June 5, 2009

Cleaning up the Rec River!

Yankton Missouri River Clean-up
May 9, 2009
Yankton, S.D.
text by Vicki Richmond - photos by Paul Lepisto, Vicki Richmond and Dave Stous

Yankton, South Dakota, is a special place on the Missouri River. Gavin’s Point Dam, the furthest downstream dam on the Missouri is located here, and the river is allowed to roam across its floodplain on and is not locked into a navigation channel.

This 60 - plus mile section, called the National Recreation River, has the sandbars and snags that we on the channelized portion of the Big Muddy have heard stories of. The Big Muddy isn’t quite so muddy here. Because of the sediment-trapping dams, the water flows clearer. Trophy homes and fishing camps line the banks. Having a dependable flow, and no inputs from aggressive tributaries enables people to live harmoniously beside the river.

Despite being the first city on the lower river, Yankton is not immune to the trash that we see concentrated on the banks and in the drift piles further downstream. Stormwater carries trash for miles and empties this floatable trash right into the Missouri. Dumps, long accepted as a way for families to rid themselves of refuse, still persist.

But there is a special connection to the river in this place. People use the river recreationally in large numbers. Folks are connected to the river in a unique way. It is only natural that people want to lend a hand in keeping it clean.

The MRR crew began showing up on Thursday night. An education festival was planned for Friday, bringing nearly 200 students to the river for some hands on learning. We camped near the dam, on a cut-off oxbow of the river. Our small crew of three fell asleep under the tall cottonwoods with an early start in mind.

Friday’s weather looked iffy as we began set-up of the booths that would entertain and educate students. Rain clouds hovered just to the north and east, making us sure to deploy pop up tents, just in case. The students arrived and began touring learning stations. Everything from climate change to fish was featured in the 10 wonderful displays. Provided with an event passport, students eagerly moved from station to station.

The rain came in just before lunch. Exhibitors and students alike gathered under the shelters in Yankton’s Riverside Park, enjoying a delicious meal.

Shortly after the students departed, MRR crew began showing up in earnest. The skies opened up and the threatening rain came down in sheets. We did as much as we could to stage our gear for the move to the island and headed into town in search of a dry place to wait out the rain storm.

By dinnertime, we’d all arrived- Bill and Ruth, with puppy Saffron (her first clean-up!). Lynne and Ty arrived after a brisk game of Frisbee golf in Omaha. Dave, Fran and Rick arrived with the houseboat in tow after an interesting day of dodging cones through the highways in Iowa. Dave R and Dylan pulled in, Dylan splashing his kayak for an early trip to the island on a hunt for treasures. John and Alex had already been to the island, picking a great camping spot overlooking the town and bell tower. After gathering wood from a hospitable Mary Robb with the help of Paul Lepisto, we made our way as a group to the island that would be our home for the weekend.

The wind howled as we set up our camp. Dinner was on, thanks to Michael, and we set up camp while hunting mushrooms to supplement the feast. A windy night turned into a beautiful day as the skies lightened for a day that promised a clean up haul.

Arriving at the ramp at 7:30, MRR crew went to work getting lifejackets ready and helping with sign-in. Vicki provided the group with a safety briefing, followed by talks from the National Park Service and the clean-up organizers. We took our posts: Vicki to lifejackets, John and Dave to their boats. Volunteers were fitted into PFD’s and headed down the ramp to board boats to be shuttled to clean-up sites.

Our boats come in handy at these events. They are large and we aren’t squeamish about putting really ugly trash into them. The Saskia headed to the site of an old dump of cars where we’d worked before while the Char shuttled volunteers. A call came to bring added muscle to a site full of rebar and metal. The Char headed over with tools and crew for the task.

All in all, over 7 tons of debris was removed on this day. 23 tires made their way to the ramp where volunteers ably loaded trash and scrap into trucks bound for the landfill and the metal recycling facility. Over 300 people took part in this one day effort.

Working on the Rec River has its moments of stress. The water is shallow and our captains kept a careful eye on their propellers.

Working on the Rec River has its moments of pure delight. Endangered interior least terns and piping plovers flew over our camp and greeted us constantly. The sand is warm and plentiful. Morel mushrooms were everywhere.

The MRR crew is most appreciative of the invitation to join this incredible effort. We look forward to being on deck again in 2010!

Thanks to the National Park Service and Lewis & Clark Heritage Trail Foundation for their support of our participation in this clean-up!

June 1, 2009

Earthday Ed Events
Prarie Fork Conservation Area
April 22, 2009

Well April was full of educational Earthday events. The one that really topped my list for the month however was an Ed Event at Prarie Fork Conservation Area near Williamsburg. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, Missouri Department of Conservation & University of Missouri (I'm guessing here) teamed up to organize around 650 4th-6th graders from area schools. Groups of 20 kids each went around to booths with educational/hands-on topics in Praries, Woodlands, Wetlands & Streams, to Soils. It was awesome!

