Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Mississippi River Case Study: Editor's Note

If you’re a regular user of YouTube or other video sites, you’ll likely find the four videos which follow this post (below) a bit underwhelming... if not downright boring. But I won't apologize for that. This footage was never designed for general consumption or entertainment; it was intended to provide a virtual tour of a river clean-up, and help people "grasp the task," if they happen to be considering such a project.

More specifically...

Over the past year, I've been contacted by several volunteer groups who were interested in doing a river clean-up. Sadly, after some considerable planning, one of the groups I spoke with decided to abandon the idea of a comprehensive clean-up day… and I'm convinced it was because they thought it might be too difficult or dangerous. There are certainly hazards that deserve our respect, and the task can be physically demanding. (And as you can see in the photo, you're probably going to get a little dirty.) But I believe this group backed-out because they over-estimated the challenge. I did my best to explain the terrain, the types of debris, and other aspects of the task. But there's nothing like a walk along the shoreline to help someone understand the challenge fully.

So, this fall, I decided to capture some footage of my work on a shoreline. Each of the videos in this four-part series comes from our Adoption Site #3, a 9.7-mile stretch of the north metro Mississippi River.

It is important for viewers to note that this video case study demonstrates the more difficult of river clean-ups that I took on this year. If your vision of a river clean-up is a leisurely stroll on a riverbank, carrying a garbage bag—grabbing an occasional plastic bottle, beverage cup or bait container—that’s good. KEEP that image, because a shoreline clean-up can be that easy. I’m using these videos to illustrate the more challenging stuff; the tires, scrap iron, and the unusual debris. In the future, I want to be able to show interested groups that even the bigger challenges on a river can be met.

Note one other distinction in these videos: I am working alone. As you watch the films, imagine how much more quickly and easily this work would have gone with another person. Or five. Or twenty-five.

I’ve published these clips in reverse order, so that as you scroll down from here, you’ll see them in the order they were captured. If you'd like to provide ideas, comments, questions: Send me an email.

Thanks for viewing these first video case studies with a forgiving eye. In 2009, I will shoot more video… of group activities, and even teams competing to do some good on the water. But for this initial series, I’m just inviting you to a one-person clean-up, which occurred on one day in September on the metro Mississippi. In doing so, these videos will serve as evidence to the truth of our fundamental theme:

Anyone, on any given day, has the power to improve a place.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Mississippi River Case Study: Descending on the River

[Part 1 of a 4-part series.]

The day of this clean-up, I parked roadside near the corner of West River Road and 57th Avenue North in Brooklyn Center. Early in the season, I was granted a permit from Three Rivers Park District to drive on or park near their paved trails when working on trash recovery projects.

This video will show you what kind of terrain I covered on the way down, and what an ill-respected waterway looks like when you first arrive. (Don't worry... the shoreline looks as it should by the time I finished that day!) The hill at 57th Avenue North is a steep drop, but represents the most direct path to the Mississippi River shoreline on this part of the waterway.

To view the piece in full-screen mode, you can either click on this link, or use the Google Video control button at the bottom right-hand corner of the video screen below. (Length: 4 minutes, 57 seconds.) We're glad to receive your email with feedback, questions, or input!

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Mississippi River Case Study: An Uphill Battle

[Part 2 of a 4-part series.]

As steep as the hill is on the way down to the river… the incline seems even bigger on the way up, especially when you’re carrying a tire or an armful of scrap iron.

To view the piece in full-screen mode, you can either click on this link, or use the Google Video control button at the bottom right-hand corner of the video screen below. (Length: 4 minutes, 39 seconds.) Send us a note with any input, comments or questions you may have about this project; we appreciate your thoughts and ideas!

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Mississippi River Case Study: The Load-Out

[Part 3 of a 4-part series.]

We’ve re-purposed and abbreviated some of the footage used in video #2… to illustrate the process of weighing and loading the piles that were gathered at various staging areas along the way.

To view the piece in full-screen mode, you can either click on this link, or use the Google Video control button at the bottom right-hand corner of the video screen below. (Length: 3 minutes, 23 seconds.) Of course, your questions and comments are welcome; just drop me a note.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Mississippi River Case Study: Safe Extraction

[Part 4 of a 4-part series.]

Of all the junk we’ve gathered since starting this project, no category of debris has elicited more surprise and curiosity than "the safes." To date, we’ve discovered eight lock boxes in the river, if you count one vending machine door along with the seven actual safes and one-way deposit chests. The door to the soft-drink machine disappeared before we could come back for it. We have recovered and recycled three of the safes. And five more wait to be retrieved. So how do you remove a 200-pound safe from a riverbank or ravine? Slowly and carefully.

To view the piece in full-screen mode, you can either click on this link, or use the Google Video control button at the bottom right-hand corner of the video screen below. (Length: 5 minutes, 44 seconds.) If you have any questions or comments, just drop me an email.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Video Journal: The Beauty

[Adoption site 2: Northern St. Croix River.] When Julie and I started this project, we agreed that progress should not be measured in terms of garbage alone. If a person focuses only on trash, discarded tires or appliances, or dumped barrels… eventually, life is going to get depressing. Granted, taking photos of that trash is part of the geo-trashing process, and measuring the volume of trash recovered is an important yardstick of progress. But the point of is not garbage. It’s clean rivers.

So, we decided photos of debris—the beast—should be accompanied by pictures of the beauty: The wonderful scenes we’ve enjoyed along the way, and the beauty left behind in the wake of our efforts, the efforts of others, or simply, Mother Nature.

In early September, Julie and I had a chance to escape to the northern St. Croix River Valley. The trip would provide two days on the water… and a chance for us to gather some memories that would carry us over the winter. You can view a small screen-size version by clicking on the play/pause buttons below, or you can see a larger screen version of the video by clicking here: [Scenes from the St. Croix: 5 minutes, 33 seconds.]

There's nothing like being on the water yourself. But I hope this brings you close. If you have a river scene you'd like to share, or questions and comments about this site, just drop me an email.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

Video Case Study on the St. Croix River: The Beast

[Adoption site 2: Northern St. Croix River.] Folks who’ve spent any time at this blog know that we’re not just cleaning-up a waterway or two… we’re also doing a bit of journalism, sharing the things we learn along the way. Our chronicle has included the written word, radio and television interviews, and visual images. Most of the images we’ve captured are in the form of still photography, but this fall, we began to experiment with the idea of building a video journal, too.

In mid-September, I mounted an old “Hi-8” digital video camera to the dashboard of a Pungo 14 kayak, with the intention of capturing some images from the northern St. Croix River, and documenting the process we call geo-trashing (capturing photos and GPS waypoints of debris for later removal). But about half-way through the trip, I came across a full bag of trash floating in the river.

I couldn’t resist.

So, instead of shooting simple river footage that day, I documented the recovery of a bag of trash—via kayak—from a relatively remote stretch of the St. Croix River. You can view a small screen-size version by clicking on the play/pause buttons below, or you can see a larger screen version of the video by clicking here: [Kayak Recovery: 5 minutes, 54 seconds.] As always, your questions and comments are welcome; just drop me an email.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Winter shift

A fresh blanket of snow covered our fleet overnight, another reminder of how short the on-water season is in this part of the country. But on the positive side, the snow also holds the promise of renewing the waterways with the spring melt (still four or five months away). I’ll use this down-time primarily to process video, photos and waypoints gathered over the summer and fall, and soak up some additional knowledge from resources I’ve discovered but not had time to investigate fully.

