Missouri River Relief will stay busy this summer doing its part to clean up the Missouri River. The Columbia nonprofit organization has already finished the first of four summer cleanup operations this weekend at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, near St. Louis.
But the big adventure for the “river rats,” as Jim Karpowicz fondly refers to the group he founded, will be three consecutive three-day weekends in July, when the group will conduct a “mega-scout” of trash along the river.
The trash-scouting effort involves finding and recording spots where large amounts of trash gather and determining why. A team of six to 10 members will travel from St. Joseph to the confluence near St. Louis, spanning about 150 miles each weekend.
River Relief scouts each site before cleaning it, but this is the first time the group has tried to map trash buildup on such a large stretch of the Missouri River.
“This mega-scout will really give us some good, hard information about what’s out there in the areas that really need some good, hard attention,” Karpowicz said.
With a boat on each bank on the river, and another trailing with camping gear, River Relief will map the trash density of each mile of the river. Members will then use the information to plan future cleanups.
River Relief member Tim Nigh, who is coordinating the mega-scout, hopes the project will also serve as a chance to establish relations with towns along the river for future cleanups.
“Our mission is to clean up the river, but it’s also to make people love the river,” Nigh said.
Once again, the group will get its hands dirty with cleanups, south of Columbia at Cooper’s Landing on May 14.
The final two cleanups will be held at Franklin Island, near Boonville, on Sept. 24 and Kaw Point, near Kansas City, on Oct. 8. River Relief will also be hosting educational festivals for children the Friday before the Franklin Island and Kaw Point cleanups.
The river rats started in 2001, inspired by the work of environmentalist Chad Pregracke, whose Illinois-based Living Lands and Waters had been clearing river trash since 1998.
“Until he came along, people just sort of shrugged their shoulders and said ‘These rivers are nasty, but it’s got to be that way,’” Karpowicz said. “The thing that they adopted was, you just go out and do it. You don’t have a meeting about it; you don’t have studies. You just go out and pick it up.”
River Relief is funded by donations from city governments, state, federal and corporate conservation organizations, and private citizens. In addition to their four Missouri River cleanups, River Relief acts as an umbrella organization for other Missouri groups, lending boats, shovels and lifejackets for other cleanup efforts.
“This is like our favorite thing to do; we look for every excuse we can to get on the river and do the right thing,” Nigh said.