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Making a connection with the Big Muddy while cleaning it up

Beth Lago

Getting messy for a cause.  That's what a couple of hundred or so folks did a couple of months back when they got up early on a Saturday morning and cleaned-up a stretch of the Missouri River near Boonville.

It was one of eight major clean-ups of the Missouri River in 2014 coordinated by the Columbia-based organization Missouri River Relief. 

The volunteers split up into groups of 10 or so and were taken either upstream or downstream to a site and gathered trash for about 90 minutes.  In all they cleaned-up portions of about 12 miles of riverbank and floodplain.  One group called itself the Commandos, most of them students from the Biology Club at Hickman High School in Columbia.  Moving into the heavy woods armed with plastic bags, the Commandos split up into small groups and looked for trash.  "I like life, I like the earth and I just want to make a difference which I'm pretty sure we're not compared to how much is out there.  But what we are doing now is going to help out a lot over time," said Benton Woung a junior at Hickman.

One of the Commandos wondered how all the trash could end up on a remote floodplain near Boonville.  A River Relief volunteer said more than likely it's not local litter.  That a plastic water bottle dropped on a sidewalk in Kansas City might be carried by the rain into storm sewer or small stream that drained into the Missouri River.  And maybe years later ends up on the side of the Missouri River more than 100 miles away.

Boonville resident Jane Lago was one of the adult Commandos on this adventure.  "Well, it's a connection to something that's bigger than any of us," she said.  That word connection came up more than once by people taking part in the clean-up.

"I love the river," said Beth Lavoie of Columbia who was also a Commando for the day.  She said this was her first clean-up for River Relief.  "Getting out and seeing a force of nature.  And a river is a force of nature.  Nothing to take lightly.  Seeing its power and its beauty and respecting it."

After 90 minutes or so, the Commandos regrouped.  They stacked their many blue plastic bags of trash on the river bank and waited for a ride back.   A couple of commandos had a truck tire in tow, rim and all. 

Eventually their ride arrived and they headed back to the starting point.  Once there, the volunteers got to look at some of the strange finds of others like a metal love seat that Dennis Hult of Boonville and his crew came across.  "I had a rotten two by four that I kept digging with, and we pulled it out," said Hult. 

It wasn't a bad haul for the day.  River Relief staff said the volunteers had picked-up about 7,000 pounds of trash from the areas surrounding the Big Muddy.  And in case you were wondering, that included 39 tires.