Also, I intend to attempt at least one recovery over the winter; one that could not safely be done from a kayak when my wife and I were on the St. Croix River late this fall.

It was October 19th when Julie and I hit the backwaters near Osceola. It was a beautiful day, and we gathered a good amount of trash. But one item we could not grab was a large blue barrel, which we had originally been alerted to by Lisa at the St. Croix River Association. By the time we spotted the barrel, it was already coming on dusk… and we were about a mile and a half downstream from our landing near the bridge. I marked the waypoint and captured this photo, but there was no way we were going to get the barrel into or onto a kayak. We talked about a few different ways to attempt it, but decided none could be safely accomplished that day. One of the ideas we had was to wait until January, when the shallows in this part of the river should be mostly frozen… and taking it out by sled.

Two days later, Julie presented me with an awesome gift: A pair of snowshoes.

Barrel... you’re goin’ down.

So, along with some winter photography, studying, editing and target mapping…I’ll teach myself how to snowshoe this winter. (If you’re interested, I found a good book for some tips: Snowshoeing (A Trailside Series Guide), by Larry Olmstead.) Perhaps the target I could not strap to my kayak this fall can be extracted by dragging it across the ice this winter.

Several variables must come together before I try it. First, the deep cold of January must return on schedule, and make the ice thick enough to cross. Lots of folks fall through the ice every season, voyaging out before the ice is strong enough to support their weight. The risk is even higher on the St. Croix River, for three reasons:
  1. The water beneath the ice is in constant motion, and the currents can cause the ice to erode and shift with little warning.
  2. The river is fed by numerous springs; while these "natural faucets" have a cooling effect in the summer, they can have the opposite effect in the winter, again warming "soft spots" in the ice.
  3. Unlike a typical Minnesota or Wisconsin fishing lake, you don't see the traffic of ice fisherman or snowmobiles having gone before you, indicating a route that is safe to traverse.
I'll have a lookout partner, and I'll stay as close to the shorelines as possible. I'll tie an escape cord around my waist, and bring along both an ice axe and a hook rod, each of these being smart accessories anytime you're on a frozen body of water. And most importantly, if the ice sounds hollow or doesn't feel safe... I'll turn around and go home.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.

The Riverkeepers

A while back, Julie and I were cleaning out a few closets, and one of the boxes I had targeted for disposal was a rather hefty box of old marketing books. Times like these are always a good excuse to head for Half Price Books, as it represents a chance to do some recycling, and browse for some new intelligence at the same time.

This day, I happened across a volume called “The Riverkeepers,” written by John Cronin and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

If you’re into river restoration, this is a very good book, chronicling the early era of environmental protection. The authors provide a vivid picture of the challenges they faced, as stewards of the Hudson River Valley in New York, and efforts that ranged from simple river cleanups… to precedent-setting litigation. As well, the story illustrates the important role everyday people can have in detecting environmental problems, and stopping them at their source. Cronin and Kennedy have convincingly argued that clean water is not just an environmental issue (which it is), but a constitutional matter as well; one of our very basic Civil Rights, and as such, deserving of protection.

This is not a new book (1997 hard cover, 1999 paperback by Touchstone), nor is it a new story. But it provides inspiration and insight that still applies today; I will benefit from this read, and so will the rivers I am involved with.

Important to note: Riverkeepers is not just the title of the book… it is the name of an organization intent on preserving the Hudson River Valley watershed. Here’s a link to their web site: The group eventually helped found The Waterkeeper Alliance, designed to provide guidance to others who aspire to protect other waterways. Here is a link to that web site: The “Keeper” monikers are a closely protected trademark of their respective organizations; for the record, neither I nor my blog are members of their organization at this writing.

© Mike D. Anderson

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Menu of Video Journals & Case Studies

1. Video Journal: The Beauty. Some scenes from a day on the St. Croix River. (5 minutes, 33 seconds.)

2. St. Croix River Case Study: The Beast. Removing a bag of trash from an isolated part of the St. Croix River. (5 minutes, 54 seconds.)

3. Mississippi River Case Study: Descending on the shoreline (the first in a four-part series from a Mississippi River Clean-up). Creating a series of staging areas makes for an easier cleanup.

4. Mississippi River Case Study: An uphill battle (the second in a four-part series from a Mississippi River Clean-up). The hard part can be hauling trash up steep terrain.

5. Mississippi River Case Study: The load out (the third in a four-part series from a Mississippi River Clean-up). The junk is hauled from the shoreline, weighed, and loaded for proper disposal.

6. Mississippi River Case Study: Safe extraction (the fourth of a four-part series from a Mississippi River Clean-up). Working from a ravine, we remove one of the safes we've found along the way.

7. KARE 11 News Report: Geotrashing explained. A television story about our project, broadcast by KARE 11 TV in May of 2008.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Caitlyn brings some color to the project!

The winter winds have arrived. Our time on the water is over for 2008. But our river restoration efforts are not over just because the navigation season is over.
This weekend, our grand-daughter Caitlyn came over for a visit (we had a sleepover!), and she told me of a project she was working on for school. The assignment involved creating a poster about something she felt strongly about, and Caitlyn decided her poster would be about keeping our rivers clean.

I was really proud that she wanted to make a picture about something that was important to her grandma and I! We gave her some photographs of junk we had recovered, the tools we use... and of course, a couple of pictures of our waterways in their pristine, beautiful, natural state. She added the photos to her freehand poster, and told me it would be okay if I shared her artwork with you. (The photos she selected are shown to the left. You can click on any poster or photo to enlarge it.)

Sometimes, the important thing is not to have an impact on a place or an issue.
Often, the greater role each of us plays is when something we do has an impact on others.
Like the impact Caitlyn has had on her proud Grandma & Grandpa.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Project Planning: The Dash for Trash 2009

The photo at the left was shot on a hazy, overcast day, and provided us with two views of the rich fall colors. (As with any of our photos, you can click on the image to enlarge it.) The St. Croix River has given us an abundance of beauty this year; now, we're getting ready to return the favor in 2009.

People who follow our project know we've been working on a project called The Dash for Trash. Essentially, this massive project will involve sending teams of people down a nearly 20-mile stretch of the St. Croix River in kayaks and canoes, gathering debris all along the way. We had originally planned to execute this task in 2008, but had to cancel the effort for reasons explained in previous postings. (If you’d like to read more about the original event plan, click here.)

Having spent some time on this stretch of river over the past month, Julie and I were able to grasp the scope of this project a little better… and take it from the drawing board to the currents of the St. Croix. Now, we’re using that experience to put together a plan for 2009. I'm hoping you'll review the plan (the dates, anyway), and give us your input.

First off, we’ve decided to execute this project as a two-day event, rather than attempt to cover the entire stretch in just one day. In doing so, we believe the pace will be safer for participants, and more beneficial to the river. Of course, a two-day event will mean more complicated logistics, as camping sites must be secured and additional meals must be planned.

At this moment, our intention is to assemble a small group of people to conduct a trial sweep on the weekend of May 16-17 (a Saturday and Sunday). Day one would begin at Taylor’s Falls, and conclude at Osceola Landing. Day two would resume at Osceola, and conclude at William O’Brien State Park. As explained in our original plan, the goal of this early expedition would be to gather knowledge. How tired will people get? What kinds of food and supplies will be needed for two working days like this? How many breaks/stops should there be (and where)?

Using the intelligence gained during the May trip, we will refine the official “Dash for Trash” event, which has been tentatively scheduled for August 29 – 30, 2009.

