Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Adopting a river, or two, or three

Julie and I had the chance to explore some beautiful waters last summer and fall, so we didn’t have to think hard about which segments of river we wanted to adopt for our hands-on clean-up efforts. I’ll share more about those sites later… but I thought I’d take a moment to reiterate how easy it was to get underway.

We just went to the Minnesota DNR web site, and downloaded an interactive PDF. I filled it out, and did a “Save As” to re-title the document with our initials and the date, and then I emailed it to Megan at the DNR, along with a note explaining why we selected the spot. For the WAV program through the Wisconsin DNR and the University of Wisconsin Extension service, I just sent an email to Kris Stepenuck... providing similar information. In both cases, the response was both fast and favorable.

I enjoy helping, and I love being on the river, but I hate paperwork. Thankfully, these folks have made their processes idiot-proof! (I love it when that happens!) I’ll share details of our three sites shortly.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Monday, January 28, 2008

One GPS company likes this idea (of course)

Last week, Garmin (the global positioning products company) published a story about the geo-tagging element of our project at their corporate web site. Just for the record, their story promotes a new product I have not used (I own a Garmin Vista HCx). But still, it was nice to get the mention. You can read the press release by clicking here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A quick guide to some great "Natural Resources"

Having acknowledged that river restoration can be a daunting task, I’d like to point out some wonderful resources—and amazing people—who take great pleasure in making the job easier.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
I’ll start by giving kudos to the DNR for having a great home page, which illustrates the important role these folks play in preserving habitat, protecting our resources and promoting stewardship of the outdoors. But go a little deeper, and you’ll find some very specific, helpful assets to take advantage of.

First, visit the State Parks section of the web site. For several of our expeditions last year, Julie and I used a few of these beautiful places as our “base camp,” including William O’Brien, Interstate, and St. Croix State Park, among others. Enjoying these assets is a great way of rewarding yourself for a job well done, and the rates for camp sites are very reasonable.

More to the point, you’ll be very impressed with the Adopt-a-River section of the web site. It includes a How-To Kit, clearly authored by people with some experience (which means, you get to learn from other peoples’ mistakes… and start off on the right foot). One of these stewards is Megan Godbold, a member of the Conservation Corps who is passionate about helping people preserve our resources. If you can't find the answers you need at the web site, know that Megan responds to email with courtesy for people, and a strong conviction for our natural resources.

Making WAVs in Wisconsin
River restoration in Wisconsin is supported by a program called Water Action Volunteers. WAV is a joint effort of the Wisconsin DNR and the University of Wisconsin Extension Service. The WAV home page also provides valuable tips about planning your river clean-up, securing funding or donations from the private sector, and more.

During the process of planning my clean-ups in Wisconsin waters, I have found Kris Stepenuck to be a great source of help and information. Kris is a volunteer stream monitoring coordinator… and can answer all your questions about the WAV program if you’re planning a clean-up in Wisconsin. Just send her an email. (If she doesn’t have the answer you need, she’ll probably know where you can find it!)

The Wisconsin DNR also has an impressive web site, giving visitors the ability to make reservations for camping sites online, and more.

The National Park Service is a wonderful site that can lead you to some of the most breathtaking places in the U.S. But the site can also help you drill-down for comprehensive information about those places, including the network of National Scenic Waterways. For example, visit a section of the site dedicated to The Saint Croix River. It is filled with great information—and some wonderful photos—of this, one of my favorite waterways.

Are there any others? Of course there are. Now, I happen to enjoy navigating the waters of Minnesota and Wisconsin, because they’re close to home. But whether you’re voyaging rivers in Missouri or Montana, Arizona or Arkansas, Colorado or the Carolinas… there are state agencies who are responsible, in part, for facilitating the restoration and maintenance of the rivers near you. Just Google it, using these words: “River, natural resources, clean-up, state, [state name].” In Canada, you can do the same thing, but trade the word “province” for state, and enter your province name, along with “.ca.”

Where ever you are in North America, if you discover a great information source that you’d like to share with others, just send me a link by email, and I’ll be happy to post it at this blog for others to discover.

