Thursday, June 18, 2009

If you are visiting for the first time...

Welcome. Between coverage we’ve received recently from Minnesota Waters, Minnesota Trails or Field and Stream magazine, it occurs to me that a good number of folks might be visiting this site for the first time. So let me catch you up. is neither a non-profit organization, nor a for-profit enterprise. It is simply a blog, which we use to share what we’ve learned and experienced... as my wife and I develop some new ideas for river restoration and conservation. We like to share our photos (click on any image to enlarge it). And we like to share our simple premise: Anyone, on any given day, has the power to improve a place.

Geo-trashing is one example of an idea we've developed. When we adopted our third river segment--this one on the Mississippi--we found a much different pollution problem that the light trash we were used to on our two stretches of the scenic St. Croix River. There were tires, barrels, construction debris, appliances… things that you cannot lift and carry away on a kayak. So we started collecting digital photos and GPS waypoints of where these items had been discarded, with the idea that we could return with the appropriate tools to collect the trash later. So, it's something like geo-caching, except the treasure we're hunting for is trash. (A recent KARE 11 TV news story explained geo-trashing well. Click here to watch it.)

But that’s just one example of what we’re learning. We’ve also learned how to create GPS maps of trash targets, sorted by debris type, and how to convert them into “ARC-compliant” maps (the kind used by many government agencies). Now, some of our trash maps are actually being used to guide one park district’s conservation effort in a series of riverside re-development projects. We’ve learned how jurisdictions work—and sometimes how they do not—between cities, counties, state and federal agencies. And we’ve learned how dumping and pollution are often crimes of convenience and opportunity. (With nowhere else to put them without getting caught, crooks love to toss emptied safes in the river. We’ve found ten safes, so far). And we’ve learned a little bit about how to clean this junk up.

There is no revenue model for our project, and we do not solicit donations. We absorb our modest expenses out-of-pocket… and have to save-up for new equipment the same way anyone else would.
The web has been an economical tool, and we’re trying to use it as it was intended to be used: To share ideas. If you’d like to get in touch, just drop me an email. If you have knowledge about or experience in matters of conservation… please share it! And if you have a question, please feel free to ask it. Perhaps you’ll take an idea from this site that helps you make an impact in your community... or maybe you'll share an idea that makes us more productive.

So again, thanks for stopping in. And enjoy.


© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Well, since you put it that way...

An old friend called today, to comment on the several articles that have been published about our project recently. "Perhaps the trash you've taken from the river is less significant... than the awareness you have brought to it."

His remark made me stop & think. Good friends do that; it is one of the reasons they're good friends.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Here's an example of "before and after"

Having recently moved into a new neighborhood, I’ve met a couple of new friends in the St. Michael area that wanted an example of what a Geo-Trashing map looks like. So I'll share a pair.
Our most successful project last year came from part of the north metro Mississippi River, on the west bank, which is largely under the jurisdiction of the Three Rivers Park District. They had only acquired the property recently, so there was still a lot of junk sitting in or near the river, waiting to be removed. I took several kayak trips down that stretch of river, and created an inventory map that looked something like this. (Click on the map below to enlarge.)

View Pre Clean-up Mississippi Targets 7-20-08 in a larger map
Note that this is a simple Google Map. We can provide versions in a variety of languages, including MapPoint (compatible with Garmin GPS devices), Google Earth, and even ARC-compliant language (the preference of most government agencies, architects and engineers). Each of the flags (or “waypoints) on this map represents a large trash item or debris field… and each of these sites has a corresponding photo. So the trash hunter knows what they’re looking for, as well as where they’ll find it.

But here’s the good news. After re-visiting this area of the Three Rivers Park District last fall, here’s what the map look like now:

View Post Clean-up Mississippi 9-20-08 in a larger map

Most of what was on that map was moved into a utility trailer, and disposed of properly. (The trailer load you see here weighed roughly 885 pounds, and all but one piece of trash—a wooden door frame—was to a scrap iron dealer and has since been recycled.) The one flag that remains on this map represents a water heater or LP tank I could not lift out of the muck on my own. (But here's a video of the stuff I could lift!)

