May 20, 2010

The Flood of 2010

May 14th, 2010
Club Medfly, River mile 170

As the Missouri River crested here in Mid-Missouri last week, several of us self-proclaimed "river rats" went down to our clubhouse to watch the swollen river roll by. She must have been going at least 10 miles an hour, carrying a large load of debris that not only included trees of all sizes, but an assortment of floating trash! The river level was 27.6 and rising.

I couldn't help but start recording a tally of what I was watching float downstream, ultimately destined for the Gulf of Mexico, which already has its fair share of problems with the most devastating oil spill on record, I couldn't help but feel both sad but reinvigorated to expose this local, regional, national, and worldwide problem.

Here's a tally of what we watched float by in one evening:

1 Large Freezer
15 Styrofoam Chunks
7 Basket Balls
4 - 5 gallon Buckets
5 Aerosol spray cans
1 Green Buoy
1 Inflated Inner Tube
1 Large Metal Tank
7 Tires
1 Milk Jug
4 Oil/Detergent Jugs
1 Purple Sharpie
1 Perfume Bottle Lid
1 Deoderant Stick
2 Misc. Balls
1 Prescription Bottle
2 Peanut Butter Jars
2 Coolers
1 Plastic Lime
2 Water Jerry Jugs
1 Metal 5 gallon Bucket
...and countless plastic bottles!

In ten minutes we counted 74 plastic bottles go by, only as far as the eye could see that is. Ten Minutes! 74!

Plastic water & soda bottles are by far the #1 piece of trash we find out there. If more people started carrying their own re-usable drink containers and started drinking from the tap, we would alleviate so much of the pollution that this plastic is causing by getting into our waterways, the ocean, and its wildlife. Plastic bottles are a product of crude oil. Think about the impact we could make if we stopped using them! We have the choice, and it all starts with YOU!

Melanie Cheney
Missouri River Relief

Catfish stuck in a Plastic Bottle, photo by Colby Wrasse of the US Fish & Wildlife Service

a photo of a storm drain that goes directly into the Missouri River after a rain event

River Relief goes to Yankton

A few notes & thoughts from our recent trip up to Yankton, S.D.
...a clean-up "Away Team" organized by Keep Yankton Beautiful.
by Melanie Cheney
photo by Paul Lepisto

At our rate, the trip from Columbia, MO up to Yankton, S.D. usually requires a 10 hour drive. Hauling a 2 ton, 25-foot plate boat behind you in a driving North wind up in the plains isn't easy. We arrived at the Cottonwoods Campground in Yankton where the temperature had dropped into the 40s, with sustaining winds and bursts up to 40-50 mph. If it wasn't for Soda Popp who had drug his house on wheels behind him all the way from Jeff City, I would have been miserable all night long as the temps dropped down in the 30s and the winds continued to howl!!!

We met up with the KC crew who had arrived a few hours earlier, built a big fire, and discussed a game plan for the clean-up we were working the next morning. Luckily by the time the sun came up, the winds died down, and the sun warmed the 100 volunteers who also showed up bright & early that morning. Apart from the chilly boat ride on the river, it turned out to be a beautiful day!

We used our two plate boats to haul volunteers & trash, & just like that it was over. It was pretty clean up there as this was the 7th annual clean-up on that stretch, and we pretty much just cleaned up after the thoughtless fisherman who enjoy good fishing right below the 1st dam on this beautiful stretch of river. I collected about 1 bag of fishing line & styrofoam bait boxes alone. We ate lunch & headed back to camp.

In the afternoon, the sun shining, & the wind as still as could be, we took a little field trip over the dam to an overlook & trail on the big lake which is really, our river. We didn't walk very far before a little side trail appeared & we followed it to the most unexpected & beautiful beach in the Mid-West I have ever seen! It felt like a scene out of the Goonies or something. Huge chalk bluffs towered over the water, waves lapping at the soft pebbled beach, the sun reflecting into our faces, and we just sat there & soaked it up until our bellies started rumbling. Wishing we could stay for sunset, we headed back for camp.

We had a wonderful evening of camaraderie with our River Relief companions, new & old, we told stories around the campfire, & got a good nights rest before starting the next leg of our adventures.

Highlights from the days ahead included a 3 day & night stay in Ponca State Park (due to continual foul weather) on the Rec River with the Stous', a one day float thru a small stretch of river where I must have seen at least 30 different species of birds, one of which was a scene I'll not forget, Wild Turkey's in their full on courtship spreads trying to lure the females away from the other Toms, and several hikes around the area in search of our favorite Spring mushroom, the Morel. And best of all, the company of old friends cooking together & sitting around a campfire at night was just so nice. This relaxing little "mini" vacation also allowed me to get some good reading done in a wonderful book a friend lent us called "The Whale Warriors", which I highly recommend!

On our way home, we stopped at the Desoto Fish & Wildlife Refuge, an old ox-bow lake that had been cut off from the river with the coolest visitor center I've ever been to. They had excavated an old cargo steam ship and we got to see everything the ship was carrying in it when it went down. It was full of old tools, tonics, clothes, food stuffs, oil lamps, toiletries, you name it! In addition, huge picture windows & viewfinders looked out over the lake. It was still cold & drizzly out, and I only saw one lonely pelican. But it was a great stop on our long trip back to Missouri.