Again: Please improve this event by offering your input. The May dates have been chosen because they land right between Mother’s Day weekend and Memorial Day weekend. The August weekend has been chosen because it coincides with the first weekend of Minnesota State Fair. That makes it a good time for Wild Mountain/Taylor’s Falls Canoe Rental, which has again committed to providing their generous support of this project (canoes, kayaks, paddles, PFDs, dumpster, etc.). Another reason that the August dates make sense: It puts us in a position to “report on the outcome” of the project, by bringing our story to the DNR booth at the State Fair once the project has been completed.

Are you a paddler? Interested in joining us (May, or August, or both)? Do you have ideas about improving this event? We hoope you'll share your ideas, and enhance this outcome of this effort!

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Video: It's on my winter "to do list"

The intent of this blog is to chronicle our river restoration efforts, and document some of the things we’re learning along the way. With that in mind, my winter “tasks list” includes the editing of video I captured on two separate clean-up missions.

On one of my trips down the St. Croix River this season, I strapped a video camera to the dashboard of one of the Pungo 140 kayaks that is on loan to us from Joe’s Sporting Goods. I purchased a short tripod last season that is perfect for camping/backpacking. Turns out, the three legs also fit perfectly onto the cockpit dash of the kayak. (Click to enlarge any image.)

Sidebar: I confess, I almost lost the camera on more than one occasion… when landing, bumping into logs, or clobbering it with my paddle. But that’s why I’m using an old video camera! Granted, the Nikon is new this year (a wonderful gift from my wife), but that is packed into a "padded cell" (by Outdoor Research) anytime I'm at risk of hitting the drink! The GPS is designed to survive if submerged for a limited period of time.

I also shot some footage of a basic, shoreline clean-up on the Mississippi River. Last summer, I was approached by a group of potential volunteers who were having a hard time grasping the scope of a project like this; next time that happens, I’ll be able to show them precisely what’s involved.

Things are awfully busy with work right now, and any nice weekend days that occur between now and snowfall will be dedicated to our waterborne cleanup activities. But this winter, when things slow down a bit and our weekend time cannot be spent on the river, I’ll take the time to edit that footage into something useful. (It will probably look a little goofy, but it will still be useful.) One more way we can help tell the rivers’ story.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pollution on the Upper Minnesota River has a "CURE"

I’ve recently learned of an organization in Montevideo, Minnesota, whose focus is the preservation of the Upper Minnesota River. The group is called “CURE” (Clean Up the River Environment).

It is amazing how many people you meet and grass roots organizations you discover when you dive into a topic like river restoration. In this case, the focus of CURE is a very specific watershed. Like our humble little project, the work of CURE involves some river clean-ups (they conduct two riverbank debris removal projects a year). But CURE is also somewhat active in politicking, too… as the group attempts to have environmental interests considered with regard to farm policy and agricultural practices, power company expansion or development, and legislative actions. I’ve had a brief email exchange with Brook, an organizer for CURE. Like most people involved with the issue of river restoration and preservation, she is obviously energized by the cause.

Perhaps one day, we’ll have a chance to visit with their organization more directly, and compare notes. My Mom always said, “We all have something to learn.” But it is also true that everyone you meet has something to teach.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A late-season sweep on the St. Croix

Today, Julie and I capitalized on some surprisingly nice weather, and headed out for a late-season sweep of the St. Croix River. Our target area for the day was the first of our adoption sites: The backwaters area that runs just south of Osceola Landing. I was beginning to fear that we wouldn't get to this stretch of river in 2008 (our first effort was washed-out, and our second had to be called due to a family emergency). It was a perfect day... but our lack of advance planning left us without a shuttle plan, so we drifted downstream the full trip, gathering trash, and then had to paddle back the same 3.7 miles against the current. It was a great workout!

We're thankful that we only gathered about 22 pounds of trash, including bottles, shoes, a cooler lid, and some softdrink cups. That's not a large quantity of trash, considering the area we covered. But for a mission like this, on a river like the St. Croix, success is not measured by the tonnage removed... but by the beauty left behind.

The still-pristine quality of this stretch of river can attributed, in part, to the work done by members of the St. Croix River Association (they did a clean-up on this stretch back in July). After their clean-up, we were advised by Lisa (SCRA member) that a large blue barrel had become lodged in some driftwood, in a way that they were unable to retrieve it. (Click on any photo here to enlarge it.) Lisa, I've tagged that drum for removal, noting its GPS location. I think I'll get in touch with the DNR before attempting to extract this drum, though, as I was unable to determine whether it was still sealed (looks like it in the photo) and I'm not sure of its' contents. (Sorry, Lisa, we didn't find the picnic table you mentioned.)

I realize that my postings have been a bit sparse over the past couple of weeks, but for good reason. When there has been "spare" time, I've been on-the-water or working on other warm-weather aspects of the project. There will be plenty of time this winter to spend indoors, on the computer, sharing what we've been learning throughout 2008. And there is much to share! Including a new kayak added to our fleet (affectionately christened "the garbage barge"), some footage of several clean-up projects that await editing, and the renewed commitment of assistance from our friends at Joe's Sporting Goods.

It was a privilege to share a day like today with my wife. The fall colors, while past "prime," were absolutely stunning. Today's trip was a reminder of how beautiful a river can be, dressed in its' autumn attire, and offering a sense of calm, as if waiting for winter to come so it can enjoy a nap. We'll make it a point to share some of our photos from the day in a future posting, so you can experience some of the natural paintings and peace we enjoyed on this late-season voyage. (The beauty & the beast, remember?)

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Monday, October 6, 2008

River cleanup: From simple recovery to genuine recycling

Saturday was just plain cool. I didn't get out on the water, but it was still cool. Remember the tires, scrap iron and other crud I gathered back on September 20th? (The safe shown at left, for example, which has regurgitated its' river muck after being pulled from the water.)

Well, all this stuff had been sitting in my utility trailer since that time. So this past Saturday, Julie and I set-out to figure out what we should do with it.

First, the fender that looks like it flew off a car from the I-694 bridge. Turns out to be mostly P.E.T. plastic. Into the recycle bin it went.

Next, the tires. There was one on a rim, one off, and a pair of bike tires and tubes that I cut off a bike that I had pulled from the muck. I took those to a tire retailer that I had spoken with ahead-of-time; he assured me that the tires we collected would be transformed into something useful... like the running surface needed for a high school track team, or the like.

Finally, the scrap iron. We took everything metal to Scrappies Express Recycling, which is a division of American Iron here in Minneapolis. We weighed-in, unloaded, and then weighed again. Then, we were presented a check for $17.50. Go ahead and laugh... but I was delighted. After all, I was just hoping they'd take this junk off my hands (in turn, helping me take it out of the river). But as a bonus, I made enough cash to pay for a few gallons of gas.

The whole process at American Iron was fascinating (click to enlarge the photo). Using a massive electro-magnet attached to the claw of his crane, the yardsman sorted various types of metal into different roll-off bins... soon to be loaded onto barges, and carried to salvage yards and recycling plants along the Mississippi. Presumably, the sheet metal and scrap iron will be melted-down into some new form of useful material, at an energy cost lower than mining fresh ore for similar production, and preserving those remaining natural resources for other uses. So the global quality impact is pretty strong, all the way around.

I found it fitting that our junk was recovered from the Mississippi River... and now, that same river will aid in her own restoration by helping to carry that scrap iron to new uses downstream.

