Cleaning Up Missouri Waters, One Tire at a Time

A look at the inner workings of the Big Muddy's massive, well-coordinated Missouri Stream Team

Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club (Team 41) and Kabul Waterdogs (Team 3419) in 2010 on the North Fork of the White River.
Ozark Wilderness Waterways Club (Team 41) and Kabul Waterdogs (Team 3419) in 2010 on the North Fork of the White River.

Throughout Missouri, a certain breed of paddler is out cleaning up not just the “Big Muddy”, but various waters across the state. Just a few short decades ago, while standing on the riverbank, you might have a good chance of seeing litter strewn in either direction. These days the sight is less common, thanks to Missouri Stream Team. After beginning operations 26 years ago, the organization has cleaned up 20,000 tons (yes, tons) of trash along the Missouri River. With well over 5,000 different teams in the state, there is always something happening along the banks of the Missouri’s muddy waters. If a team isn’t out physically picking up trash, someone (or an entire group) is scouting for a new place to clean, hosting and assisting with canoe and kayak races (most recently, the Missouri American Water MR340 race from Kansas City, Kan., to St. Charles, Mo.), monitoring the water quality, or hosting Missouri River cleanup by canoes (the next being held on October 24).

Operation Clean Stream Big River Tire Roundup on 8/26/12 (photo by Steve Schnarr)
Operation Clean Stream Big River Tire Roundup on Aug. 26, 2012 (photo by Steve Schnarr)

According to Amy Meier, Stream Team Coordination Biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, one event in particular epitomizes the MO Stream Team’s ability to scale up the grassroots efforts of local paddling groups and improve paddling waterways: Operation Clean Stream. Taking place in the St. Louis area, OCS (going on its 49th year) is cleanup across the entire Meramec watershed that usually draws “volunteers by the thousands to dozens of work sites, most of whom work independently of each other but are still part of the mission as a whole.” According to the OCS site, in 2014, 2,225 citizen volunteers cleaned up nearly 500 miles of waterway in the Meramec River Basin, pulling 2,481 tires and 250 cubic yards of trash from the river, making the area that much safer for paddlers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

Local citizens are encouraged to “adopt” a river or stream in their area, and then act as stewards for that location. The MO Stream Team program is supported by the Missouri Department of Conservation, as well as the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, who hold free classes educating any interested parties on the basics of Water Quality Monitoring. Monitoring is simply the process of analyzing the sediments, fish tissue and chemical conditions of water in a river or stream to determine whether it’s suitable for swimming, fishing, or even drinking.

Meier also points out how the MO Stream Team differentiates itself from similar programs by the sheer dedication of its volunteers. “Year after year, new ideas emerge from our volunteers that help us to improve the resources available to them.” It also helps that MO Stream Team is a well-funded program. Meier went on to state that “without citizen advocacy and stewardship, the Department may not exist today, nor would the efforts to have a dedicated 1/8 of one percent sales tax solely dedicated to conservation ever have come to fruition … I think that's why our program stands out among the others – the citizens demand it.”

Operation Clean Stream Big River Tire Roundup on 8/26/12 (photo by Steve Schnarr)
Operation Clean Stream Big River Tire Roundup on 8/26/12 (photo by Steve Schnarr)

For anyone interested in joining an existing MO Stream Team, or starting their own, visit mostreamteams.org, or follow the Missouri Stream Team on Facebook.

RELATED

— Check out American Rivers’ national list of registered river cleanups.

— See where the Missouri River lands on C&K’s Most Threatened Paddling Classics countdown.

— Watch an aerial visual documentary of the 10th annual MR340 Missouri River "death race" from Kansas City to St. Charles, Mo. .

— Read Kalthoff’s top gear picks from the 2015 Outdoor Retailer trade show with the Missouri River paddler in mind.