A Day in the Life of a River Relief Clean-Up

St. Charles, MO, April 6, 2013

Missouri River Relief led the St. Charles Missouri River site during the countywide Mission: Clean Stream Cleanup organized by Greenway Network.

On Friday, after I got off work, I packed my stuff and drove to pick up Joe Kellenberger, who met me at a gas station on the way to St. Charles.  We really wanted to make it to the 7:30 p.m. pow wow at camp so that we would be on the same page as everyone regarding the event details and tasks.

We arrived just in time to enjoy the last of the spaghetti squash dinner.  The sun had set and the fire was blazing.  I quickly put up my tent afterwards using a headlamp to see.  I was slightly challenged since it was my first time, but erected the tent sufficiently for the night right on the bank of the river.  Sweet!

Tent without the fly.  Set up was in the dark.  Break down was in the warm sunshine on Sunday.

Tent without the fly. Set up was in the dark. Break down was in the warm sunshine on Sunday.

Steve Schnarr did a great job of organizing and assigning all of the necessary tasks for the event at the pow wow.  By the time we hit the sack everyone knew what they had to do the next day.  I set my alarm for 5:30 AM.  Jeannie Kuntz and John Brady were already starting coffee and breakfast, and a fire was being built.

Jeannie Kuntz and John Brady overseeing the coffee and breakfast duties.

Jeannie Kuntz and John Brady overseeing the coffee and breakfast duties.

Going over last minute details at dawn.

Discussing the day while waiting for the sun to rise.

Drinking morning joe by the fire before we begin.

Drinking morning joe by the fire before we begin.

Once we were coffee’d up and fed we got to work, like a well-oiled machine.  That is the beauty of River Relief clean up events.  Everything runs like clockwork and exemplifies efficiency and teamwork.  Much of that is due to the pow wow the night before when all components of the day are discussed and assignments to duties are finalized.

The registration area is one of the first things to get set up.  At the same time others are taking gear down the boat ramp, such as life jackets and water coolers, and boat captains are getting their boats ready.   It is important to erect the registration area right away.  There are always volunteers showing up early and, although we don’t start registering people early, at least they know where they need to be and are able to wait patiently until we are set up and ready to go.  At registration the volunteers decide if they want to clean up on land, or if they want to go out in the boats.  The pick up a colorful t-shirt, work gloves and a reusable bottle for water.

Registration ready to go

Registration just about ready to go

The City of St. Charles was there to help register volunteers.

The City of St. Charles was there to help register volunteers.

In the meantime the signs are also being set up.

Joe and Jonesy on sign duty.

Joe on sign duty.

While volunteers are being registered, the boat crews meet for instructions.  And, the orientation and safety instructors get ready for presentations.

Melanie working dispatch and speaking at the boat crew meeting.

Melanie working dispatch and speaking at the boat crew meeting.

Racing Dave offering up expert advice.

Racing Dave offering up expert advice. Army Corps of Engineers (left) and Conservation Department (sitting) were also driving boats.

Me and my Captain, Anthony.

Me and my Captain, Anthony.

Dispatcher Jeff Barrow discussing trash locations upriver.  Scouts find the trash hot spots the day prior and mark with blue bags.

Dispatcher Jeff Barrow discussing trash locations upriver. Scouts find the trash hot spots the day prior and mark with blue bags.

Volunteers at the safety presentation

Volunteers at the safety presentation

Once the volunteers finished listening to the orientation presentation given by Tim Nigh, our clean-up cheerleader, they stopped at the safety tent for valuable information.  Then, on to pick up their life jackets, commonly referred to as PFDs, personal flotation devices.  Once equipped with their PFDs, they were assigned to a boat by the dispatchers.

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Gale Johnson directing volunteers

Gale Johnson directing volunteers

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I believe we had six boats with which to take volunteers out.  Each boat takes a group out and drops them off with trash bags on a prearranged stretch of river.  Then, the boat comes back for another group, who are taken to an adjacent stretch.  The boat goes back to either pick up another group, or check on the first group.  If the first group is done collecting trash on that stretch, they are taken to another stretch of river, then the boat crew will go check on the second group, and so on.  Very efficient and very effective, not to mention fun. It is satisfying to hear the stories they have to tell, and to see the unusual trash items that they bring back for the Trash Contest.

