May 23, 2011

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Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up
Sioux City, IA & South Sioux City, NE
May 7, 2011

text by Steve Schnarr; photos by Steve Schnarr, Dylan Lehrbaum, Melanie Cheney, Colin Doggett
Check out all our photos from the clean-up by clicking here. 
OR visit our full clean-up report here.

Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up 5-7-11
Marta, Sally & Desiree
We have a special relationship with the Siouxland area. With partners on both sides of the river coordinating local efforts and outreach, it’s become a  four-year tradition to clean-up the head of the channelized river.

This year, local coordination was shared by Sally Reinert, of Keep Northeast Nebraska Beautiful, and Desiree McCaslen who works in environmental monitoring at the wastewater treatment plant on the Iowa side. They decided this year to hold both boarding and disposal on the Nebraska side, switching locations between states each year. It worked great! An added bonus this year was both Desiree and Sally were able to hit the river to help clean up this year.

They also fed our crew. There’s no better way to get into our hearts than serving up great food!

The big story this year was the high water. The Siouxland area rarely sees water this high, and with the Gavin’s Point Dam scheduled to release up to 60,000 cfs of water through December, the river will be this high or higher for most of the year.

While many worried about the safety of running a cleanup at such levels, we found this to be a good time to hold a cleanup. More areas were accessible since steep, loose riprap banks were underwater. It was tough to find landing spots through the trees in some locations, but volunteers were able to cleanup areas likely to be flooded later. However, one of the dumps we’ve been working on for several years was completely submerged. We’ll get it eventually!

Siouxland Mudpuppies –
Desiree and her husband Josh have been cultivating a group of high school students into a force for cleanup of their hometown. We’ve worked with these hard working environmental stewards for several years. This year, it was an all girl crew and they were great!

Nebraska Game and Parks –
One of our favorite agencies to work with is NGPC biologists. These folks are very skilled operators, and their huge boats can haul over a dozen people and a LOT of trash. This year, Ken Hatten and Kirk Steffenson were on board (NGPC was also helping at the Yankton clean-up…good work guys!).

Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up 5-7-11
Ken Hatten, NGPC, loaded this boat himself, cuz he was "bored". photo by Dylan Lehrbaum.
We were kind of blown away by Ken – he worked with Cargill volunteers and worked side by side with them, bumping them to several different cleanup spots. Then, after lunch, he disappeared for a while as we were regathering forces for the trash haul. Just as we were getting ready to head out, he showed up with his boat full to the brim with trash – filled completely by himself.

The Cargill GOSCNA and DSO plants were our main cash sponsors of this event, and have been for several years. Plant manager Brian Spencer has turned it into a great team-building event for employees and their families. Our crew member Liz Doubet was our liason to the group, and she was impressed at how great the families worked together. It’s what we know about cleanups – it creates a unique opportunity for families to experience real nature and service to the river together.

Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up 5-7-11

Siouxland Clean-up is in the bag.
Sioux Crew
A great mix of folks from both states helped run this event, from registration to safety to dispatch. Our crew members tried to teach how and why we do what we do, and this great crew of people made it happen. Thanks Sioux Crew!!!!

River Relief Crew
Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up 5-7-11Our crew is made up of volunteers, mostly from Columbia and Kansas City, that travel all over the place making clean-ups happen. This time, we had one event in Omaha on April 30, then two events the following weekend in Yankton and Siouxland. Our “deep bench” of excellent crew volunteers has grown to the point where only three crewmembers had to help both weekends. This makes us able to accomplish so much more. Our small staff would really struggle without the dedication of this amazing and talented crew. 

Trash Treasures

Check out the Trash Tally for some of the interesting finds from the clean-up. Of course the kilo of cocaine made the news, but there were some other interesting things. The Coast Guard Auxilliary (our partners for four years) pulled in an abandoned Jet Ski they’d been trying to get for several years. The high water made it easier to access.

Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up 5-7-11

The trash contest brought some great things to shore – the front end and gas tank from a motorcycle (Liz Doubet brought it home to make a bird house out of the tank) – a complete exercise machine – a typewriter (remember those?) – a Chinese flag – a wedding garter (!) – and a six-disc CD changer (with speakers). The "Most Unusual Find" went to a dog collar (complete with dog skeleton...ugh!). I never cease to be befuddled by the weird stuff people find on the river banks.

People + Action = Community Enhancement
Synergy is a welcome addition to any clean-up event. This time we teamed up with the PACE event. While some PACE groups worked on planting and beautifying Scenic Park, we worked on beautifying the river. Then we all got together for lunch and a really great Trash Contest. Good stuff!

