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.