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Rain can't stop Missouri River cleanup

by Joe Gamm | June 3, 2018 at 3:58 a.m. | Updated June 3, 2018 at 11:55 a.m.
Following an early morning thunderstorm Saturday, June 2, 2018, Missouri River Relief volunteers board boats at Bonnots Mill to pick up trash along the Osage and Missouri rivers in a community-wide, cleanup effort.

About 15 people left the boat launch at Bonnots Mill on Friday and traveled up and down banks of the Missouri and Osage rivers searching for trash.

They were the first wave in an effort to clean up the river near the rivers' confluence.

And the volunteers with Missouri River Relief found a lot.

Bottles, cans, plastic bags, tires and even a television. Mostly, they found plastic bottles, they said.

But, those volunteers were only the first wave, marking the trouble spots for more volunteers who returned to the sites Saturday to gather, bag-up and prepare the trash to be taken back to the boat launch.

A river cleanup event doesn't happen in a day.

MRR, a community, volunteer and equipment-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to connecting people to the Missouri River through hands-on river cleanups, education and stewardship activities, begins planning months in advance. It sends staff out two days before each area cleanup to set up the site with equipment and shelters. It also scouts out the best places to gather and dispose of garbage found in the river.

Since 2001, the organization has hosted 168 Missouri River cleaning events, using more than 25,000 volunteers and removing 906 tons of trash from about 1,200 miles of the river banks.

Although based out of Columbia, it has done cleanings as far as Omaha, Nebraska, event organizer Jen Davis said.

Sixty to 70 people showed up in Bonnots Mill early Saturday morning to help with the effort. But, organizers - who looked at the sky and checked their weather apps - delayed the start until after a particularly severe thunderstorm rolled through the area. The storm lit up the cloud-darkened sky and produced more than half an inch of rain in less than an hour.

Volunteers huddled under temporary canopies until the storm blew through.

"We'll work in all kinds of weather," Davis said over the sound of thunder and pouring rain. "We'll operate in rain, but not in lightning."

Crews take their trailers, boats and trucks from town to town, she said.

They'll work out of small towns like Bonnots Mill, mid-size towns such as Columbia and large cities like St. Louis, Davis said.

It takes a 30-person crew to set up for each event.

Early the morning of the cleanup, local volunteers come to the site, sign in and go out in their assigned boats.

"Folks will come in the morning and we'll give them a boat ride," Davis said. "For a lot of folks, it's their first chance to go out on a body of water like the Missouri River."

They bag up trash, put it on the bank and MRR returns to pick it up.

Some volunteers work along the shores on the ground, according to Mary Embree, of Columbia.

After a couple of hours of gathering trash, all return to the launching site for lunch.

During the afternoon, a team of workers sort recyclables out of the trash they gathered.

Although Embree had volunteered to work on cleanups before, Saturday was her first as a member of the advanced crew.

While scouting, Embree was surprised by the things she found.

"There were a lot of unbroken light bulbs," she said. "It was amazing."

Her job Saturday was to give the new volunteers the safety rules. Things like: "Always wear your life preserver in the boat," "Don't stand up in the boat when it is moving," and for walkers: "Stay off of railroad tracks."

"It's a lot of common sense things," she said.

Kimberly Graham and her son Graham, 10, were among the volunteers helping Saturday.

A typical 10-year-old, Graham said he really didn't want to work at the river; Kimberly said he'd catch on.

"It's a good time to meet new people," she said. "And it's a good way to give back to the community."


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