There's one last item that we needed to get rid of: An old Nokia cell phone that we pulled from the spillway near the Three Rivers fishing pier. It's too water-logged to ever be used again, so it has no value... but it has great potential for harm to the river, due to the heavy metals within the nickel-cadmium battery that once powered it. (That's why these things shouldn't even be tossed into a landfill; there are nasty ingredients that nobody wants seeping into the groundwater.)

Eager to find an appropriate alternative, I called the Verizon store were I most recently bought my own cell phone. I was pleased to hear that they have a recycling box in the back of the store, and they're more than happy to dispose of those old phones properly, even recycling whatever parts or materials might have future use.

Note to the planet: There were plenty of places to drop junk off that would have made a lot more sense than, say, a river. In the end, of more than 800 pounds of junk recovered, only one item--a wooden-framed screen door--ended up in a dumpster. Everything else was recycled.

Our goal was to get junk out of the river. But the learning process continues, as we realize just how much of this junk can be re-purposed into something new. If you know any cool tricks about recycling or re-purposing unconventional debris... please share your thoughts by email, and contribute to our ever-increasing body of knowledge.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Kevin Knieling: Going the distance

I'd like to introduce you to a guy by the name of Kevin Knieling. In a world of people who've had wild dreams about roaming the world, he's someone who's actually doing it.

My mom, who lives up in Drayton, North Dakota, had heard of Kevin's latest voyage: A kayak run that would begin in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He intends to paddle south down the Red River of the North. From there, he'll portage several miles to the heading of the Minnesota River network... and that will carry him toward the Twin Cities of Minnesota. At that point, he'll pick up the Mississippi River and traverse it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
His travels serve as a great reminder that inland behaviors have a way of flowing all the way to the seas... because his kayak will take that very trip.

I've been in touch with Kevin, and we've had a brief email exchange about his trip, as well as our project at I've asked him to check in with us once-in-a-while, and tell us about his observations from the rivers. He sent the two photos that appear in this posting, along with waypoints indicating their location; one is a disk implement used to cultivate fields, the other is some type of rusted-out boat or other scrap iron. Follow Kevin on this voyage, as I will be doing, by checking out You can follow the progress of this river voyage, specifically, by going to this section of his site: Once you're there, just click on the button that says, "Paddle It!"
Safe voyages, Mr. Knieling, and thanks for letting us see the state of these rivers through your eyes!
- Mike

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Happy International Coastal Cleanup Day!

To celebrate the event, I went after some of the oversized debris that I've inventoried over the past year in the metro Mississippi River (our adoption site 3 with the Adopt-a-River program). By the end of the day, I had gathered 885 pounds worth of crud (actual weight, not an estimate). The materiel was recovered along a 1.2-mile stretch of the river, between the I-694 bridget and 57th Avenue north on the west bank of the river... which is under the jurisdiction of the Three Rivers Park District.

Because of the geotrashing work we had done by kayak earlier this year, this recovery effort seemed very efficient; it took only about 6 hours, even though I was working alone. (The tools provided to us this year by Joe Rauscher at Joe's Sporting Goods have proven immensely helpful in preparing for this kind of work.) Because of the water-borne planning I had done, I knew exactly where I was going, and exactly what kind of tools I was going to need to hoist these items out of the muck, up some very long, steep banks.

Among the items recovered: A culvert, two safes (one with six bullet holes, and the other apparently cut open with an acetalene torch). two compressors with their chemical contents intact, various car parts (one tire on-the-rim, one fender), construction material, some scrap iron and a bike. (Click on the images to enlarge any photo here.)

Previous to this weekend, we had recovered 328 pounds of junk from the St. Croix River, as well as the Mississippi, bringing our season total to 1,218 pounds (so far). Not too bad under some trying circumstances this year.

Julie and I still have a few more trips planned before ice-up, including a sweep of the Osceola backwaters on the St. Croix River (our last attempt was rained out), a few walking trips on the Mississippi, and additional geo-tagging as weather allows. If you're interested in joining us, just drop me an email.

Two additional items worth noting from this weeks' efforts.

  1. First, only one item went into a dumpster (a wood-framed screen door). Having made plans with material handlers in advance, everything else recovered today can and will be recycled.

  2. Second... I captured some of the challenges of this project on video, and will use that footage to create some documentary content for this blog site this winter, when the on-water season is over. (I grabbed some similar footage on the St. Croix two weeks ago.)
  3. It has been a good day on the Mississippi. Now, there is the matter of some laundry that needs to be done.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The beauty and the beast

Early in the life of this project, I made a promise to myself: To not dwell only on the gloom and doom (one might say the beast) of pollution in our waterways, but also to celebrate the breathtaking beauty of the rivers we’re out to restore.

On a recent trip down the northern St. Croix River, my search for trash was rewarded by more than one glimpse of grandeur. I got nailed by a twenty-minute downpour, which for a moment had me wishing I had stayed off the water that day. But the storm soon passed, and rugged waves yielded to a glass-like surface. I sat there for a moment, reflecting about how lucky I was to be drifting down this wonderful waterway.

Then, I was granted another reflection. My paddle sitting idle on the deck of the kayak, the gentle current turned my boat backwards… and I saw the rear of the storm that had just passed overhead. I quickly grabbed my camera out of the dry sack and snapped this photo. (Click on the image to enlarge either photo.)

The St. Croix River is seldom so stingy as to give its advocates just one picturesque snapshot per visit. At nearly every turn, if you’ll take the time to notice, the river provides a spectacular glance at nature. And so it was this day, as I turned away from the storm and headed toward my base camp (still 4+ miles away). The water acted like its own mirror, offering one gorgeous reflection after another.

My wife has asked how I can turn a four-hour kayaking trip into a full-day excursion. I blame images like this: It is as if the river tempts her visitors to stay just one moment longer, at each crook or bend along the way.
While my mission is to remove trash and debris from our waterways, and encourage others to do the same... it seems a reasonable indulgence to enjoy the natural wonders we discover while on our journey; to capture and share some of the scenes these rivers provide. One might say that the beauty is the incentive; our reward for challenging the beast.

© 2008, Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Two wins in one weekend, but a washout the next

Last weekend, we made two 9.6-mile sweeps of our "adoption site 2," the northern St. Croix River between Thayer's Landing and St. Croix State Park. We hit the Minnesota side on
Saurday, and the Wisconsin side on Sunday, capturing some great photos, footage and knowedge to share as time allows. This weekend, we were hoping to tackle the backwaters near Osceola, conducting an end-of-season cleanup of light litter, as well as two larger debris items we've been alerted to.

But on this Sunday morning, we are waking to the sound of rain on the roof of our base camp; a rain that has been falling nearly non-stop since Friday evening.

Oh, well. As I've stated before, there are two forces which demand respect in any cleanup effort: Mother Nature, and Father Time. This weekend, it is she who will hinder our efforts. We might have been able to get a little more work done, but it would have been miserable in the cold, constant rain. And since our great granddaughter is along on this voyage, we elected to be even more cautious than usual.

The delay puts additional pressure on our late-season goals. Autumn was in the air this weekend; the working days are getting noticably shorter, and the air and water are cooling. Enough so that we know our waterborne cleanup season will end within several weeks (perhaps a few shoreline cleanup missions could be completed after that).

