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.