Volunteers cleaning up Missouri River

The Missouri River Relief is working its way toward Boone County.
Friday, May 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:44 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jeff Barrow has seen a lot of junk on the Missouri River’s banks.

“We’ve gotten everything from pool tables to pianos,” said Barrow, an event coordinator for Missouri River Relief. “Last weekend, (in Washington, Mo.,) someone found a bowling ball.”

The River Relief group is in the midst of leading a two-month cleanup, during which hundreds of volunteers are scouring the banks of the Big Muddy all across Missouri and sprucing up the river in advance of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial celebrations. The cleanup began April 30 at the Missouri’s confluence with the Mississippi River north of St. Louis and is headed west to Kansas City, where it will wrap up June 19.

Refrigerators, rubber tires, milk crates, lawn mower engines, even Nancy Drew novels, represent just some of the junk Barrow and the other River Relief workers have picked up the past couple weeks. The cleanup crews, shuttled up, down and across the river by a fleet of boats from the Missouri Department of Conservation, collect trash on the shore.

The fourth stage of the cleanup will be from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Carl R. Noren Access in north Jefferson City. Volunteers are encouraged to show up anytime and stay as long as they like. Lunch will be provided, and the first 200 volunteers will receive a free T-shirt. The cleanups are held rain or shine.

River Relief will come to Boone County on May 22, when crews will set up at Cooper’s Landing, 15 miles south of Columbia, and clean the river from Hartsburg to Huntsdale. There will be a benefit concert to raise money for River Relief from noon to 11 p.m. Saturday at Cooper’s Landing.

Although cleanups have been held on portions of the river over the past few years, this marks the first effort to clean the river statewide, Barrow said.

Carol Blaney, one of the leaders of the Jefferson City cleanup, said even if volunteers don’t want to get dirty, there are plenty of other jobs to be done. Volunteers can either register online or call the organization. They’re also welcome to just show up Saturday, she said.

Those cleaning the river will definitely get dirty, so they should dress appropriately, Barrow said.

The day before a scheduled cleanup, a relief team scouts the river for trash along the shore and islands, then flags it and records it on a map. Following the maps, volunteers are then dropped off by boats to pick up the trash and sometimes must dig up huge pieces of junk.

Such monstrous efforts are rewarded: “Most Macho” awards are presented for heroics in tackling the toughest jobs, Barrow said. And, because so many knives are found, a “Best Murder Weapon” award will be handed out along with the “Down and Dirty Award” for, as Barrow put it, “the most animalistic, determined, persistence” in getting to trash.

The volunteers’ finds are brought back to the check-in point, where they are sorted. The group recycles what it can, Blaney said, including scrap metal, aluminum cans, plastic and glass bottles.

Barrow said being on the river is the best part of the experience. He estimates about 80 percent of volunteers have never been on the river in a boat. That’s something he wants everyone to experience, he said.

“To be on the river is one of the best things in the world,” Barrow said. “You can feel the current. You can feel it in your bones. Basically, I love it, and you take care of things you love.”

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