We did discover a new place to use as a base camp this weekend. Traditionally, we would have set-up at William O'Brien or Interstate State Park when focusing on this particular section of the St. Croix River. But without a reservation this week, and learning those two camps were full, we instead setup at Wildwood Campgound, which is operated by the same folks who run Wild Mountain recreation area and Taylors Falls Canoe Rental. In addition to being a great facility, it is located just south of Taylors Falls near the intersection of highways 8 & 95, making it a very convenient site for us when cleaning our adopted stretch of the St. Croix near Osceola... or perhaps a site we'll keep in mind when planning next year's Dash for Trash.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Friday, September 12, 2008

We've got some catching up to do

I had the chance to do a combination cleanup/geotrashing trip on the west bank of our adopted metro Mississippi recently... and on Labor Day Monday, two of my kids helped me make another sweep along the same stretch, but on the east bank. I snapped a wealth of new photos and captured a lot of new trash targets, which I'll report about when time allows. And some nice recovery progress (we nabbed some tires).

Then, last weekend, I had a chance to hit our second adoption site on the northern St. Croix River, sweeping the west bank of this 9.6 mile stretch on one day, and the east bank the next day. On these two trips, the capacity of the Pungo kayaks we're using became clear: I was able to recover a full bag of trash someone had tossed into the river, as well as a pair of tires (and I geo-tagged two more sites where tires are sitting so I can go back and get those, too), along with some miscellanious trash.

Tonight, Julie and I are headed to our other adoption site, the backwaters of the St. Croix River near Osceola. I've received reports of a picnic table caught in trees along the shoreline, as well as a trash barrel of some type in the water. Hopefully, we'll be able to carry those items out, along with whatever debris has accumulated in the basin over the summer.

Even though out summer has been somewhat abbreviated, I think we're making some good progress. So far, we can count a little more than 300 pounds of trash removed from our adopted waterways. Beginning next weekend (to coincide with the annual International Coastal Cleanup), I'm hoping to make a few walking trips along the Mississippi here in town, and have developed a plan to remove several tires, safes and scrap-iron targets. I think it would still be a realistic goal to try remove 1,000 pounds of trash, before the river chills-down to the point that it is no longer safe to work.

If you'd like to join me for one of those trips, just drop me an email.

Of course, I'll document our progress more specifically at this site as time allows. But for now, while the weather is holding, my spare time is better spent on the water than behind a computer keyboard. There will be plenty of time to post details on rainy days... or after the ice comes in.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lessons from a Landmark

If this posting seems to be more personal reflection than sharing information about this site's theme, please forgive me.

For the first twenty or thirty years of my life, it seemed as if my name was not really "Mike" or Michael. Instead, most of the people in the small town where I was born and raised called me "Gene's boy." You see, while my hometown of Drayton, North Dakota was one of those places where everbody knows everybody... there were just too many young Anderson's in the area for people to keep them all straight. Some were cousins, and some were totally unrelated. So when you told someone that your name was Mike Anderson, they just looked at you curiously, often tilting their head in uncertainty... as if the name alone did not identify who you were, in their mind.

Then, I would follow-up by saying, "I'm Gene's boy." They'd throw their head back and nod with clarity: "Ohhhh... you're Gene's boy!" Dad was a rural letter carrier, in a community that was mostly rural, so many people depended on him and almost everyone in town knew him. (Most would tell you they knew him well.)

Very early on the morning of Saturday, August 23rd, my Dad passed away at Mayo Clinic's St. Mary's Hospital. He had fought hard for three months, against a variety of complications from his surgery for lung cancer.

Julie and I tried our best to provide support to Mom and Dad as the challenges of this summer unfolded. Our trips to Rochester were not entirely unselfish; we needed this time with my parents. Our visits were rewarded by gaining a deeper realization of Dad's bravery, his love of life, his devotion to my Mother, and his willingness to help others. From my Mom, we received a deeper understanding of the meaning... behind words like care, commitment, and compassion.

I've received many gifts from my Mother, but it was Dad who gave me a love of the water. After his time in the Navy (U.S. 7th Fleet, 1951-1955), Dad brought home his love of the sea. His home ports were San Diego and Alameda... so he spent a lot of time on the California coast. While we only made one family trip to the Pacific during my youth, we often spent our family vacations at Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota, and a couple of trips to Lake Superior; the closest things we had to a large body of water, living in North Dakota.

As I've mentioned in previous postings, some of the plans we had for river restoration work this summer were necessarily canceled. I would not change a thing; I am so glad that we used every opportunity to be with my parents. The rivers will be here next summer, and so will their call for our help.

After having helped bring Dad home to Drayton one final time, Julie and I are at our home in the Twin Cities tonight. And having a few moments to myself this evening, I felt compelled to sit down and get this first posting under my belt, after what has been a very trying summer and a terribly difficult week. Dad was proud of our work on this project. (As luck would have it, Dad and Mom were at our home back in May--on their way to Mayo Clinic--the day that a reporter from KARE 11 showed up at our house to do a story about our on our river restoration efforts. I was so glad he could see the project coming into its' own.)

When we started this site, I promised to share what I had learned about rivers and restoration. Tonight, I have little new knowledge to report about rivers. But I think this summer has given me a much deeper understanding of the term, "restoration." And maybe some lessons about navigation, as I now go forward:

  • Sometimes, it takes a long, long time before the impact of your efforts are realized. But they will be realized, and appreciated, perhaps to an extent far greater than you ever hoped or imagined.
  • Sometimes, you don't realize just how many people are learning from you... just by watching how you behave and how you treat people. Always behave as if people are watching.
  • Just as the most important thing about navigation is knowing where you stand at this moment... the most important step in becoming who you want to be is understanding who you are right now.
Thanks for a lifetime of lessons, Dad.


Gene's Boy

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Event postponed

I regret to announce that the Dash for Trash expedition we had planned for this weekend must be postponed, as important family matters have displaced the event on our list of priorities. Please know, though, that the mission is not canceled--only postponed--and will be re-engaged as soon as doing so makes sense.

I deeply appreciate your understanding, with regard to both the movement of this event, and for any lapse which might occur between now and my next post at this site.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Dash for Trash details

We introduced the Dash for Trash in a posting back on July 21, and discussed further details in the Northern Lites radio interview that aired on 7/27 and will re-broadcast this weekend. We're assembling a small group of people to take a trial-run... gathering trash from the St. Croix River on a route that will travel from Interstate State Park to William O'Brien State Park. Our intent is to use close friends and family on this particular trip, but if you're interested in joining us, you can still drop me an email. But so you can follow along, here's our plan.

We'll meet at William O'Brien State Park at around 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, August 23rd. A bus will shuttle us from William O'Brien up to Interstate State Park, courtesy of Wild Mountain and Taylors Falls Recreation. From there, the majority of the group will paddle roughly 17.5 miles south on the St. Croix River, landing back where we started at William O'Brien. (A Google Map of the route has been included at the bottom of this posting.) If you're a Google Earth user, you can download the KMZ file by clicking here; then, highlight it in your "temporary places, and then click on the play button to see an animation of the route.

We're thankful that the shuttle, canoes, paddles and PFD's are being provided by Wild Mountain/Taylor's Falls Canoe Rental at no charge to our clean-up team. The Wisconsin DNR has provided some garbage bags, as has the Minnesota DNR, along with a supply of sturdy gloves.

I'm going to bring along a couple of cases of bottled water, and a couple cartons of granola or energy bars. Other than that, our team is self-supplied. (The only cost should be sack lunch, if desired, gas to-and-from the park, and a $5 state park entry pass.)

Depending on the number of people who end up joining us, I'm going to ask two canoe groups to paddle for fun the first half of the trip... and then do some clean-up work on the second half of the trip, with one boat on the east bank (Wisconsin) and the other on the west (Minnesota) side. I'll ask another pair of canoe teams to clean the first half of the trip, and paddle for leisure for the second half of the voyage. Personally, I'm planning to paddle quickly to Osceola, and focus on cleaning up the backwaters there, which might add another 3 or so miles to my version of the trip. Lisa from the St. Croix River Association has tipped me off to a couple of items that she's seen in the river, but not been able to recover. I'm going after them.

