Missouri River Relief, a grassroots river cleanup effort started in 2001, held its first cleanup of trash from the banks of the Missouri River at New Haven this past Saturday under ideal spring weather.
Event coordinator Steve Schnarr of Columbia said he was impressed with the outpouring of volunteers for this first-time event.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Fantastic turnout, perfect weather and wonderful people.”
Saturday’s event was scheduled to kick off at 9 a.m., and five minutes after 9 the first boat of volunteers, 15 of them, took off from the New Haven boat ramp. The volunteers were boated to pre-scouted locations along the river where they picked up tons of trash.
“It’s not unusual for a group like this to pick up four tons or more of trash,” said Schnarr, program manager for Missouri River Relief.
Volunteers came not only from New Haven, but from Washington, Augusta, Berger, Owensville, Hermann, Boonville and Columbia.
“We had a wonderful mix of New Haven people and folks from communities around the area who had come to our cleanups in other towns,” said Schnarr.
As the volunteers were put into groups, they selected team names like “Water Tarantulas” and “River Rats.”
There also was a group of 10 co-eds from the University of Missouri who came as part of “Mizzou Alternative Break.” They even had their own T-shirts made.
One family of five from Washington came with their own boat.
Missouri River Relief had a half-dozen specially made 24-foot aluminum boats that were designed for commercial fishermen on the Mississippi River. The boats are used at all MRR’s river cleanups.
Schnarr said there were 112 signed up for the cleanup, and another 30 showed up Saturday morning and joined 35 crew members at the event.
Covered 10 Miles
The volunteers fanned out over the riverbanks and removed 78 tires, large chunks of Styrofoam, plastic lawn chairs and a couple of unusually large lightbulbs. Some of the larger items included a chest freezer and a propane tank.
“We covered about 10 miles of river, 5 miles upstream and 5 miles downstream,” said Schnarr.
Last Thursday, Kristen Schulte, education coordinator for MRR, gave classroom presentations to students at New Haven and Owensville schools. Many of those students were among the volunteers Saturday.
The cleanup is a two-step event. On Friday crew members go out and scout along the riverbanks to identify areas that have large amounts of trash. Then they use sticky notes and put them on a large river map. On Saturday the volunteers are dispatched to those areas.
Nine years ago Mark Chambers of Kansas City volunteered for a cleanup event, and now he’s a member of the crew.
“I try to make as many of these events as I can,” said Chambers, who now serves on the board of directors of MRR. “This group has grown, and one of the real nice things we are doing is sending our education coordinator into the classrooms and she’s talking to middle school and high school students.”
The Missouri River Relief “crew” forms the heart of the organization, said Schnarr. They help organize events, drive boats, cook food, travel all over the watershed, provide the human infrastructure and staff at cleanups.
As the boats returned to the ramp Saturday, volunteers were treated to lunch.
First One in 2016
Saturday’s New Haven cleanup event was the first on the 2016 calendar. At the end of last year, MRR had organized over 140 Missouri River cleanups, bringing in 21,005 volunteers to clean 801 tons of trash from 1,031 miles of river.
“The New Haven cleanup expands our efforts and took us to areas we haven’t hit before,” said Schnarr. “This was a special community, and they sure turned out and showed their support. We had some friends who brought their own boats and fishermen who had the opportunity to clean up the river they use all the time.”
Last year was Missouri River Relief’s fifth year of taking part in the Washington River Festival and Cleanup at Rennick Riverfront Park.
“We go to Washington every other year, so we’ll be back there next spring,” said Schnarr.