November 19, 2008

Little Hands in the Sand (part deux)

Yankton Missouri River Clean-up
Yankton, S.D.
May 17, 2008

(blogmaster note: last year, Ruthie Moccia wrote a great piece about her encounter with Jordan, a young man who found an ancient tractor wheel on the Yankton 07 clean-up. This May (2008), Ruthie returned to Yankton with us and wrote this piece about her experience. Click here to read Ruthie's post from last year.)

text by Ruthie Moccia. photos by Ruthie Moccia & Melanie Cheney

The ‘08 Yankton cleanup was my first revisit to a cleanup site since joining River Relief two years ago. What made the long road trip most worthwhile this year was reuniting with Jordan who accomplished the amazing last year by persistently digging around an enormous iron tractor wheel until it was completely unearthed and could be claimed by the trash tally.

During registration I spotted Jordan and his two young brothers dressed in their heather blue '08 volunteer tee shirts. Instead of aimlessly exploring the water's edge, the boys were eagerly awaiting trash bags and gloves and it appeared Jordan had also invited several friends along to participate. Their excited faces made me proud to be the one to hand them the necessary items and send them off down the ramp.

Jordan and his buddies check out a bike they found at the cleanup this year. photo by Melanie Cheney.

Later, when I sensed my cleanup crew’s boat was nearing last year's campground I also realized that the water level was too low to dock there. I needed to see that place again. I deboarded in the sandy mud and hiked toward it by keeping the Benedictine bell tower on the other side of the river always within my view. I didn’t know the way exactly, but clearly that tower with it's marvelous tones was a landmark for me. I would know immediately when I'd reached the exact location of last year’s campsite by the view across the river.

Suddenly, unmistakable familiar shapes of landscape brought back the memories. The flat sandy beach at the river's edge where the water had risen overnight to cover our cookware, a triangle of driftwood logs where we sang hilarious songs and played music around the fire, a flat space between two cedars where I had pitched my borrowed tent, the tip-top grassy edge of a dune I had climbed to scavenge an abandoned bracelet made of wooden beads and twine. It was a wonderfully nostalgic moment.

Overall my warmest memory of Yankton, however, is Jordan. What is it about a friendly face in a far away place? I threw the bead bracelet away many months ago, but Jordan's excited smile will stay with me.

Here's Jordan in 2007 excavating the old wheel he found. photo by Ruthie Moccia.

November 12, 2008

La Benite Trash Tally!

Missouri River Clean-up
La Benite Park, Sugar Creek, MO
October 4, 2008
photos by Melanie Cheney & Rod Power
Total Volunteers: 411
MRR Crew: 42
Boats: 19 (1 Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge; 6 MO Dept. of Conservation; 4 MO River Relief, 1 Burns & McDonnell, 3 Rivermiles, 3 EPA, 1 Army Corps of Engineers)
River Miles: 12.5 (RM 345-357, + 1/2 mile at Alligator Cove)
River Level: 8.5 feet (Kansas City gage)
Landfill Tons: estimated 7.5
Scrap Metal Tons: 1.5 tons
Tires: 58 (estimated 0.9 tons)
Total Trash Tonnage: estimated 9.9 tons
Names of River Teams: Water Girls, Piling People, Civil Air Patrol, The Islanders, The Otters, The Winners, 3331, Shay 4 & 5, Mud Hens, Scavengers, Swamp Rats, Lipton Ramrod Tea Bags, The Fridge Brigade, Scallywags, The Beavers, The Couple, The Impacters, The Rockers, Quiet Ones, Trash Wrestlers, GCC, Team Trashy, Random 5, Rockhurst, City Cougars, UMKC
Other Groups: Cargill, UMKC, Scuola Vita Nuova, Sprint, UMKC, Rockhurst University, Coca-Cola Enterprises.

