{ Reconnaissance and Relief }

May 26, 2014 § 1 Comment

Ahoy! Results ain’t quite in for Missouri River Relief‘s cleanup at St. Joseph, Missouri (when they are, you can find them here), but I couldn’t wait any longer to share the experience from May 15-18. This was my third away-team cleanup as a crew member. My first experience with the group was back in 2009, and despite attending dozens of events as a regular volunteer, it’s impossible to know just how much work goes into preparing for these things.

First, there’s the matter of time and location. Where’s a good boat ramp to conduct a cleanup, and where can we camp that’s reasonably close? At St. Joe, we lucked out with Remington Nature Center hosting us on its grounds, just a parking lot away from the boat docks. We cut driftwood behind the building and established a kitchen underneath it, pitched tents by Roy’s Creek, and built a campfire laughably close to the city’s riverside bike trail.

Sunrise on Roy's Creek. I wouldn't mind unzipping my tent to this every day.

Sunrise on Roy’s Creek. I wouldn’t mind unzipping my tent to this every day.

And then there are logistics of the cleanup itself.

Since an aerial trash scout in 2011, it’s been a little easier to spot dump sites on maps. Even so, there’s a lot of foot work for crew members to find litter that’s washed in by recent floods. The day before a big cleanup, we scout for sites up and downstream, about five miles each way, on both sides of the river. A few people are elected dispatchers and assistants, a couple drive the boats, and the rest of the group piles in to check out the damage.

The river was low that week, meaning steep and muddy banks. Melanie, Jennifer, and I scrambled up them into the woods to find trash caught behind logs and foliage. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a lot to find, maybe because the river is so straight and swift in this channelized stretch by the city. I did, however, eat a bowlful of lamb’s quarter, watch several Common Yellowthroats flitting through the woods, and even scared up a Nighthawk! Seeing a Caprimulgid in the daytime was a first for me. Just one of the little serendipitous joys in getting outside.

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Boots get muddy. Boats get muddy. Mud gets muddy.

That was Friday. A pretty easygoing day, although the scout does get tiring after a while. We assign jobs for the crew the night before, and get started really early the next day. Like, 6 a.m. breakfast early. On a Saturday! Then follows this volley of set-up, registration, driver meeting, volunteer orientation, safety talks and finally–rejoice!–getting out on the boats.

It’s a lot to do before noon, but we pull it off flawlessly, crew members filling in wherever they’re needed. Because turnout was fairly light this day, the drivers and first mates got to stay with their boatful of volunteers instead of leaving to get another group. That was awesome for me, as I got more alone time in nature, and was able to hang out with a totally precious gang of 7-year-old bicyclists. On the way back, when I ate an orange and tossed the peel in the stream, one of the kids looked totally disappointed. “Eli, what’s wrong?” He threw his palms in the air and said, “You’re littering!” in such a dismayed voice that I’m sure my response of, “don’t panic, it’s organic” would fail to redeem my sin.

After the cleanup, we give lunch to our volunteers, host and judge a trash contest, chill for a while, then peel out in the boats again to pick up the trash. Volunteers leave their bags, tires and other stuff on the shore. We pick it up in the afternoon in a streamlined fashion.

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This, my friend, is a well-orchestrated daisy chain of trash.

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John Brady is our premiere frontloader communicatuer. Here, he’s telling the driver to smash down on this refrigerator.

I’m a little exhausted just writing about this. Which is ok, because feeling exhausted means you did a lot of hard work, eh? And what better frame of mind for a sunset walk on a trail by the river? This was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, seriously. Even my fancy new iPhone (hey world, I finally upgraded!) couldn’t capture it’s glory, but here. I tried.

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You can catch me at the next river cleanup at Leavenworth, Kansas, and Weston, Missouri the weekend of June 7. Seriously, come if you can (free boat ride and fuzzy feelings), and if you can’t, follow my Twitter and Instagram. (Yep, Instagram. That’s new for me. Give me something to follow!) I’ll bring you along for the ride.

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