place: Cooper’s Landing’s skinny, steep boat ramp. The ramp enters the river just downstream of a wing dike and is plagued with a strong eddy that changes as river levels change.
The crowded race start. photo by Melanie Cheney

Racers gather in the eddy, waiting for the blast of the starting horn from Sparky’s houseboat (if you don’t know Sparky, you should). They then pick their path across the raging current, heading slightly upstream if they can to the next buoy placed in the slower water on the other side.

They then paddle like mad upstream (the most grueling part of the race), looping around another buoy before heading back across river. This is a tricky maneuver because the river bends sharply here.

They dive into the mouth of the Little Bonne Femme Creek, circle a buoy, then get back into the channel to finish at Cooper’s ramp. Some years they have to stop at a sandbar, collect trash or a flag, and then hurry back to their boat. Each buoy or landmark gets a name: the slower water on the opposite bank is Carpbait Curve, there’s Deadman’s Dike, the Cauldron and, at the mouth of Bonne Femme Creek, is the Maiden’s Mouth. This year, the combination of high water, fast current and the wakes from motor boats created some pretty weird water in the Maiden’s Mouth, as you can see in Dave the River Slave’s awesome photo.

But this year, the river was very high. We even discussed not holding the race, but after a test run decided it was tough, but doable. We shortened the race course and, since there was not a sandbar in sight, took that part out. For the kid & adult race, we decided to start the racers up Perche Creek, so they would just need to paddle downstream and not have to fight around wingdikes or against the raging current.

With Tim Nigh giving play-by-play on shore and Jeff Barrow with radio dispatches from on the river, it makes for a hilarious spectacle all around. (“Folks, it looks like ‘Stinky and the Brain’ are making the cut across river at Deadman’s Dike headed for the Maiden’s Mouth. Look at those strokes! They’re really making headway now!”) Folks crowd onto the top decks of houseboats and all along shore to watch the paddlers battle it out.

This year we had two vessels tip over. But in testament to the good vibes of the event, these folks were just as happy as the winners (“This makes for a better story!” said one soggy participant).

Afterwards, awards go the winners in each class, as well as for the best team name. This year, the evening was capped off with the Charlie Brown Boogie-Down Dance Contest, hosted by local musical favorites Crazyfish.

Here’s a list of the winners (and honorable mention in each class). Congrats to the winners and thank you to all the good sports that tried their hand paddling up and down the Big Muddy!

Kid & Adult Tandem Canoe Race
1) Scott & Quinton Swafford, “Gazortenplatz”
2) Doreiann & Keenan O’Brien, “Favorite Noodle”
3) Sylvia Donnelly & Maggie Rotts, “Double-Trouble Boats & Bubbles”
Honorable mention –
Dave & Nick Mosby, “Heart of Hartsburg”
Bill & Nick Rotts & Daliliah Donnelly, “Flitty Flood Flubbers”
Chip & Ian Price, “Price Crispies”
Vince & Joe Blazis, “Stinky & the Brain”
Kid & Adult race winners, “Gazortenplatz” in their Kevlar canoe - Scott and Quinton Swafford

Adult Solo Kayak -
1) Kory Kaufman, “Leave Me Be I’m Not Trash”
2) John Breyfogle, “Alligator Cove”
3) Jason Bauer, “Carolina”
Honorable Mention –
Jim Bauer, “Loon”
Brenda Reida, “Just Kayaking”
Brad Bauer, “Althea”
Solo Kayak winner Kory Kaufman ("Leave Me Be I'm Not Trash!") reaches the finish line. photo by Melanie Cheney

Second place solo kayaker John Breyfogle ("Alligator Cove") approaches the finish just ahead of Tandem Canoe winners Chip Price & Scott Swafford ("The Editors"). photo by Melanie Cheney

Tandem Canoe Race –
1) Chip Price & Scott Swafford, “The Editors”
2) Travis & Roy, “Scramin’ Seamen”
3) Vince Gallo & Uncle Denny Ternamian, “Team Swell”
Honorable Mention –
Sylvia & Bill Rotts, “Carp A Delerium”
Aaron Boynton & Ken, “Tippy Canoe”
Will Buck & Rob Forman, “The Oakland Raiders”
Jim Karpowicz & Jerry Bizzle, “The Last Minute-Men”
Mark Osborn & Jim Hellmann, “Alagash”
Philip Masters & Mike Osborn, “The Fighting Mongooses”
Daniel Thorne & Gabe Ryan, “Boonslick Buccaneers” (Also winner of Best Name!)

October 24, 2008

How Do You Spell Relief?