(partial list of trash collected. note - this stretch downstream of the Kansas City metropolitan area has some of the wildest diversity of trash to be found on the river. Check this out!!!)
351 Large Bags of Trash
39 Tires on Rim
19 Tires w/o Rim
2 Rims
9 Chunks of Styrofoam
8 Coolers
1 Cooler Lid
3 Chest Freezers
2 Refrigerators
1 Mini-Refrigerator filled with nasty fishing bait, duct taped closed (now we know why)
1 Freezer Door
1 Hot Water Heater
3 Propane Tanks
2 Freon Tanks w/ condenser coils
1 Agricultural Spray Tank
8 5-gallon Plastic Buckets
1 5-gallon Metal Bucket
2 13-gallon Trash Can
1 25-gallon Metal Drum
11 55-gallon Metal Barrels
7 55-gallon Plastic Barrels
1 55-gallon barrel lid
1 Construction Road Hazard Barrel
10 Unidentifiable Plastic Pieces
1 Barstool seat, no legs
1 Plastic Tub
3 Car Bumpers
1 Car Seat
2 Gas Tanks
1 8-ft piece of Steel
20 pieces of Scrap Metal
1 Barge Cable
1 piece of Rebar
1 6-ft plastic tubing
2 Coast Guard Navigation Buoys
1 Metal Box
1 Big Metal Fuel Tank
3 Duck Decoys
2 Large Tarps
1 Carpet Foam
1 Wooden Pallet
1 12-ft Ladder
1 Plywood Sheet
1 Antique Glass Clorox Bottle
1 3-ft Plastic Planter
1 5-ft Plastic Garden Edging
1 small Plastic Rhinoceros
1 child Car Seat
2 Milk Crates
1 4-ft wooden “Be Courteous” Sign
1 Anchor
1 16-ft fiberglass boat in pieces
2 Gail Brown State Representative Signs
1 Plastic Pallet
1 Top to Kid’s Sand Box
Footballs, Volleyballs, Basketballs, etc.
2 Toy cars
1 Floating Brazier from the Brush Creek WaterFire 2007 (travelled over 22 miles from Lake of the Enshriners!)
1 Boat Seat
1 Slide from plastic children’s playset
3 more children’s plastic playset pieces-unidentifiable
1 Traffic Cone
2 big PVC Pipes
2 Big Wheel Toys
1 4X6x8’ Treated Lumber
1 Teletubby
1 Inflatable Love Doll still in original box (found floating in the river tied up in a plastic bag)
1 piece of Mistletoe
1 Adam Sandler DVD-“Going Overboard”
Just a touch of the trash brought in by 411 volunteers at the October 4 Missouri River Clean-up.
photo by Melanie Cheney

The 2008 River Clean-up Season Comes To An End

Missouri River Clean-up
October 4, 2008
La Benite Park, Sugar Creek, MO
text by Vicki Richmond
photos by Melanie Cheney, Jill Anderson-Hamilton & Don Williams

On Saturday, Oct. 4th, La Benite Park came alive early with the sounds of people getting to work and the smells of an Indian summer and coffee. Dumpsters and trailers for tires, trash, and scrap metal were in place. The River Relief crew was busily setting up pop-up tents, the sign in table, t-shirts, life jackets, maps and the “hydration station”. Boat captains began launching at the ramp, beaching their crafts while awaiting the hundreds of volunteers we anticipated.

The Big Muddy flowed past the ramp, carrying our quarry for the day- the solid waste that litters the shore, catches in the driftwood piles and clutters the dikes and riprap along the 12 miles that bracket La Benite. The scout was done, the flags in place. All that was needed was the people power to move the trash into the waiting containers.

We had never seen anything like it before, volunteers started arriving as early as 8:00 a.m. and people began to pitch in immediately. Some staked out a spot to meet their comrades on the river bank, while keeping an interested eye on the 19 boats assembled to take volunteers out onto the Missouri. Greetings and laughter filled the air as 411 people assembled to take a morning out of their busy lives to help make a difference, and pick up trash along the Missouri River.

The sign in table was quickly the hub of activity, as volunteers were signed in, received a t-shirt, gloves, reusable water bottle and a small token of appreciation in the form of hand sanitizers, pens or luggage tags. After sign in, folks proceeded to the orientation station.

Orientation plays a big role in the education that goes on at these clean ups. Our carefully prepared maps are used to show folks where they are along the river and what rivers and streams contribute to the trash they’ll be picking up. The project site is over 12 miles, so there is much to see. People have an opportunity to ask questions and ready their groups for the all important safety talk.

S H O W M E: Slow down before you throw down, hands in the boat, who is your buddy?, our safety team is key to making sure that volunteers know the ropes before setting out on the Missouri. Our rules are simple and few, but rigorously enforced. A clean safety record is our best asset, and the safety station keeps us on track. With over 400 people to watch out for, this all important step has been simplified and made easy to remember. Once the safety talk is through, the excitement increases.

Volunteers pass down to the ramp and are outfitted with PFD’s- lifejackets. The ramp crew takes a look at each one, making sure that the jacket fits and is properly snapped on to each volunteer. Groups are being called as the dispatchers identify reaches for boat drivers and the carrying capacity of each boat.

Now, the fun truly begins. Volunteers step carefully into boats provided by a number of state and federal agencies, corporations and our own River Relief fleet. Captains shout a few final words as boats pull out and power away from the ramp.

Blue skies and moderate temperatures made the boat rides (which are always a favorite part of the day) a treat. Smiling faces turned into the wind to watch the beautiful bridges of Kansas City pass over heads shaking in wonder. For many, this is the first time they’ve experienced the Big Muddy first hand. There is no experience like that of your first boat ride on the Missouri, and all of the urban legends are forgotten as the river weaves her spell over the volunteers. Smiles are everywhere as folks enjoy the beautiful riparian forest on each side of the river and marvel at the human impacts that they see in the power plants, skylines and always, the incredible bridges.