I'm going to bring the two kayaks that have been provided to our project by our friends at Joe's Sporting Goods. I'll be using one... and the other can be used to solve the issue of "odd numbers," and someone doesn't want to be the third person in a canoe.

This blend of boats, teams and experiences should teach us a lot about how to create a larger event for 2009. We're going to bring along a couple of video cameras and digital cameras, and invite folks to document the day as we go (just a little). Plus, we'll have a handful of handheld GPS devices to help guide the teams to certain rendezvous points. This blend of boats, teams and experiences should teach us a lot... about how to create a larger event for 2009!

Do you have ideas about how to make the first-ever Dash for Trash a success? I'd love to hear from you, so drop me a note!

© 2008, Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Dash for Trash route:

View Larger Map

Extreme trash: Could this be a cool new sport?

Recently, a group of potential clean-up volunteers raised concerns about working on the north metro Mississippi River, citing the sometimes steep terrain, jagged debris, and other hazards. So just how hazardous is this whole project, really?

In my opinion, just hazardous enough to be taken seriously, but not dangerous enough to take the fun out of it. (Click on the arrow to play these images, click on the border of the box to enlarge them.)

For example... my last geo-tagging mission down the Mississippi left me with a small souvenir of the trip. I came across a chunk of scrap iron that was about 15 feet off-shore, and I wanted to move it closer to the riverbank so it could be more easily found on a later recovery trip (it was too big to throw into my kayak). Because it looked like a very heavy, blunt-edged piece of iron, I just grabbed onto it with one hand, as I used the paddle in my other hand to push myself toward shore. I learned very quickly that the item was not blunt iron, but sharp, bent, sheet-metal… which opened the flesh on my two middle fingers as quickly as if I had grabbed the wrong edge of a knife.

Thankfully, I keep a role of white athletic tape in my daypack where I was able to reach it quickly. (The tape can help prevent blisters where your inner thumbs cradle the paddle.) The cuts were clean, and I was able to seal them shut with the tape very quickly. I probably could have used a stitch or two on the middle finger, but the cut closed well with the tape, so I didn’t bother. The cut on the ring finger was minor.

The experience was a reminder that one should not go about this project thoughtlessly. Nor without gloves. (Shame on me. The Minnesota DNR sent me some gloves when I started this whole project. Along with some safety guidelines I'd be smart to follow!)

We knew we were onto something new when we started the whole idea of geo-tagging--or “geo-trashing”--as a method of river restoration. But who knew we’d be inventing a potential “extreme sport,” whereby participants get to experience the fun of being bruised, bloodied, and sweaty!

An extreme sport? I don't take myself that seriously. But it would be wise to remember the hazards that are out there... so one need not suffer the consequences. Use your head, keep your eyes open, and proceed with caution. Both you and the river will be just fine.

© 2008, Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Kind words from new friends

Yesterday, Eric Eckl of Falls Church, Virginia, shared some thoughts about our project at his site, "" Eric's site seems to convey a recurring, fundamental, and valuable thought: People cannot be compelled (by an outside force) to embrace a cause. On the contrary, they must be enlightened and inspired (something that happens on the inside) for change to be not only attained, but sustained over time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

CleanUpTheRiver makes some (radio) waves...

Recently, Beth Kidd invited me into her studio at the CBS Radio building downtown, as a guest of her Northern Lights program. It was the first time I was asked to explain the entire framework of what we're doing, and why, in a single conversation. (Not easy!) It was an opportunity to reflect on what the project is really all about. It was a chance to publicly recognize some of the partners who help recycle or dispose of some of the debris we recover. And it was a chance for us to explain how uncomplicated the equipment need be; that while we're blessed with some particularly nice resources, cleaning up a river can be as simple has having a garbage bag and the will to improve a place.

The conversation inspired me to reflect on how this river relationship started, which was nice.

And it was an opportunity to ask people to become streetcorner environmentalists, while we explained the extremes we're prepared to go to to help remove trash from a beautiful waterway (again, with the help of a great partner!)... through the Dash for Trash!

Click on any of the links above to hear excerpts from the interview, or choose from the list below. If you select "01" below and then let the player run uninterupted, you'll hear the interview in its' entirety (with slight pauses between segments due to buffering). The interview was broadcast on CBS Radio stations WLTE (102.9 Lite FM) and Smooth Jazz 104.1/HD2, on July 27th, and is scheduled for re-broadcast this Sunday morning, August 17, at 7:00 a.m.

Interview Segments:

01 - What is "Adopt-a-River?"

02 - What is ""

03 - Recycling what we can

04 - Why everything is not recycled

05 - The equipment we use

06 - Global possibilities for Geo-Trashing

07 - Safety: Respect Mother Nature & Father Time

08 - The roots of a river relationship

09 - Being an everyday environmentalist

10 - We ask you not to give, but to take (...out!)

11 - The Dash for Trash

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A little too much of a good thing?

By now, visitors to this conversation realize that one of the most challenging waterways we’ve tackled is the north metro Mississippi River, running from Rice Creek in Fridley to Boom Island, near downtown Minneapolis. Over the past few months, we’ve been contacted by few different groups who were looking for a site to clean. Among these were a school looking for a class project… or a local public service group hoping to clean-up the neighborhood they serve. Recently, a more sizable organization sought us out, saying that they were looking for a project that could benefit from nearly 200 volunteers, showing up for four to six hours on a single day.

Now, you don’t just drop two hundred people into a project like this without some intense planning. So we began to think of ways of organizing this one-day assault. The group would meet at the open-air pavilion run by Minneapolis Parks & Rec. From there, buses would dispatch teams of thirty to fifty people to sites that were “skill appropriate.” Softer-shore clean-up groups would be sent to the boat launch in the Camden area just south of the 37th/42nd Avenue Bridge, as well as the Anoka Parks and Rec land—on the east bank—which runs from I-694 south toward the Minneapolis Water Works plant. People suited to more challenging terrain would be taken by bus to the Three Rivers Park District fishing pier, just south of 694 on the west bank… and to a hill that provides somewhat steep access to the area between 53rd and 57th Avenue North. In areas where the terrain made removing trash and dumped items too difficult or dangerous, we would employ the use of two garbage barges--my name for a pair of boats designed for this type of work--operated by Minnesota River Revitalization, Inc., of Red Wing. The two boats would transfer recovered items to the Camden boat launch, where designated trucks would haul scrap iron, tires, cinderblock and concrete debris, and finally, trash, sorted by plastic and non-plastic.

Two weeks ago, I presented this plan to a partial committee representing the volunteer organization. We met at the North Mississippi Park to discuss pros, cons, and how teams could be created so that no volunteer would be asked to do anything that they might be incapable of or uncomfortable with. We talked about having first responders available, and what kind of additional project partners might be needed (snacks and refreshments to keep volunteers hydrated, porta-potties, t-shirts for the volunteers to wear during the event, etc.)

In the end, the group has decided to abandon the plan, fearing that this stretch of river would be too dangerous. After my meeting with the committee representatives at the pavilion two weeks ago, additional members of the organization were provided foot tour last week of some the Minneapolis Parks & Rec land involved—provided by one of the MPR maintenance supervisors. After their walk, they decided the terrain and trash to present risk greater than they could be comfortable with.