When you speak with any of these people, whose calling is to help each of us restore a waterway, protect a habitat or preserve another natural resource… remember to say, “Thanks.” They’re doing important work. And we’re all better for it.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Big Idea: A Global (positioning) Approach

Last September, I took a ten mile kayak run down the Mississippi River, and saw more debris than one person could possibly remove on their own (especially if that person is in a kayak). I won't go into too much detail, as I defined the two types debris problems in a previous posting. Let's just say it was a bit disheartening.

But there is an old saying, which is credited to Albert Einstein: “A problem well stated is half solved.” Armed with that attitude, I've decided that if I can’t solve the problem entirely, perhaps I can at least begin to help define it.

Welcome to geo-trashing. GPS devices have become somewhat commonplace. They are often part of the option package on new cars these days. The prices of hand-held devices have come way down, even as the number of features they include goes up. If you know someone who owns a hand-held GPS device, chances are you’ve heard of a game called geocaching. This might be an over-simplification, but a geo-cache is nothing more than a secret prize or treasure which is hidden by the leader of a geo-caching game. Then, the precise GPS coordinates of that treasure are posted on a web site or blog. Using only the guidance of the latitude and longitude as provided by their own global positioning system, participants set-out on a high-tech scavenger hunt… hoping to be the first to find the hidden treasure.

So, I took a second run down the Mississippi in mid-October, re-tracing the route I had taken when I saw all of these oversized debris fields and large scale trash objects. But this time, I stopped at each major pollution site, recorded a Waypoint on my GPS device, and snapped a digital photo of the object or debris field. Stated simply: I geo-tagged the trash, and started an inventory of the significant pollution problems on this stretch of river.

Soon, I will begin posting those photos and associated GPS coordinates at this blog. In doing so, I pursue three possible outcomes:

  • First, I’m hoping that a few people with greater resources than me (meaning, bigger boats and bigger muscles) might decide to go out and clean-up some of those debris sites. I’d like them to be able to drag-and-drop a photo, as well as the GPS Waypoint for that item, directly from my blog site and onto their own mapping software or handheld GPS device. I want to make it easy for people to help solve big problems, and restore some beautiful waterways.

  • Second, I’m hoping to use this site, as well as its’ sister site,, to encourage businesses and other organizations to launch collective clean-up efforts. It is asking a lot to expect someone to clean-up ten miles of river. But I’m thinking it would be reasonable to approach a tire retailer (for example), and say something like this: “You put 70,000 tires every year into the Minnesota environment. I’d like to ask you to take 16 tires OUT of the Minnesota environment. (I'm making those numbers up for the sake of illustration.) To make it easier, Mr. Tire Guy, I’m going to show you exactly where each tire is located, and I'm going to give you a picture of exactly the item you’re looking for. So your team should be able to get this job done within, say, two and a half hours. By the way, I’ll give you some exposure on my web site, and I’ll call a few reporters I know to see if we can get some coverage of your effort." Will it work? I have no idea. But it's worth a shot. *

  • Finally—and this is my favorite part—I’m hoping that other hikers, canoeists and kayakers will duplicate this effort. In other words, when you’re out there enjoying our precious rivers, and you come across a trash problem… snap a shot of it and record the location as a GPS Waypoint. Then, send them to me by email. With a lot of people participating in this geo-tagging process, I bet we can create a detailed inventory--and a remarkable understanding of the problem--therefore getting a few steps closer to a solution.

Between now and April 22nd (Earth Day), I'll begin posting some of the photos and GPS Waypoints I gathered last fall, which should help clarify this whole idea. Meanwhile, I would appreciate receiving the benefit of your feedback... as your ideas and opinions might provide clarity, as well. You know where to find me.

