For 46 years, caring individuals in our region and beyond have volunteered to participate in Operation Clean Stream, one of the country’s longest and largest ongoing river restoration projects.

The target during the fourth weekend in August is the Meramec River Watershed as folks both young and old navigate the river and rid it of any foreign material they can find.

This year was no exception as crews hit the local waters on Saturday and Sunday in an effort to do their massive annual cleanup.

The cleanup is sponsored by the Open Space Council for the St. Louis Region. It estimated this year that about 2,500 people scoured the Meramec River and its tributaries  — the Big, Bourbeuse, Courtois and Huzzah rivers — and worked to undo damage caused throughout the year by flooding, careless littering and the unlawful dumping of trash.

It was estimated last year that 440 cubic yards of trash, 3,500 waste tires and 35,000 pounds of metal were collected. All materials collected were properly disposed of or recycled.

In Franklin County, volunteers of all ages traveled the Meramec and Bourbeuse on Saturday and Sunday. They collected those tires, scrap metal, garbage and other things.

The result is a cleaner Meramec River Watershed. And that benefits all of us.

Tales have been told of people finding all kinds of things along or in the rivers over the years, including old washing machines, automobile shells and rusted boats. One man said that one year, he accumulated 22 tires in his canoe alone.

On Sunday, one group working the Meramec between Shady Beach and Shorehaven east of St. Clair even accumulated dozens of old golf balls, undoubtedly coming from nearby Meramec Lakes Golf Course.

Whatever was found and whatever amount was collected, we thank these countless volunteers for taking the time this past weekend to help clean our local rivers. For whatever reason, uncaring people think waterways are an easy target for unwanted trash, especially for larger items they have no idea what to do with.

We applaud each and every one of these volunteers for their efforts and we encourage others to take notice.

We need to remember that we’re blessed to live in an area that features the beautiful Meramec River Watershed. And, we need to remember that it’s up to us to help maintain it so it can be used today and be preserved for tomorrow.