Of course, I'm disappointed at the loss of the manpower this sizable group represents. But I am not terribly surprised by their decision. Nobody wants to put any group of volunteers into harms’ way. Not the organization I’ve been talking about, and certainly not me.

There are sections along this stretch of river which present certain hazards (I’ve acknowledged this point often). These hazards include treacherous shorelines, made so by the dumping of city and county concrete and curbing over the years, and there are street sewer spillways. There are fallen trees and steep inclines to reach the river. (You can click the slideshow above to see larger images of some of these hazards.) Sadly, though, there are more sedate sections of riverbank which will also go uncleaned with the cancellation of this project; areas where cleaning the shoreline would have been no more risky than, well, "a walk on the beach."

That said, some of the greatest risk surrounding this project may have been that it involved such a potentially large--and perhaps uncontrollable--group of people. Any group of people that wants to help is a good thing. But in this case, it might have been too much of a good thing!

The Learning Curve
Dozens of hours went into the planning of this event… and while the group has decided against the project, this was still time well spent. It made me stop and think about our overall approach to river restoration, and better grasp the sheer scope of the challenge. It forced me to consider logistical tools that I had not thought of before. And it created another opportunity for me to work with potential partners, including philanthropic organizations, businesses, and public sector agencies. Each presents unique challenges, but each of these constituencies can also hold people of talent who want to help.

In my very early posts on this blog, I committed to targeting the whole river, not just those spots which are convenient and perhaps already receiving the benefit of casual pedestrian clean-up efforts. That commitment remains solid. But another fact of environmental life occurs to me: It’s easy for people to fall in love with the idea of environmental recovery or river restoration… but it is can be much more difficult for people to take the steps required to actually get it done. It’s kind of like adopting a puppy; early on, the idea is adorable and cute. But once you see what’s really involved with cleaning-up after it, the project loses some lustre.

I cannot repeat this often enough: The decision of this particular group to withdraw is something I both understand and respect. This was a very large group—and its’ sheer size might have created hazards that a smaller group would not face during the course of a clean-up day. And their decision in no way deters me from the goal of restoring those sections of river that Julie and I have adopted. For each time I discover a plan that will not work, it leads me one step closer to one that will.

(I am told that last statement paraphrases Thomas Edison. I knew it was too good to be original!)

© 2008, Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Geo-trashing for entire cities

There was an interesting story in today’s USA Today, which explained how Jim Oswald, an I.T. consultant for the city of Clemson, S.C., created a plan to save 350 gallons of diesel per month using GPS technology.

It seems city garbage trucks capable of handling large debris were driving all over town to find it. Mr. Oswald and some co-workers developed a plan to have “regular” sanitation truck drivers indicate where this large debris (tree limbs, appliances, etc.) was located. Thus, the special trucks could drive right to where they were needed, without wasting time, fuel and other city resources.

We’ve been geo-trashing (geo-tagging debris sites) for about a year now, using handheld GPS technology, a kayak, and a digital camera. It sounds like this smart city planner was thinking similar thoughts in a parallel universe… to save his city a lot of gas, time, and cash.

© 2008, Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

So simple, so smart. So what are we waiting for?

During a recent staff meeting in Clearwater, the company I work for had a reception on the beach. I could not help but notice the labeling on the cups we were given.

They were like any plastic cup one might use during any outdoor event… except that they weren’t made of plastic. These cups were made of corn starch. And as such, they were 100% bio-degradable.

This was simply more evidence of great behavior by the LEED-certified Sand Pearl Resort, where our meetings were held in Clearwater Beach, Florida. Sure, it's hip to be green... and the hotel stands to enhance its' image by being "environmentally friendly." But if part of that effort includes keeping plastic and other trash out of the water and off of the shoreline... again I ask: "Who cares?"

So smart, so simple. So what is the rest of corporate America waiting for?

© 2008, Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Where all of this is headed

Last week, I had a staff meeting (for my day job) in Tampa, Florida. More accurately, the meeting was held at the Sand Pearl Resort in nearby Clearwater Beach. I took two days of vacation at the conclusion of the event, so as to have a little time to unwind, walk with my beloved wife on the sugar-sand beaches of the gulf coast, and relax.

And take some photos of disgusting stuff that had washed-up on the beach.

I’d like to offer my compliments to the Sand Pearl for their environmental commitment. It is a LEED-certified operation, meaning they’ve taken verifiable steps to conserve energy, re-purpose water, and reduce their environmental footprint in both the way the buildings were constructed and in the way their businesses are operated.
In addition to the hotel's stewardship, the city of Clearwater Beach deploys a tractor, with a rake en tow, intended to remove seaweed from the shore to make it more enjoyable for the tourists who visit. But the machine also has the effect of extracting trash that has been left behind or washed-up on the shore.
Granted, the city and its' businesses enjoy financial rewards if the shoreline is clean (heavy-spending tourists won't come if the beach gets a reputation for being polluted). But I don’t care WHY they do it. I just care that they do.

Our late-night walks on the beach were a great opportunity to do a little detective work about what kind of trash lurks in the gulf waters. (The trick is to walk the coast and see the debris before the tractor & rake have been around to clean it up.) If a water bottle still had its’ label clearly intact, it presumably washed-up on shore fairly recently… and probably from a resort just up the beach, or from one of the tour boats which so heavily populate this vacation hotspot. If a softdrink bottle looked weathered, if the label was sun-bleached, or if the material seemed brittle, we can assume that it had been in the water longer—if not that it had traveled a longer distance before washing up on the shore. The disposable Bic lighter we came across was rusted… but when dried-out, it still functioned properly; hard to say how long that’s been in the water. Same for the Styrofoam egg carton we found, as well as the plastic oil containers and plastic bucket shards we came across.

We cannot know where all of this trash came from. But we can safely guess that it was all placed there by human hands.

Science will support the assertion that plastic will travel great distances over dozens (if not hundreds) of years. (See this story from CBS News.) So when we talk about a river restoration project, we’re not just talking about cleaning-up our own back yard. We’re talking about doing the world some good.

© 2008, Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Geo-tagging has its rewards

Last week, on Sunday afternoon, I was given the gift of four hours to spend on the water, and elected to spend it along our Adoption Site 3, the Metro Mississippi. The sky was sunny, and the water level was down to about 3.4' over gage height. As I set out to identify new targets of trash that I'd like to remove from the river, it was if I had been joined by my favorite pair of allies: Mother Nature and Father Time.

I came across roughly 30 new "oversized debris items." Over the next few weeks, I'll connect photos of this debris with their corresponding GPS waypoints, so that the targets can be added to an inventory of trash we intend to recover from this stretch of the Mississippi. But that was not the only reconnaissance I was gathering on this particular trip. I was also gathering intelligence about the access points, terrain, and obstacles one might find when attacking this stretch of river on foot.

The reason? Two different groups (which shall remain anonymous for now, as they have not committed to the task) have inquired about how they might best deploy some volunteers to assist in this cleanup effort. So I was watching for the grade of the riverbank near key access points, and looking for areas which might be safely scoured by people on foot, in groups of various sizes.
Near the end of my run, just before I approached Shingle Creek, I was greeted by a four-legged friend who was enjoying the shade near the river: A beautiful doe. She did not startle when she saw me approach in the kayak. Indeed, she did not even walk away. I slowed my drift to capture a few pictures, and she stood there as if to pose... the poster child of why we're doing what we're doing. (Feel free to click on the photo to enlarge it.)