Confluence Watershed Festival and River Clean-up
September 12-13
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area

text by Mike Clark, photos by Tom Ball & Ruthie Moccia

(blogmaster's note: Mike Clark is proprietor of Big Muddy Adventures, a canoe guide and outfitter that does educational paddling trips on the stretch of Missouri River between Hermann and the Confluence as well as the Mississippi. This piece was part of his River Dispatch series and is republished with permission. Find out more at www.2muddy.com)

The mantra is simple, Leave No Trace. And to that end, we pick up trash.... ours, yours and everyone’s we find, removing it from the drift piles, bottom lands, sand bars, all remnants of the rising and falling rivers, We do this on every trip, and annually, we make our connection with those who do it the best.

In September, we spent a weekend with the Missouri River Relief crew, at the annual Columbia Bottoms Cleanup.

It began Friday morning with a Festival of Learning, an event that Mark Twain would heartily approve of.... “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.”

We arrived to find rows of tents, displays and hands-on exhibits, each providing a unique link of learning about the river, all spread out on the parking lot of the Columbia Bottoms Boat Ramp, By 10 AM, the raw curiosity of hundreds of boys and girls was bubbling like the water at the wing dike. . The Missouri River Reliefers greeted students from Hazelwood School District. Using a well-designed workbook to help them make connections, the kids moved wide eyed and cheerful from station to station.
Mike Clark puts a group of Hazelwood School District students through the paces in his giant Clipper canoe. photo by Ruthie Moccia

For our part, BMA established a tight little canoe camp overlooking the Mighty Missouri and conducted a canoe workshop. Each group of students arrived with a multitude of questions. "Yo, Canoe man. What dat for?" "How you hold dat?" Then they climbed aboard the Clipper for dry land training. We practiced and practiced until their paddling technique was perfected, all in hopeful preparation for the day when they come along on a real BMA river adventure.

The Learning Festival day concluded with a Full Moon Float, six members of the Missouri River Relief crew gathering in the Clipper for a journey into the sublime. The midnight paddle and sand bar swim included an offering... a cell phone, forgotten in a pocket and submerged during a swan dive. A cell phone skipping contest was proposed but quickly shouted down, instead, a new version of the “message in a bottle.” and so it was planned... putting a cell phone in a bottle, with only enough battery for one call, and upon discovery somewhere near the Gulf, the instructions for a one time only speed dial, whereby the message that contains the answer to... “How do you spell relief?”

After a fun night of river rat camp, Saturday dawned with perfect river rat conditions for the Confluence Clean Up. Again, the River Relief Crew performed expertly, enlisting hundreds of folks to the cause. By late afternoon, two ginormous dumpsters were filled with the waste and want not of humanity. Thousands and thousands of plastic bottles. Literally, tons of tires, auto parts, appliances, gathered on the river by volunteers, then dumped on the ramp from the bowels of the River Relief plate boats, and finally hauled up to the dumpsters for future relocation, sadly, to a landfill. The enormity of the task is always overshadowed by the goodness of the people who come to help.

Our contribution that day was the “Cleanup by Canoe trip”. Six strangers, three strong women and three muddy men, found themselves paddling together into the Confluence, landing, walking the bank, filling bag after bag of shite, then piling it high above the gunnels, and finally, paddling to the Access. From strangers to friends, all within the span of three humble hours of service. All good. Check out www.riverrelief.org

October 14, 2008

Confluence Thank Yous

Confluence Watershed Festival & River Clean-up
September 12-13, 2008
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area
photos by Melanie Cheney & Scot Heidbrink

Our wonderful weekend at the Confluence would not have been possible without the generosity and hard work of these sponsors and partners. A Big Muddy Thanks to all of you!

Major Sponsors
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Missouri American Water (an indispensible help at the Watershed Festival too!)
Great Rivers Greenway District (and donated reusable water bottles for the cleanup!)

Ameren UE
Bass Pro Shop
EarthShare of Missouri
Fred Weber, Inc.
Rick Holton
Missouri Department of Conservation
National Park Service
Pat Jones
River Kids (donated the H2Orchestra for the Festival!)
Rivermiles LLC
St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District (and donated two dumpsters!)
St. Louis/Jefferson Solid Waste Mgmt. Dist.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Waterways Council


Big Muddy Adventures (free canoe rides and canoe clean-up!)
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area (the hosts with the most!)
Confluence Greenway - Trailnet
Dominos Pizza - Blackjack
EcoWorks Unlimited (Karla Wilson!!!)
Hazelwood School District
Mighty #211 Stream Team
Missouri Stream Team
Missouri River Communities Network
Spanish Lake Fire Dept.
Tri-Rinse, Inc. (took our tires for free!)