May 2, 2010

Stories from Washington

Washington River Festival and Missouri River Clean-up
Rennick Riverfront Park, Washington, MO
April 17, 2010

text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Vicki Richmond, Melanie Cheney, Tom Ball

(for more photos, stories, links etc, see our Washington event webpage. )

Man, did we have a good time in Washington.

In fact, there was so much going on, most of us only got a glimpse at a few pieces of the whole. Here’s a few stories that happened that people have passed along to me.

Drift Piles and Willow Thickets and Box Dikes
It’s been several years of high water along the Lower Missouri River. Much of the trash along the river has been pushed up high in the floodplain. The Washington reach of the river is really productive agricultural land with little public land. So a lot of the trash volunteers recovered was from piles of driftwood pushed together by flooding eddies.

The river levels had dropped a lot in the previous week, as low as it’s been in months. The low willow thickets that gather trash were actually locked behind exposed rock dikes that had been underwater just a week before. We call these “box dikes” because the rock walls actually box the areas off from our clumsy motorboats. This all meant a lot of work for the volunteers that were bagging up trash and hauling it to where our trash boats could pick them up. Or rolling refrigerators or tires. These were a tough bunch of volunteers!

The Augusta Bottoms Scour Hole
Last time we went to Washington in 2008, a group of Augusta Bottoms residents pointed out some trash in the series of “blew holes” along August Bottoms Rd. Unfortunately, our clean-up that day was cancelled because of a flooding Missouri River and we didn’t have enough volunteers to pull it off.

This time, Scot Heidbrink and Bernie Arnold led a team of Kohl’s employees and locals to tackle the site. Once they started, they found they couldn’t stop. What looked like some recent dumping turned out to be about 25 tires and two trailer-loads of junk illegally dumped along the road.

This was one of several scour holes dug out in the 1993 and 1995 floods. Still popular fishing holes, they are home to migrating flocks of waterfowl and are crammed with turtles. It felt good to get them cleaned out! Hopefully we can come back when the water is really low!

Colter’s Clean-up by Canoe
The Wyman Center contacted us several months ago. Jason Rose, the Wyman Program Manager, was entering the Missouri River 340, a canoe race we are involved in, and checked out our website. He was intrigued and offered the Wyman’s canoe fleet for a clean-up in the area. We chose the Washington clean-up for our trial run.

The group met at the Washington ramp early and headed up to Colter’s Landing, where the Wyman Fleet was waiting. Big Muddy Adventures’ Betsy Tribble and Mike Clark arrived with the Clipper Canoe – a massive 10-person canoe just begging to haul trash. Everyone headed downstream on the Boeff Creek gathering trash as they went. The coolest thing they found wouldn’t fit in a canoe - our trash boat had to pick it up later: a really nice picnic table buried in a sandbank. We took it to our riverside cabin the next day!

The mouth was the first stop, and several trashy spots along the way. Luckily, the Washington Boat Club Commodore Fred Hartbank and a couple of his buddies grabbed lunches and headed up to meet the paddlers for lunch around 1 p.m.. Then the canoe clean-up crew had the energy to finish ‘er off!

River Celebration!
Last time we attempted a clean-up in Washington, Mike Smith volunteered to help coordinate it. Then his good friend, Gloria Attoun Bauermeister offered to organize a river festival in conjunction with the clean-up. That was 2008…the clean-up ended up flooded out, but the festival went on as planned.

This year it was even bigger and better. With music from local river lovers, educational booths on a wide variety of river and nature-related topics, art and good food – it was a true celebration of the river that remains the center of life in Washington.

The World Bird Sanctuary kicked it all off with their popular display of rehabilitated raptors from around the world. The whole festival wrapped up with an old-timey dance, complete with a dance caller. In the meantime, a lot of families got to get involved in hands-on art projects, a bird walk with Bill Davit, and a whole lot of learning about local organizations dedicated to history, restoration, care of our resources and more.

Kohl’s and Washington Middle School
Two of our largest groups were from the Washington Kohl’s store and the Washington Middle School Environmental Club. Because of a great national program through Kohl’s, the two groups teamed up to work both on the river and the Augusta Bottoms site.
The bonus: Kohl’s will be donating $1,500 to the Environmental Club! According to Club faculty sponsor Michael Batsie, the club will use the funds to purchase new recycling bins for the school, as well as t-shirts and native plant training for the environmental club. An absolute win-win for everyone!

We were pleased that our crew was invited back to Michael and Gloria’s little piece of paradise in the Augusta Bottoms. The former site of a little railroad town called Nona, the old general store is now the studio and gallery for Michael Bauermeister’s amazing wooden sculptures. We set up our kitchen under the awning, camped in the yard around and enjoyed the beautiful spring evening after the clean-up. Many friends from Washington, Augusta and St. Louis joined us for an evening campfire and “pass the feather”, where everyone told a story about how the day went for them.

Many thanks to the many cooks who kept us fed all weekend. It was truly a group effort!

We were kept company all weekend by several barred owls. Josh got this picture of one of them!