Boats pull up to blue marker bags as captains ask their final questions. “Do you all have enough bags?” “Is your water bottle full?” “Now, be sure to look just up over the bank, there’s lots of trash in those piles of drift wood.” Volunteers remove their PFD’s and take to the riverbank, piling big trash in piles and bagging the detritus of storm drains into bags. It is simply amazing what is found out there. Tires and car parts and boats and refrigerators and bar stools and children’s toys all make their way into piles awaiting our work boats. Too soon for many, captains return to pick volunteers up for lunch.

Few people were prepared for the scene at the ramp as they returned. A delicious lunch was prepared and waiting, while River Relief work boats began the tedious task of picking up all of the piles of trash and transporting them to a waiting loader and hungry dumpsters. The ramp is controlled madness, as the loader supervisor makes sure that the way to the dumpsters is clear. Hardy volunteers take to the boats to cruise the project site, throwing everything from bags of trash to boats taken apart in pieces back to the ramp. Sturdy backs move the trash from shore to boat to loader. The loader moves the trash to the containers, repeating this ballet of trash hauling over and over as the afternoon progresses.

351 bags of trash and tons of other debris (an estimated 10 tons!) were removed efficiently in one day from the banks of the Big Muddy by many hands. In its place, we left newly found friendships, care and new found respect for an incredible natural resource and a huge service to our community.

November 11, 2008

Riverside Education

Missouri River Watershed Festival
October 3, 2008
La Benite Park, Sugar Creek, MO
text by Vicki Richmond; photos by Jill Hamilton-Anderson & Melanie Cheney

Slowly, the fog burned off of the levee, moving slowly through the parking lot and unveiling tents, tables and booths coming together to host nearly 300 Kansas City students on the banks of the Big Muddy at La Benite Park.

The Missouri River Watershed Festival is a 2 state, 7 county, metro KC regional event, featuring over 30 exhibitors conducting hands-on, interactive activities for area 5th graders with a focus on river stewardship and education. The festival is held in conjunction with a Missouri River Clean-up, giving an opportunity to follow up education with stewardship. Presentations were interactive, informative, educational and entertaining.

Students arrived and left their buses, armed with a festival passport, and toured learning stations enthusiastically learning about how their behavior in one part of the watershed can affect the entire region. Big river fish entranced students as their eager hands touched animals caught just that morning in the muddy water passing by La Benite Park. Muddy water was made drinkable right before their eyes. The Missouri River Relief Trashology exhibit showed students how trash travels down the river. Box City showed students how cities are developed and underscored the need for forward thinking city planning and infrastructure.

Excited chatter from the students showed that an impact had been made. “Did you see those fish? They were HUGE!” “If I built a city, I’d put bridges in first!” “I touched a snapping turtle. His shell was leathery.” “The girls beat the boys at the Recycle Relay!”

Lunch time arrived as students gathered on the levee for a meeting with Dr. H20. Students participated excitedly as science came alive with an entertaining twist. The session was recorded for broadcast on KCMO channel 2.

As students left the river, exhibitors enjoyed a valuable chance to network with friends and fellow educators. The exhibitors also found some time to travel to others’ exhibits, passing along their knowledge to colleagues.

Middle school students are a terrific group to work with. They have the stamina to pay close attention to the information provided by exhibitors, while employing that sense of wonder that energizes us all. Special thanks go to the teachers who take time out of a school day to bring students to the river. We believe that this type of learning allows students to become effective, critical thinking members of society who will pass these values on to their peers and families, establishing a sustainable environmental ethic and care for our natural resources.

Participating schools were Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School and Fire Prairie Middle School.

Additional thanks go to the City of Sugar Creek, who allowed us access to the Missouri River at beautiful La Benite Park, to Courtney Ridge who provided hand-wash stations and portable toilets, to the Sugar Creek Fire Department who provided our exhibits with water and to the land managers, biologists, not for profit experts, college students and community leaders who donated their time and talent to bring River education to the students.

None of this would be possible with out the leadership and guidance of the Missouri River Watershed Festival Committee chairs- Kimberlee Foster, Cheri Miller, Larry O’Donnell, Vicki Richmond, Colleen Doctorian, Wendy Sangster and Steve Van Rhein. These individuals design passports and maps, recruit exhibitors and teachers and set up the event. Their hard work behind the scenes is visible to all after a successful day, and Missouri River Relief is proud to be a part of this inspiring annual collaboration.

Students from Scuola Vita Nuova Charter School came to the Watershed Festival on Friday, and came as a group to clean-up the banks of the river and the La Benite Park area on Saturday during the Missouri River Clean-up. photo by Melanie Cheney