October 13, 2008

Cleaning up the Confluence...

Confluence River Clean-up
September 13, 2008
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Vicki Richmond & Tom Ball

Our cleanups at the Confluence are always special events. This year was a great mix of old pros and brand new, interested people coming to help out. I’d just like to highlight a few of these groups and stories.

Arnold Stream Teams –
In the world of Stream Teams, the “Arnold boys” (as we tend to call them) from Stream Team #211 are legends. These folks seem to be out there cleaning up trash from the Meremec and other rivers just about every weekend in addition to several large events they schedule each year.

They often come with their own battery of tools, and we try to find a project that only they have the skills and expertise to handle.

This year, we put them on the removal of an old shed partially buried in sand at the Jones-Confluence State Park . We’d noticed the shed on our 2006 MegaScout trash survey and wanted to get it taken care of once and for all. If you want it done, you send the Arnold boys! This year, it was Bernie Arnold and Chris and Brian Waldrop.

They were joined up with Tom from the DeSoto Body Shop Stream Team in Arnold. By the time lunch rolled around, they had the shed wrapped up. So then they hopped on a boat for the trash haul and stuck around until the last boat came in. Thanks guys!

Confluence Greenway –
For the last two years, Confluence Greenway and Trailnet have been lucky (in our opinion) to have Tom Ball as their Americorps Stream Team Asst. Tom (self-portrait on right) is a one-man stream advocacy machine. If you need to know what’s going on regarding water issues in the St. Louis area, this is the guy to ask. He worked hard all day Saturday, topped off with a three hour canoe clean-up with Mike Clark from Big Muddy Adventures, Then he came back Monday to help us haul our tires to TRI-Rinse for disposal. After the crazy hurricane rains, he went back to work, leading in a post flood clean-up on Deer Creek. Here’s some links to his Facebook albums, with some great clean-up pictures. Canoe clean-up album, Clean-up album #1, Clean-up Album #2.

His Americorps replacement, Barbara Maynard came to help too, and she looks to be another asset for the Confluence. Confluence Greenway looks to bring groups and citizens together to restore and appreciate the Confluence area. Check out their cool website: confluencegreenway.org

Big Muddy Adventures
Last year, we were running a chase boat for the Greenway Network’s Race for the Rivers when we saw a canoe outside of the channel not paddling at all. We tried to figure out from a distance if it was one of our racers and couldn’t see a racer number. “It’s probably Mike Clark,” I said. Sure enough, as we drew closer, it was the legendary local river rat.

Mike is out paddling in the Confluence area almost every night. He also runs Big Muddy Adventures, the only canoe outfitter in the area that specializes in paddling adventures on the Missouri River. (check out his website – www.2muddy.com)

After running a popular exhibit at the Confluence Watershed Festival on Friday, he came back with his big “Clipper” canoe that night to take some of us on a moonlit canoe ride upstream to a tiny sandbar. With seven paddlers, including his friend and fellow river rat Scott Mandrill, that massive canoe moved upstream with no problem. We went for a swim in the moonlight and listened to Mike’s stories about sneaking up on a heron rookery by canoe during the flooding of Columbia Bottom earlier this year.

On Saturday, he came back after lunch with the Clipper again. He took a crew of die-hards downstream to cleanup Duck Island on the Mississippi, but they filled the canoe with trash before they even got there. After a clean-up at the Canoe/Kayak access, they returned victorious.

Student groups –
Some of our biggest supporters in the Confluence area are student groups and teachers that come year after year. Jacki Janovsky organizes the Nature Nuts at Parkway North Middle School, and brought a crew this year. I don’t know if it’s because they work so hard or they can’t avoid a mud fight, but year after year these kids come back smeared with Mighty Mo mud. Jim Denner rounded up a huge crew of Lindbergh High School students again this year. The Alpha Phi Omega Service fraternity at Washington University came out in force.

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area staff –
Mike Caby (right) drove the skid steer until the last load came in, hauling trash directly from the boats to the dumpsters up the ramp (saving a bunch of backs in the process). Ron Cooper and Tom Ledwon worked hard and loved it, and naturalist Pat went along on the canoe cleanup. Behind the scenes, they supplied straw bales, helped move tires out of the way when the river rose on Sunday, brought extra trash cans and let us store our boats in their maintenance yard.

Other groups –
We had great support from some other long-time clean-up helpers. Ruth Berry from Bank of America brought another crew. Francis Baum, organizer of Boeing Employees for Environmental Protection, stuck around all day to help dig out an outrageous heavy equipment tire. All in all, 168 folks showed up to help and worked their butts off! Thanks to everyone!