The day started off when fellow Stream Team Assistants Pam, Katrina & I got an early start and headed to the nearby Whetstone Conservation Area to catch some live macro-invertebrates for our booth. It was a beautiful clear Spring morning, and I must say, the Whetstone C.A. was just amazing! There were Bluebells & Wild Sweet Williams blooming in all they're glory, Ferns, Wild Ginger, & huge swaths of Blood Root growing along a clear & cool babbling stream. I was in heaven.

We started doing the riffle dance in various locations along the stream trying to get the biggest diversity of critters possible. Katrina moved us to a larger section of the stream. Her mission was to find the biggest crawdads to put in the little kiddie pool we brought so that the kids could pick them up. We got tons of great bugs out of Whetstone including the biggest Cranefly Larvae I have ever had the pleasure of seeing (& touching). They are super squishy and I got a kick out of getting the students later that day to pick it up.

We rolled into Prarie Fork to set up amonst 20 or so other exhibitors, luckily I dropped Pam & Katrina off with all of the stuff for our display before I got River Relief's big ol' van stuck in the mud. I was way out in the middle of this field away from everyone where they told us to park, luckily a really nice guy from MDC came along and helped me out of my pickle. It took us about 20 minutes! But I made it back before the kids arrived and got to our booth.

Pam, Katrina, Lea & I ended up having to set up 3 different stations with the live macros because these were the biggest groups of kids (20 at a time) that I have ever had to deal with! The crawdad pool is always the most popular, and the kids just loved getting to play in water and with live critters in general. There were a few screamers, but mostly just inquisitive kids having fun. I think I just about had as much fun as those kids. What a great day!

A huge thanks goes out to the organizers. Having done big Ed Events with Missouri River Relief in the past, this is one of the best organized events I have ever been to. An even bigger thanks goes out to Pat Jones for donating her land as a conservation area so that people big & small can come out and learn about Praries, Wetlands, Lakes, Streams, Woodlands, Savannahs & Soils.

For more fun photos, check out our photo gallery.

Melanie Cheney
Americorps Stream Team Assistant
Missouri River Relief
Troy Gordon Memorial Project

May 23rd, 2009

Arrow Rock, MO

A little over a year ago, we lost a great friend & partner, Troy Gordon. As many of his friends & family came together to share a story, a hug or a laugh, we collected almost $2,000 to fund a memorial project to honor this special fallen hero. After all, it was not Troy’s spirit to stand around & contemplate, but to act! And we did just that on a beautiful Saturday morning in the little historic town of Arrow Rock on Memorial Day weekend.

Troy passionately worked on behalf of many organizations. Among them, the Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Missouri Master Naturalist, Missouri River Relief, Missouri Stream Team, and he founded & worked with Friends of Big Muddy just to name a few. He focused much of that work in the bottomlands of the Missouri River in addition to his educational efforts, introducing kids and adults to the birds, snakes, turtles and other wildlife that live in Missouri.

To honor Troy’s life work, we chose a trail that he had worked so hard to help implement with Fish & Wildlife partner, Tim Haller at the Jameson Island Unit of the Big Muddy Fish & Wildlife Refuge in Arrow Rock. In addition to Jameson Island, there are currently 7 other units of protected river habitat in the Big Muddy Refuge. Comprised of 11,000 acres strung up and down the lower Missouri River, this important resource continues to grow and evolve as the Fish & Wildlife Service acquire more of the Big Muddy’s floodplain from willing sellers, restoring and preserving parts of this once wild ecosystem. For more info. on the Big Muddy refuge, visit their website.

On a warm & steamy May morning, Friends of Big Muddy came together once again for a work project on the refuge, like so many that Troy had organized in the past. With project funds donated in his name, we built a platform to place a memorial plaque & bench along the Arrow Rock Landing trail to the river, and replaced many of the invasive & nuisance plant species taking over the bottoms with over a hundred native wildflower’s & shrubs! So instead of Garlic Mustard, Multi-flora Rose & Winter Creeper, there are now Wild Sweet Williams, Celandine Poppy’s, Spiderwort’s, Golden Ragwort’s, Wild Ginger, Silky Dogwood’s, Paw-Paw’s, False Indigo’s & Buttonbush’s. It was a beautiful sight.

We followed our workday with a gourmet BBQ lunch, good company, and a quiet feeling of triumph as Friends of Big Muddy was resurrected after more than a year. Mostly, I feel thankful for all of the organizations & people that Troy has brought together. He certainly left a lasting legacy, and some pretty big foot steps to fill, but I feel confident that in due time we will close the huge gap that he left, with each new step.

Special thanks goes out to Tim Haller, Randy & Tom Bell of the Big Muddy Fish & Wildlife Refuge for all of their hard work & coordination in making this event go off without a hitch, Troy’s widow Janine, for being such a trooper and continuing to help us fill his footsteps, Tim Nigh & Dinise Mustain for preparing our gourmet lunch, the local farmer’s for providing us their with quality, feel-good-food, Missouri River Relief’s new hard-core crew members for volunteering for the work day even though they didn’t know Troy, and the many friends, partners, & family that donated either their time, support or money to help create such a nice tribute & memorial to Troy.

Thank you.