Melanie explaining to Anthony on what stretch of river to drop off our group. (photo by Danny Brown)

Melanie explaining to Anthony where to drop off our group.
(photo by Danny Brown)

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We try to build up enthusiasm by telling the volunteers about the Trash Contest, and how they can win a prize for unusual trash they find.  “Hey, keep your eyes open for a message in a bottle,” we tell them.  Lo and behold, someone found a message in a bottle during this clean up!

Rarely will you have a group that is not thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Rarely will you have a group that is not thoroughly enjoying themselves. These guys were cracking jokes the whole time.

The young man in the photo below had a glass bottle he tucked in his life vest for the entire time he was out cleaning up trash.  When asked why he was hanging on to it, we were told that he had never had a glass bottle before.  It is, sadly, a plastics society we are immersed in right now.

Cleaning the river changes lives. One carries away a sense of pride, achievement, and contribution to society.

Cleaning the river changes lives. One carries away a sense of pride, achievement, and contribution to community and society.

This group of volunteers, the Willow group, included individuals with disabilities.  Our hearts were warmed by the smiles and joy they exhibited after becoming accomplished river stewards.  Happy to be asked to take their picture, I asked if I could take a picture for myself.  Great idea on my part, and this is why:

Proud river warriors

Proud river stewards

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The Trash Contest is always a fun time for all of the volunteers to get together and vote on the different categories of trash entries.  Some categories include: weirdest trash, most useful trash, most fashionable trash, and most creative trash.

weirdest trash

Most useful trash

Most useful trash

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Baby head wins for weirdest!

Baby head wins for weirdest!

Once the volunteers were provided a free pizza lunch and participated in the trash contest,  they were ready to go.  The rest of us crew started the clean up process.    The registration tents had already been broken down because of the high wind.

I went out on a trash haul boat.  We were assigned a few stretches of river and went out to pick up all of the trash that the volunteers left by the shore.  This is when we really see the impact of the clean up.  Other crew stay at the boat ramp and help unload.  We also had a bulldozer to haul the trash up to the dumpsters and start a tire pile.  I don’t have any photos at this time of the trash haul.  I will have to post later once they have been uploaded to River Relief’s FlickR site.

In the evening we were treated to dinner by Trailhead Brewery in St. Charles.  Thank you, Trailhead Brewery!!  Then we all sat around the fire and pass the golden stars and the star box (sometimes it is a feather, sometimes a pink flamingo, or even a duck).  This is a time of sharing our thoughts about the clean up and giving out kudos or ideas for improvement.  I love this part of the clean up.  Lots of warm hearts and good feelings.  We all were so impressed with the day that we went around the circle twice.

Like all good things, the end comes sooner or later.  After some good coffee and breaking down our tents, we began breaking down the rest of camp.

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You can see why they call the big tent The Flying Nun.

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L-R front: Melanie, Jeannie, Joe, Jeff, Tim, John (can’t remember gentleman’s name below)
L-R back: Anthony, Janet, Steve, Jonesy
Front and Left: Harry the Heron

And, Sombra

And, Sombra

One more group photo.  We had fun taking several of these.  It helped us put closure on the day.  Sometimes you just have to stop and take some pictures.  I think we captured the moment.  And ended an incredible weekend!

Live fast ~ Paddle slow, folks!

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See you on the river!

4 Comments

4 thoughts on “A Day in the Life of a River Relief Clean-Up

  1. Pingback: The Blog Reality of it All | loveyourbigmuddy expedition

  2. Joanne

    It was fun to meet you at St Charles Cleanup. You are empowering women as well as youth on this trip. I wish you a wonderful journey.

    • Joanne, thanks so much! Are you the woman who has a dream to paddle the river beginning in Montana? If so, I hope that my trip helps you to decide, someday, to take it on. Much of what it takes is just reorganizing priorities. If you do make the decision to go, I doubt you will ever regret it. I hope my experience IS empowering for you!

  3. Thanks for the blog Janet! Your series of photos definitely shows alot (but not even all) of the work that goes into a fabulous one day event to get people out on the Missouri River. We are so thankful for all of the help and everyone working together to help make it happen! Whoo!!! It was a good weekend.

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Missouri River 2013 - Mississippi River 2016 - Yukon River 2017

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