Cool new trash bags

We were excited to try out the trash bags donated by Keep Iowa Beautiful. Bright orange (easy to see), biodegradable and tough – they worked perfectly. We’ll be finding out the source for these great bags and sharing it here. We need tough bags for river clean-ups – they get dragged through the woods and sometimes filled with sharp objects. We’ve seen lesser bags get shredded to pieces. The most exciting thing was that these bags are biodegradable – made of plant byproducts they don’t add to our consumption of plastic…the most common item we find on cleanups. Perfect!
Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up 5-7-11
This cleanup was a great example of how smaller groups of volunteers can make for a high quality event and still clean up a lot of trash. Many of our boats were able to stick with their volunteer groups, which makes it easier to shuttle to new locations when they get one place cleaned up. And our great crewmembers get a chance to work hand-in-hand with folks. It builds the energy and amazing things get accomplished. With only 97 volunteers, we removed 3.6 tons of trash! Great work everyone!

Urban camping
Most places we do cleanups, we find a riverside camp to base out of for the weekend. This time, Scenic Park gave us their whole “Eco-Cabin” complex for free. The staff was amazing and helpful, donating ice and firewood to us all weekend.

These cabins are something else. They are collaborative projects by college architecture students. One looks like a rusty metal cube with no entrance. But, you tug on a handle and suddenly one wall slides to the side, creating an lighted entryway. The top bunk is only accessible by climbing one of the walls. Awesome!

Cabin 1 has a wall that gets cranked up, creating an overhang and a perfect space for our kitchen. A beautiful rock fireplace area located on the point by the river was our gathering place. Perfect. Everyone commented on how strange it is to literally camp in the middle of a city. Trains, interstate traffic and the buzz of the city was ever present. The smell of the rendering plant on the Iowa side would drift over and make us gag. But then a flock of geese would fly overhead and the sun would set beautifully over the bridge. Such a great experience!

Pass the stars!

Thanks to all volunteers, sponsors and great partners that made this event happen. We know we’ll be returning to Siouxland for years to come.

Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up 5-7-11

May 20, 2011

The River as Muse

River Excursion with Shawnee Mission East & North and St. Theresa's Academy art students
Kaw Point Park to Riverfront Park - Kansas City
April 23, 2011

text by Vicki Richmond, photos by Sarah Cook and Katie Crow

Boat trips are a terrific way to get folks immersed in the Big Muddy.  Hundreds of people experience the Missouri River this way each year, through River Relief’s field trips.

Way back in January’s chill, I received a note from Adam Finkelston, Shawnee Mission East Visual Arts Dept. instructor and self proclaimed photography geek.  He wanted to take students out on the river to inspire them to create art, and to view their community in a unique way.  We’d be hosting aspiring artists, students who would be nominated and chosen by their teachers, and we’d spend the day traveling by boat.  The outcome of the day would be an art show, held at a gallery this fall that would showcase the student’s work.

April 23 was a good day for a boat ride.  Rainy weather gave way to clouds as MRR crew met at Kaw Point to splash boats in preparation for taking a unique group out for a day on the river.  Students began arriving armed with cameras, sketch pads, notebooks and bags for collecting objects.  Parents stood by watching as their kids were fitted into life jackets, given a brief safety talk and boarded the boats.

Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11
photo by Sarah Cook, Shawnee Mission East
The boats left the ramp on the Kaw (or Kansas River) and slowly made their way to the confluence with the Missouri.  The bigger river was quite obviously running higher than the gentler Kaw; our boats were pushed to the south shore as the mighty Missouri currents push towards St. Louis. 

We traveled the stretch between Kaw Point and the Main Street Pedestrian Walkway, taking time to notice the effects of our urban amenities.  Bridges, a scrap metal yard, a wastewater treatment plant, armored stream banks and levee walls are juxtaposed with the original limestone ledge that allowed steamboats to unload cargo for transport to the Westport Trading Post.  Cameras clicked as we powered past the Kansas City skyline.

Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11

Berkley Park, once the Kansas City Municipal Landfill, illustrates what can be done with land that isn’t suitable for building.  Our boats pulled into shore so that students could walk the recently created USB Bridge underpass, investigate the Wharfmaster building and see the leftover round pads where grain bins once stood.  Old brick in the power plant and newly planted native prairie and wetlands work together to combine the old and new.

Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11
photo by Katie Crow, St. Theresa's Academy
Back to the boats, and a migration to Riverfront Park Boat ramp allowed students to get a duck’s eye view of progress. The Paseo Bridge is being taken down in pieces to make way for the newly opened Kit Bond Bridge that connects Kansas City with her northern neighbors.  Large cranes, working barges and a tug boat offered fodder for sketch books and cameras.

