A bath tub, countertops, pickup seat frames and a litter of wild kittens — Mariah Morrison has been the volunteer coordinator for the Central Missouri Hellbenders Stream Team for only about five months, but she already has found some interesting things along the banks of Wears Creek in Jefferson City.
The Jefferson City native graduated from Westminster College in environmental science and education curriculum studies. She plans to begin attending Emporia State University online in August for a master's degree in earth science and hopes to one day become a professor or work in environmental geology.
She grew up in the country surrounded by nature in a family that enjoyed camping and hiking.
"While I was in school, I had an awesome professor who was passionate about geology, and I think his passion really helped me enjoy that aspect of pursing my career in geology," she said. "From there, I've been very excited with the environment as a whole."
The Missouri Stream Team Program is a partnership between the state Department of Natural Resources, Department of Conservation, Conservation Federation of Missouri and state residents. Stream Teams work to inform and educate residents on stream conditions, establish a monitoring network, generate water quality data and limit degradation of Missouri streams while enabling people to take part in protecting a portion of the state's 110,000 miles of streams.
In addition to removing litter from Missouri waterways, participants can participate in the Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program, which began in 1993 under DNR. The program has trained thousands of volunteers to collect water quality samples from Missouri streams, in addition to removing litter. Teams perform invertebrate and chemistry monitoring to assess stream health.
Jefferson City is a part of Stream Team Region Four, which includes the Moreau and Loutre rivers. The region has 34 sites that ranked in excellent or good condition and 14 sites that ranked fair or poor, according to 2016 Missouri Stream Team's data.
Morrison founded the Hellbenders team in November to do volunteer work relative to her field of study and apply what she was learning in school to help improve the area environment.
"I hope to use this experience in future careers and basically get everyone involved in not only what I have a passion for but hopefully what others can have a passion for in the future," she said.
The Hellbenders began with 24 members and has since expanded to about 30 from Jefferson City and Columbia. So far, the group has participated in clean-ups of Wears Creek as well as Flat Branch in Columbia.
"When I started the (Hellbenders) Stream Team, I was able to coordinate with some individuals from the Conservation Department, as well as the Department of Natural Resources, and they told me that Wears Creek in Jefferson City is pretty much untouched," Morrison said. "That's how I decided that I wanted to (collect litter from) that stream — because I wanted to make a difference in being able to clean that up."
After a lot of planning, the team took part in its first clean-up in January, collecting 17 bags of trash from just 0.2 miles of Wears Creek.
"When we started Wears Creek in January, it was a disaster," Morrison said. "It took us a very, very long time to get done picking up trash and debris in the first part. Even just that small area, after we finished, everyone was feeling good about themselves that we were able to make that small difference."
The Hellbenders revisited the creek as part of Serve Jeff City on April 21 and were pleased that much of the area remained relatively litter-free. However, further downstream was a different story.
On April 21, the team made it almost a half-mile downstream and collected about 40 bags of trash. Among the large pieces of litter collected were rusty pieces of scrap metal, a Ford pickup seat frame and other items from different portions of the creek.
"We were able to clean out an entire bathtub out of the stream," Morrison said. "There were also countertops and saw horses that we pulled out. We found three baby kittens, too, so that was fun. They were too young to be taken to the Humane Society, but we let them know to keep an eye out for them."
Morrison hopes people walking the nearby Greenway trail will be able to better enjoy nature without litter and waste in the scenery.
The Hellbenders team is accepting new members. For more information, visit the group's Facebook page, facebook.com/centralmohellbenders.