* I realize that tire dealers, appliance retailers and other businesses pay a lot of taxes and fees intended to satisfy their obligations to environmental recovery. But since I've quoted him once already in this posting, I'll use another of Einstein's famous phrases: "We will not solve these problems with the same thinking that created them." Based on what I've seen out there, the current methods of environmental restoration are insufficient. I think we can all do more. Personally, I've decided to focus on rivers. If I can come up with a way to help businesses profit by doing the right thing (through the goodwill and positive public relations that can result), I'm okay with that. Again, it's worth a shot.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Defining two of the most challenging problems

During the summer and fall of 2007, we hit the water with nothing more than a kayak, a digital camera, and an open mind… to make some observations about the visible pollution that tarnishes a few well-known rivers. Our survey work taught us that there are two types of pollution which are unlikely to be well-solved by casual pedestrian pick-up efforts. (Additional pollution sources remain problematic, of course, such as chemical run-off, industrial waste, and the effects of greenhouse gasses. But for now, I’ll focus on pollution types which can be easily seen, understood and solved by regular folks like me, using only basic tools.)

Oversized Debris Fields
Near bridges, piers, docks, log-jams and other obstructions, these accumulations exist where the rivers’ current has collected massive amounts of debris from upstream. These debris fields usually include beer and soft drink bottles, cans and cups; bait cans, coolers and other Styrofoam objects; water toys, plastic bags and other trash.

For the most part, Oversized Debris Fields are composed of seemingly innocent, incidental pollution. Someone tosses a Styrofoam coffee cup into the street; the cup finds its’ way to a storm sewer, and eventually to the river. Someone else knocks a soda bottle off a fishing dock, and by the time they notice, it has drifted out of reach. The wind throws a cooler cover out of a fast-moving boat. A plastic bag blows out of the back of a pickup truck as it crosses a bridge. And in cases I’d rather not think about, someone deliberately tosses trash into a river, believing the current will make it someone else’s problem. (Out of sight, out of mind, right?)

Large Scale Objects
I will define these objects as either big enough that one person could not lift them alone, submerged deeply enough in muck that one person could not dig it out, or heavy enough that the item could not safely be retrieved using a canoe or kayak, and terrain might inhibit one person’s ability to carry the item out on foot. These items include, but are not limited to, tires, car batteries and other auto parts; water heaters and other appliances; lawn mowers, furniture, safes & vaults, scrap iron, building materials and other discarded objects.

When you review the list of Large Scale Objects, perhaps you notice a pattern: These are often items which have been thrown down a riverbank or into the river because they might be thought of as too difficult or expensive to discard through conventional means. What a shame that the same household hazardous waste regulations that were intended to protect our environment… might be causing some people to destroy it.

SIDEBAR: If you happen to know anything about the cost of fines for dumping hazardous waste (or who the legislators are that might have influence over those fees), please share that information with me. My personal opinion is that we have not made it expensive enough to discourage some people from being slobs. The pain of doing things wrong should always be substantially greater than the cost of doing things right.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

It's not "just one river"

It has been brought to my attention that I have been referring to “the river” quite often in my early posts; someone has asked which river I’m referring to.

My answer: “The river.” It doesn’t matter which one.

When I think of “the river,” I think of the Red River of the North, which irrigates the part of North Dakota where I was born and raised. The Park River, which served as a playground for the church camp I attended. I remember the Lewis and Columbia Rivers, where I fished while we were on a family vacation when I was growing up.

I think of the Crooked Creek where my brother takes his boys fishing near Leechburg, PA. I've never seen it, but I'd like to.

The San Joaquin River is impressive; it winds through a beautiful valley until it finds its way into San Pablo and then San Francisco Bays; we loved the area when we lived there in the early 90’s. I think of the headwaters of the Mississippi near Itasca State Park in Minnesota. Our parents helped us “walk across” that part of the river when we were little kids; in later years, that would be the site of the first large-scale river clean-up I was ever involved with.

When you think of “the river,” you’re thoughts flow to the grandeur of Hudson’s Bay, the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, each of which are the destination for our fresh waters. This summer, we’ve spent a lot of time on the St. Croix River which serves as part of the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin; a national scenic waterway, and the stream that brought me back to the beauty of…

“The river.”