Canada Goose nest (with pretzel)
Pulling into Riverfront Park, we were greeted by the fisherfolk and morel hunters who have come to know our boats and crew.  We disembarked and headed just downstream of the ramp to a high sand bar and large pile of drift wood for lunch.  A small fire was lighted to warm marshmallows for tasty deserts.  Students ate lunch and headed off to hike in the woods and explore the flood plain.  Our crew relaxed while enjoying the student’s comments. 

A goose was gently persuaded to leave her nest so that students could see the eggs nestled in warm down.  The hubbub of lunch quickly became a deserted scene of jackets, backpacks and lunch bags as students explored the woods and hiked downriver.

Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11
photo by Katie Crow
While enjoying lunch, the tugboat Mary Lynn came through, offering everyone a chance to see commerce at work along the Big Muddy.  Quickly employed cameras captured the turbulent water as crew raced to the boats to secure them.  A small gathering of onlookers enjoyed looking over our vessels; it is a rare occasion when our boats don’t cause a stir.  Having 28 red life-jacketed people made the scene even more inviting, and new friends were made in the assembled group.

Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11
All too quickly we loaded the boats again for the return trip upriver.  Several stops were made for students to capture scenes and again we beached the boats, this time at the base of the scrap metal  yard.  Students made their way up the banks to investigate the area , and returned with pockets bulging with scraps of metal destined to become sculptural elements.  A sign, a saw blade and a bag of metal disks joined the drift wood, beaver chewed willow poles and refrigerator door already on board.

We returned to Kaw Point and to a group of waiting parents, cheering and clapping as the boats gently touched shore.  Students unloaded sketchbooks and backpacks with wide grins.  The river made new friends, and the artists left with new inspiration.  The fall will bring us full circle, when the art created from the day is shown. 
Shawnee Mission East Art Trip 4-23-11
photo by Katie Crow

We could not do projects like these without support!  A  big, muddy thanks to:
  • Students and Parents from Shawnee Mission East, Shawnee Mission North and St. Theresa’s High Schools
  •  Missouri River Relief Crew Members:   Vicki and Michael Richmond, Larry O’Donnell, Bill Fessler and Layla the Dog

May 16, 2011

Siouxland Trash Tally!

Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up
Scenic Park Boatramp, S. Sioux City, NE
May 7th, 2011
photos by Dylan Lehrbaum, Donna Walter & Colin Doggett

For more results, including links to photos, media, etc, go to:

Total Volunteers:  97
MRR Crew:  17
Sioux Crew: 13
Boats:  6  (3 Missouri River Relief, 2 Nebraska Game & Parks, 1 U.S. Coast Guard
River Miles: 5
River Level: 23.7 ft
Tires: 33 (.56 tons)
Landfill Tonnage:  2.4 tons
Scrap Metal:  .7 tons
Total Tonnage: 3.6 tons

Groups & Agencies Involved:  Missouri River Relief, Missouri American Water, Keep Northeast Nebraska Beautiful, Nebraska Game & Parks, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Americorps State, Feed Energy, Dakota City Clover Kids, Cargill Inc. - GOSCNA and DSO, Siouxland Mudpuppies, Scenic Park, City of South Sioux City, South Sioux City YMCA

Names of River Teams:  The Dog Pound, The Lagging Turtles, Clover Kids, Feed Energy, Mudpuppies, The Trash Picker-uppers

Trash Tally!!!!

Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up 5-7-11124 Bags of Trash
33 Car & Truck Tires
3 Bicycle Tires
1 Tire Rim
6 Chunks O’ Styrofoam
1 Cooler
6 5-gallon Plastic Buckets
1 with Mystery Fluid
3 5-gallon Metal Buckets
1 55-gallon Plastic Barrel
8 rusty cans of Paint
1 Gas Can
1 guts of a Washing Machine
1 Chest Freezer
1 Metal Fire Grate
1 Lawn Mower Deck
3 Mattresses
Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up 5-7-115 Boxsprings
2 Chairs
1 yellow Toilet Tank & Lid
1 Vacuum Cleaner
1 Chinese Flag
3 Mufflers
1 Ford Grill
1 Buick Grill
1 Dodge Tail Gate
2 Gas Tanks
1 Car Battery
2 Train Parts
1 Motorcycle Cylinder Head & Jugs, Banana Seat, Fender, Front Forks, and Wheel
1 Tricycle
That funny Jodi...
1 wrecked Kawasaki Jet Ski
2 pieces of Carpet
1 Concrete Block
1 Metal Siding
1 Heavy Duty Rope
1 PVC Pipe
2 Wire Fences
1 piece of Corrugated Metal
2 pieces of Rebar
1 Target Stand for shooting
1 Lead Pipe w/ Channel Iron
2 ½ ft Saw Blade Rotary
28 ft of Metal Cable
2 TVs
1 Typewriter
1 RCA 6-disk changer Stereo with 2 Speakers
1 Tarp
Siouxland Missouri River Clean-up 5-7-111 Window Shade
1 Milk Crate made into a bike basket
1 KB Transportation Sign
1 Squeegee Top
1 Highway Merge Sign
1 Picture Frame
1 Exercise Machine
1 pair of Blue Jeans
1 Golf Club Driver
1 CD
1 UNO Card
1 Wedding Garter
1 Blond Wig
1 Kilo of Cocaine wrapped in duct tape -turned into police
1 Ring Buoy Life Preserver
1 Dog Collar w/ complete dog skeleton & rabies tag
1 Feather in a Bottle

May 13, 2011

Omaha Trash Tally!

Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up
Riverfront Marina - Narrows River Park
April 30, 2011
Team Shingles
Total Volunteers:  94
MRR Crew:  18
Boats: 8 (4 Missouri River Relief, 2 Nebraska Game & Parks, 1 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1 U.S. Coast Guard)
River Miles:  6 miles
River Level: 25 ft
Tires: 44 (.77 tons)
Landfill Tonnage:  3.96 tons
Scrap Metal:  1.1 tons
Total Tonnage:  5.83 Tons

Groups & Agencies Involved: 
Missouri River Relief, ConAgra Foods, Lamp Rynearson & Associates, Gallup University Green Team, Stalnacker MC, Union Pacific, Nebraska Game & Parks, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, Coram Deo Church, Council Bluffs Public Works, National Park Service, River Town String Band

Names of River Teams: 
The River Dogs, Blue Flamingos, MRR Tiger Team, The Shingles, Team Awesome, Team Tardy

Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up 4-30-11Trash Tally!!!!
148 Bags of Trash
44 Tires
37 Chunks of Styrofoam
10 – 5 gallon Plastic Buckets
3 – 30 gallon Metal Drums
2 – 55 gallon Plastic Barrels
Speak louder...and carry a big ax5 Coolers
2 Lids
1 Bicycle Wheel
1 Smoker Lid
1 plush Monkey
1 embroidered Pillow
4 Camp Stoves
1 Dog Crate
3 Coolers
1 Microwave
1 Oven Door
12 pieces of Carpet
Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up 4-30-20111 Boxspring
½ of a Couch
6 ½ Chairs
2 Shopping Carts
2 Propane Tanks
1 Car Battery
1 Hammer
2 Hatchets
1 Dog Crate
7 Rubbermaid Tubs
1 Car Bench Seat
1 Tin Roof
1 Vent
20 bags of Shingles
Duct Work
1 Bird Cage
1 Colgate Toothpaste Tube
enough Clothes for 3 outfits
3 Strollers
1 Tennis Racket
1 Frying Pan
1 High-heeled Shoe
1 TV Screen
1 Tool Box
1 Suitcase
1 Stadium Seat
Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up 4-30-111 Spongebob
1 Snorkel
1 Saw Blade
11 Tents
20 Tarps
4 Sleeping Bags
50 ft of Rebar
1 Shovel
145 Poles
200 feet of Cable with the copper stripped out
1 Welder’s Hammer
1 unopened bag of Fruity Pebbles
1 Toy Gun
1 plastic light-up Angel
1 Railroad Spike
1 Baby Doll, no head
1 leopard patterned Bench Topper
1 rusty Bell
1 rusty Chain
1 GPS Cache, Kitty in a Bottle
1 palm-sized ceramic Flower Plate
2 little glass Perfume Bottles
1 women’s 1920s Hat
1 rusty Electric Razor
1 Lunch Box/Cooler
1 home-made Bow and Arrow
1 home-made fishing pole

Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up 4-30-11

Upriver to Omaha!

Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up
Riverfront Marina - Narrows River Park
April 30, 2011
text by Steve Schnarr, photos by Steve Schnarr & Vicki Richmond

We headed upriver on Thursday, April 28 to begin a string of clean-ups for a week and a half. First, we’d be taking on Omaha-Council Bluffs. After wrapping that up, we’d be going to the Missouri National Recreational River near Gayville, SD, to help the National Park Service clean-up an old farm dump for a couple days. Then we were splitting up crews and doing a cleanup in the Siouxland area as well as helping Yankton with their annual event.

