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