Two-hundred years ago this May, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark started up the Missouri River on a two-year journey into the American West. As America commemorates the bicentennial of the expedition, hundreds of volunteers are cleaning up the Missouri. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Kevin Lavery reports:
Two-hundred years ago this May, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark started up the
Missouri River on a two-year journey into the American West. As America
commemorates the bicentennial of the expedition, hundreds of volunteers are cleaning up
the Missouri. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Kevin Lavery reports:
A troupe portraying Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery is retracing the explorers’
path. The real journey starts when they leave Illinois and take their keelboat up the
Missouri River as it meanders through the state of Missouri.
But…the Missouri is not as clean as the day Lewis and Clark first saw it. With the re-
enactors and their flotilla coming, some local volunteers want to do some cleaning up
ahead of time. They’re launching what could be the biggest clean-up ever on the Big
(sound of lapping water)
John Brady and Jeff Barrow are with Missouri River Relief, a grassroots nonprofit that
began cleaning the banks of the Missouri three years ago. Now, they’re embarking on
their most ambitious project yet: eight massive daylong cleanups that will stretch into
June. The idea is to stay two weeks ahead of the flotilla, clearing away any eyesores
along its cruise upriver.
Barrow says they’ve seen their share of garbage clogging the Missouri:
“Everything from cars and truck bodies, you find a lot of freezers and refrigerators, you
find tons of Styrofoam, plastic…we found a piano once.”
(sound of boat motor starting)
Barrow and Brady are scouting the river in search of places where debris piles up. As the
advance team, their job is to place markers in heavy trash areas so the coming clean-up
crews know where to start. Just a few hundred yards out, Brady spots a small pocket of
trash. But he knows that what he sees on the shore is only a fraction of what’s hidden in
“So, when you go out scouting you spot the obvious stuff that you can see from the
riverbank, and then you go to the spots where you know that it’s more likely that stuff
accumulates. For example, brushy spots on the outside of bends. And you get out and
look, and if it’s a good heavy spot, you schedule a crew to come in there and work it.”
Barrow guns the motor and heads for the spot where the Missouri flows into the
Mississippi. The two currents blend into a broad waterway. On the far bank of the
Mississippi, green trees give way to rusty machinery and industry on the Illinois bank:
Barrow: “Do we have our passport for Illinois here?” (laughs)
Barrow says this area will get special attention:
“Right here is where they’re going to kick off the Lewis and Clark flotilla. See this gravel
beach? So they’re expecting 2,000 people to be here, and we’re going to be cleaning up
this area, get all this driftwood out of there…you see the trash that’s up there.”
Preparing the site for that many people will take a small army of volunteers. But the
excitement of the Lewis and Clark bicentennial should make that an easier job than usual.
Evan McFarland belongs to the River Kids…a non-profit group made up of some 40 St.
Louis fourth-graders that began cleaning local creeks last fall. He’s enthusiastic about the
environmental benefits of a cleaner river. But Evan also sees a public relations benefit.
With potentially thousands of foreign tourists coming to the U.S. for the bicentennial
events, Evan thinks the time is right to showcase the Missouri:
“Well, I hope that they would be very excited and maybe compare where they came from,
maybe a river or a lake to the Missouri River…and maybe if they’ve already been here
before, see how it’s improved, and say hey…this is a pretty clean river.”
The band of volunteers will start at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi before
the flotilla sets sail May 14th. They’ll steadily move upstream, capping their efforts with
a grand finale cleanup in Kansas City in June.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Kevin Lavery.