We drove straight to the Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs to set up camp for the weekend. We camped in a beautiful stand of cottonwoods on the river side of the levee just a short walk from the river. Dave Stous drove up from KC and met us at the site, helping us throw up our Flying Nun kitchen tent and gather wood.

Because it was Racin’ Dave’s birthday, we headed into the Old Market area looking for a good steak. We found them, but were shocked when we saw the prices on the menu. In typical Racin’ style, though….price was no object. Sombra even got a really good bone out of the deal…

A Boat Full of “Dignitaries”
We got our boats in the water in the morning, and headed downstream to meet our first passengers of the weekend at the Riverfront Marina near the Qwest Center. We were taking the mayors from each town as well as the Colonel from the Omaha District Corps of Engineers out on the river (as well as our partner Jolene Hulsing from the Corps). Our second boat took out some local media as well.

River Trip with Omaha & Council Bluff Mayors & Army Corps

We showed everyone what we would be working on the next day – some of the abandoned camps you could see from the river and debris scattered by the 2010 floods. But the main topic of conversation was the high river levels and what predictions were for the spring and summer. Because of the late, cool spring the Corps had just revised their runoff predictions and were in the process of ramping up releases from upriver dams to make room for more mountain snowmelt. Any major rainfall in the James or Big Sioux Rivers is likely to make things dicey down in Omaha.

Prairie Wind
As we headed back to the marina, the wind really started to kick in. As we began our scout in the afternoon, it got worse. One stretch just up from the I-80 bridge became a maelstrom with 3 – 4 foot waves rolling upstream. Anthony and Jody stayed at camp to keep an eye on the Nun, which was pulling stakes and loosening cords. The wind kept up until late evening and rolled throughout the cleanup. It wasn’t til Saturday evening that it really let up, although we’d be battling prairie wind the rest of the week.

Crews arrive
Before and after the scout, crews continued to arrive. Brady, Mel and the Franks rolled up with a boat. Jeanie and Jonesy showed up and immediately Jeanie whipped the kitchen into shape. Each clean-up we have a “Food Angel” who is in charge of the kitchen. Jeanie is the original and best Food Angel on the bench. She pre-cooks everything to make preparation simple and easy. And completely revamped our kitchen set-up to fight the wind. We had two guys manning the stove to relight it everytime a gust puffed it out. David Richter, Bill Fessler, Larry Shepard, Vicki Richmond and the Dewitte family rolled in to beef up the crew.

The Clean-up
A couple of our boats needed to be put in at the Narrows River Ramp, so several vehicles headed up that way. Only to find the (mostly flooded) ramp blocked by a massive tree. It took some serious creative wrangling to get it out of there, but that’s why we’ve got Racin Dave and Indi.

Clearing the ramp
Team Tardy!
The rest of the crew set up registration and dispatch at the Marina, boats arrived and the game was on. We were treated to some really great Americana tunes by the River Town String Band (who also stuck around for lunch – thank you guys!!!) Volunteers trickled in nice and easy and we got them right out on the river. We had lots of great groups, from Gallup Green Team, Corum Deo Church, Stalnaker MC and Lamp Rynearson & Assoc. A crew of ConAgra Foods employees headed by van to a landsite under the I-80 bridge where they quickly created a huge pile of trash by the river.

The ConAgra Crew

Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up 4-30-11

After all the boats were out, we pieced together a crew of River Relief diehards to tackle what became known as the Mansion Camp – an abandoned tent/tarp complex on the side of the river that had been flooded last year and strewn throughout the woods. When those guys made it back, they went straight for the hand-washing station.

After several hours of hard work, everyone returned to the marina for lunch and the trash contest.

Here’s the entry for the “Most Fashionable Trash”:

"Most Fashionable Trash"

And here’s the “Best Darn Find of the Day”:

Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up 4-30-11

Then the trash haul was on.

Omaha-Council Bluffs Missouri River Clean-up 4-30-11
This was Indi’s first time hauling trash, and everyone was extremely impressed with his boat handling skills in the crazy wind. (He often gets stuck running a skid steer at the ramp). We were lucky that Council Bluffs Public Works showed up with a front-end loader. I didn’t catch the operator’s name, but he stuck around to the very end and was amazed at all the work the volunteers did. (Quote of the Day: You guys came all the way from Missouri to clean our river?)

We all returned to camp, exhausted but smiling. And the wind finally died down. We gathered around the campfire and exchanged stories from the day.

On to the next clean-up!!!!