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.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Spreading the word about Geo-trashing and pollution recovery

On Radio
I was invited to visit the studios of CBS Radio in downtown Minneapolis next week, to be interviewed for their “Northern Lights” program. The public affairs broadcast is scheduled to air on Sunday morning, July 27th. For those of you who spend your weekend mornings in worship, out-of-town, or sleeping in, I’ll try to obtain a copy of the program and make it available here.

At the Minnesota State Fair
The Minnesota DNR will have a booth at the State Fair again this year, showcasing the Adopt-a-River program. They invite A/R enthusiasts to help man the booth… and I’ve been invited to join in on Monday, August 25th. It’s always fun to talk with people who share our passion for river restoration and resource preservation. See you there!

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Skakedown cruise

Last Sunday, a few precious hours broke loose from this insanely busy summer… and I made the most of them by heading down to the Mississippi for some survey work. The day was perfect, and I launched from the west side of the river, just south of the bridge at 42nd Avenue North (there is a boat launch area maintained by Minneapolis Parks & Rec).

I had failed to charge my batteries for the GPS device on this particular trip. So instead of plotting additional trash targets and waypoints, I decided to do some light trash recovery. I gathered roughly twenty pounds of rubbish, including some plastic and glass bottles, a lawn chair, and a pair of water-logged personal floatation devices that had flown out of someone’s boat (I presume).

[Now… before I continue, let me offer a disclaimer: This blog nor its’ author have received any kind of funding or advertising revenue from anyone, including Wilderness Systems, Garmin, or Joe’s Sporting Goods. Joe’s and Garmin have simply provided us with a few tools for use in our work. They don’t pay us to say nice things. We say what we want.]

Anyway, while this day was devoted to an inaugural voyage for one of the new kayaks provided to us by Joe’s Sporting Goods, it revealed shakedown of another sort: I discovered a sixth safe that had been tossed in the river by an evidence-ejecting burglar. It was totally dismantled… I’ll return with my truck and utility trailer to retrieve this steel for recycling on another day. I guess I’ll have to add “safe #6” to add to our list of lock boxes found in the Mississippi.

Wow… I have to tell you, the new Wilderness Systems Pungo 140 is an absolute dream upgrade for this project. (Again, we don’t get paid for saying that. I’m just giving you feedback based on my experience with the kayaks Joe’s has allowed us to use!)

As you’ll recall, I used only an entry-level, ten-foot kayak last summer and fall. I could ONLY do survey work from that vessel, for the most part, as it was too small to carry much cargo beyond myself, and my daypack of GPS and camera equipment. But the Pungo has two dry-seal cargo holds (one fore, one aft) for daypack supplies. Plus, the airspace between the seat and the rear air-seal is a perfect trash bin for light debris recovery. I’m sure that’s not what Wilderness Systems had in mind when they designed it this way… but I hope the folks at the factory are pleased with the good they are helping me do.

We so appreciate these tools.

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.

Garmin™ provides direction to our project

We had a pretty good idea that Garmin™ would enjoy the way we were using their GPS products (specifically, I purchased a Garmin eTrex Vista® HCx last summer). When they heard about last January, they provided us with some coverage at their corporate blog.

But recently, Garmin™ has extended their help even further, by providing us with three Garmin eTrex H® handheld GPS devices. This gesture allows us to test some “file sharing” efforts, as explained in a previous posting… but also puts us in a position to borrow handheld units to volunteer groups who are out to help us recover some large scale debris. The eTrex H® is a modestly-priced device, which is good for this kind of project (it’s a dirty job!). It will be interesting to see how the units interface with the waypoints we have posted through Google Maps and Google Earth. We appreciate the help of Garmin™, as we continue to build our “plot” against pollution, and further our river restoration efforts. Thanks!

© 2008 Mike D. Anderson, Crystal, MN.