You know, even with no paycheck, this is a pretty good gig.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Beware of watered-down news about the river

Back in March, local news teams covered a story about a railroad tanker car which had jumped the tracks and then buckled, spilling much of its' cargo--antifreeze--into the St. Croix River. There will be "no danger to humans" as a result of the spill, as the antifreeze was expected to "dissipate in the water." Read the story for yourself, as provided by WEAU-TV.

In June, we were told that massive flooding along the middle Mississippi River would present only "isolated risk" to the river. This, in spite of a very large river, flushing miles and miles of land within its' flood plan (think of the petroleum, fertilizers and other chemicals stored along this part of middle America). Decide for yourself, as you read this story published by USA Today.

This week, a tanker ship carrying 419,000 gallons of fuel oil collided with another vessel, spilling a huge volume of petroleum into the Mississippi River in the Port of New Orleans. Robert Thomas, director of the Center for Environmental Communication at Loyola University, was quoted by the New York Times, providing a less-than-convincing reassurance: “Here, you’re talking about an enormous amount of oil, but it’s in a river that averages about 450,000 thousand cubic feet per second of flow,” he said. “It’s going to flush this stuff out,” Mr. Thomas said. I'm not sure I agree, Mr. Thomas. But I'll invite my readers to form their own opinion, after reading this story in the New York Times.

Fossil fuel took more than a few years to form. It's been hiding under a rock for more than a few years--not "dissipating"--as it waited for us to come and get it. Please, all of you who work in media or public relations: Stop minimizing the impact of what is being dumped, spilled, and flushed into our rivers. You're all starting to sound like something else that makes a dramatic flushing noise.

I don't want to sound like an alarmist; there are plenty of other people serving in that role. In fact, I'll point to another news story... this one again from the New York Times. It reports that a record "dead zone" now exists at the mouth of the Mississippi River... estimated to be over 8,800 square miles, or larger than the area covered by the state of New Jersey. But don't take my word for it. Read the story for yourself, again, in the New York Times.

Then... when you hear someone attempt to water-down the impact of pollution on a river near you, listen closely for a flushing noise that might soon follow.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Dash for Trash (1): Saving the St. Croix

Last winter, my wife and I hatched an ambitious idea to clean a long stretch of the St. Croix River. Our concept would not only benefit the river, it would severely test those who might participate in it. The idea was to create thirty teams of two people, and launch them down a path of just under twenty miles, paddling the St. Croix River from Taylors Falls, Minnesota, to William O’Brien state park.

Now, lots of people travel that distance as a purely recreational daytrip, and find it to be great exercise but not exactly overwhelming. But here’s what makes this trip different: Each team would be asked to remove forty pounds of trash per person from the St. Croix River Valley as they made their journey. 20 miles, 30 canoes, 40 pounds of trash each, gathered by 60 hard-working people. If successful, the project would recover more than two thousand pounds of pollution (2,400 pounds, to be precise).

This week, we can announce that this dream is one step closer to reality. Very early in the planning stages, we got in touch with Amy Frischmon, Vice President at Wild Mountain/ Taylors Falls Recreation, and she threw her full support behind the concept. That’s important, because while Julie and I have the equipment we need (thanks to Joe's), not everyone who might want to participate in this project is equipped with a canoe, paddles, and life preservers. Amy’s company has agreed to lend all of those tools to this project, along with the bus “shuttle” services that will be required to transport people from the destination (where their vehicles will be parked) to the launch point (Taylors Falls Canoe Rental at Interstate State Park)! They’re even going to let us use their dumpster at the ending point to dispose of the materials we recover.

It looks very much as if this project will be launched in full force, sometime in August, 2009. But this year (in fact, just a few weeks from now, on Saturday, August 23rd), a select group of participants are going to make a trial voyage, intended to help get ready for next years’ event. Our plan is to launch three to five canoes and kayaks, and take exactly the trip that is planned for next season. Along the way, we’ll be noting…

The level of fatigue which results as people both paddle a near twenty-mile course... and gather trash along the way. How many rest stops or personal breaks will be needed? What about water and energy/nutrition during the voyage? What challenges will we encounter that have not thought of yet?

All of these questions must be answered before a thirty-team Dash for Trash can be safe and successful. I’ll be in a kayak for the test run… and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. Along with grabbing some trash, I’ll be doing a little geo-trashing (gathering GPS waypoints of any oversized debris we happen to come across). I hope to learn a lot on this voyage… and apply that knowledge to next years’ event. And we’ll share our experiences with you right here at

By the way… perhaps you’ve noticed that we’re calling next month’s event “The Dash for Trash (1).” That was not an accident, as a second event for this season is in the works right now. It could be an equally dramatic effort (albeit in different ways)… and I hope to confirm and share details very soon. If you'd be interested in joining us for this trial-run event, let me know. I hope to keep this a very small group... but I'd welcome your participation if you're a serious St. Croix River enthusiast. Just drop me an email at your earliest convenience.

Our thanks go out to Amy Frischmon and the entire staff at Wild Mountain/Taylors Falls Recreation. Clearly, they not only take their living from the beautiful St. Croix River Valley. They are giving their resources and life energy back to it. We are blessed to have their friendship and help… as are all of the people who appreciate this most beautiful waterway.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

It's not a charity. (Perhaps it's simply a good idea.)

Earlier this evening, I had the good fortune of being interviewed by Beth Kidd, for her CBS Radio program, Northern Lites. (The program will air on Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m. on 102.9 WLTE-FM, and on KZJK 104.1 HD-2.) Toward the end of the conversation, we got to talking about the importance of charity… and I made it very clear that is not a non-profit organization. It is simply a good idea. Following the thread of thought, Beth asked why. Good question: And I’m not sure I had really thought it out until that time.

First of all, lots of non-profit organizations start out as very thoughtful, well-intended ideas… but before long, become so large that the principles spend a significant amount of time and other resources focusing on administration. I have no desire to turn our project into a pile of paperwork, adding the complexity of lawyers and accountants, or soliciting money.

Secondly, I don’t have any desire to complete with other charities. While river restoration is something I am quite passionate about (no, really?)... who am I to say that my project or cause is more important than a child who is hungry? Or a man who is homeless? Or a woman who is suffering from a life-altering or life-ending disease?

I'm not sure CleanUpTheRiver should be among those charities which plead, “Pick me, pick me!” when people are trying to decide where to throw their financial support… in a world where so much help is needed in so many ways. There are so many organizations worthy of financial support. And with regard to river stewardship, there are already several non-profit options where people can make a tax-deductable contribution. [Shameless plug: Choose a local organization... such as Friends of the Mississippi, or maybe the St. Croix River Association.]

Finally, I’d like to be proof that writing a check is not the only way to provide value to the world you live in. Anyone can grab a couple of garbage bags when they're heading out to their nearby park, trail, lake or river. On your way to the office, pick up a plastic bottle that someone has tossed in the street, and put it in a recycling bin. Or volunteer for a shoreline clean-up. Any of that would be of help, and value. Any of these actions demonstrates your ability to improve a place.

At, Julie and I ave tried to keep our needs simple. A few key supporters have provided us with some wonderful tools and help. That’s about all we need… unless you’d like to roll up your sleeves, put on a pair of tennis shoes you don’t mind trashing, and joining us for a clean-up project.

Perhaps it might make sense to become a non-profit organization at some point--or a not-for-profit business entity--if we decide that best suits the objectives of the project. But for now, is just a good idea. As we’ve said before, “Somebody, somewhere, needed to do this at one time or another.”

It might as well be us, here, and now.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.