Sometime soon, I’d like to explore the Kettle River, Cannon River, and Rum River, the Namekagon, Apple, Kinnickinnic and a few others. The photo to the left is a little stream called the Sunrise River (this photo was the source of the banner at the top of this page). Click on the image to see a larger version of the picture; it’s a beautiful stream. But, I’m sure your river is a beautiful place, too.

When you think of “the river,” what comes to mind?

I’m no hydrologist. But I bet your river is connected somehow to the same waters I’ve mentioned here. is not intended to focus on a single river. It is intended to focus on singular attitude; an aspiration to protect them all.

© 2007, 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

What to expect of this site is neither a non-profit organization, nor a for-profit company. It is a domain name for a blog, authored by a guy who’s a bit passionate about spending time on the river. I enjoy camping, canoeing and kayaking, and I’d like our kids and grandkids to have the same privilege. That’s pretty much it.

I gave this project a lot of thought while I was on the water last summer. A cruise down the river can have that effect; the solitude of the river creates a wonderful opportunity to contemplate, appreciate, and motivate. And Minnesota winters being what they are—many of our rivers turn into long, narrow hockey rinks—building this site seemed like a good way to enjoy the river during the months that ice keeps me off of it. (As you can see, right now my canoe and kayak are belly-up in the backyard, waiting for the thaw, as I am!)

What kind of a publishing schedule will be maintained? I haven’t a clue. I’ll post when there is something to say or share, and when time allows. (I repeat: This is my passion, not my profession. My day job can be very demanding, sometimes requiring extensive travel.) I’ll do my best to stay in touch at least every couple of weeks.

Among other things, this blog will be a journal of ideas and activities which support the cause inherent in its name. I’ll use it to organize my thoughts, hoping others will add to the body of knowledge and opinion, and perhaps benefit from some of the ideas found here.

If you belong to a paddling club—either canoeing or kayaking—I’d enjoy hearing from you. My hunch is that the people who spend a lot of time on the river will my best source of direction for this project. It is that direction which will inform this site, and help me form a more accurate picture of what to expect from myself.

© 2007, 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Today is a good day for a clean start

Last summer, my wife and I simplified our lives and rediscovered the great outdoors. We got rid of our motorboat, and replaced it with a canoe and a kayak. The move to self-propelled watercraft led us away from the more populated, recreational lakes of Minnesota (speed boats and canoes don’t mix well), and toward the less travelled rivers and backwaters of the region. We hadn’t done much paddling since before we were married; it was really nice to get reacquainted with the water… and all of the natural wonders that drink from it.

We captured some pretty nice photos along the way, which I’ll share here as time goes on (click on the photo to see a larger image). There were subtle rapids. A perfectly-engineered beaver dam and hut. A pair of Bald Eagles who studied us as we floated past their nest. And a quiet backwater we suspect few others have ever seen, even though it waits to be discovered within about an hour of the Twin Cities.

Glorious as it all was, there were times when the beauty was interrupted by the thoughtless pollution of people who had passed through, leaving their litter (or worse) behind. And that is the motivating force behind this blog, as well as its’ companion site,

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not going to get all preachy about the environment. (We don’t need any more folks who talk lots and do little.) My intentions are much less elegant than that: I plan to pick some garbage out of a few rivers. And I hope to develop some ideas that encourage—and make it easier—for others to do the same.

It’s this simple: Anyone, on any given day, has the power to significantly improve a place. There are plenty of things that I cannot dramatically impact on my own… like crime, global conflict, or climate change. But this I can do something about. I have the capacity to positively impact a river. Or two. Or three.

I’m in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, U.S.A. But because of the web, the world is my back yard, and the same is true of you. If there is a river close to your heart and you’d like to restore or preserve it, I’d love to hear from you. I hope you’ll add your thoughts to build on the ideas you see offered here (if you have a suggestion, drop me an email). If you have a friend with a canoe, kayak or boat who you think might be interested, please let them know how to find this site (

I’m not big enough or smart enough to save the planet. But I can clean part of it up. And today seems like a good day to get started.

If you’d like to help, I look forward to knowing you.

© 2007, 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.