You know, most of our clean-up work involves paddling along in a kayak, grabbing plastic beverage bottles, beer cans, bait containers or other light trash. But it’s the use of technology to inventory and then recover the big stuff that seems to get all the attention. So let me just offer this one simple reminder: Anyone with a trash bag and an old pair of tennis shoes can conduct a clean-up in a park, on a trail, or on a riverbank. Anyone, on any given day, has the power to improve a place.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ahhh... so this chapter has a happy ending after all

This winter and spring, I spent quite a little time researching some potential equipment upgrades. There are a couple of Nikon and Sony digital cameras out there which are capable of recording GPS waypoint information directly to the digital photo file at the instant a photo is taken. A Digital SLR camera would be ideal for this use, but they are very, very expensive. On the other hand, National Camera sells a Nikon compact that is GPS-enabled for right around $500. Another option is something called a Jobo GPS Tagger, which I think might connect to my current camera, and log the corresponding latitude and longitude as each shot is taken. I have more homework to do on that one, though.

I was excited about this idea. Right now, the process of Geo-Trashing can be rather cumbersome and time-consuming. When you find the debris field or dumped item, you must first snap a digital photo, then hunt-and-peck on the handheld GPS to create and label a waypoint, one letter at a time. Then, back at the office, you have to make sure you’re mating the right GPS waypoints to the corresponding photo. With a GPS-enabled camera, all of this would become a much faster one- or two-step process. If it works they way I’m thinking, I could cover many more river miles, and record more trash targets, all in less time.

But then, the break-in at our home happened. That basically nixed the new camera idea, forcing us to think about replacing original equipment and paying deductibles… instead of making the upgrades I had hoped for. As I’ve stated before, we are neither a non-profit organization nor a for-profit business; aside from the kayaks on loan to us from Joe's Sporting Goods, everything we do with this project is out-of-pocket.

But here’s the happy ending to this chapter of our story. The Heroes of Conservation recognition we’ll receive from Field and Stream next month comes with a $1,000 grant, courtesy of the program’s sponsor, Toyota. While perhaps not one of the fancier D-SLR models (they run two-thousand dollars or so), that puts a GPS-enabled camera back within our reach. (We can get started with the cheaper, compact version... and if it works well, I’ll save up for the more sophisticated D-SLR camera.) I think testing this equipment in the field is a wise use of the Heroes of Conservation grant money.

This summer, my goal is to hit some new, unfamiliar waterways, beyond our adopted segments of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers. A quicker way of recording and merging GPS waypoints and digital photos would make those trips much more productive.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

A friend maps our way to Field and Stream

Back in April, I received a phone call from a gentleman by the name of Tom McCafferty, a conservation writer for Field and Stream magazine. He informed me that I had been nominated for what the magazine calls their “Heroes of Conservation” program; the nomination had come from our good friend Joe Rauscher at Joe's Sporting Goods. Joe was at a trade show earlier this year, and came across the Field and Stream booth promoting the Heroes of Conservation program.

Early in the call, Tom started a line of questioning that turned into a full a half-hour telephone interview. He asked for sample maps, photographs and other materials… so I gave him a quick tour of our blog and suggested a few online videos he might benefit from seeing. Tom called again in early May, to let me know that upon further review by the editorial staff, I had indeed been selected, and would be included in their Heroes of Conservation section in the July 2009 issue of Field and Stream.

This recognition has important ramifications for our humble little project… but more on that later. For now, I would simply like to thank Joe Rauscher for the time and thought required to submit our project nomination. certainly has a friend in Joe’s Sporting Goods. Not a financial sponsorship, but a relationship that is even more valued and important: Informed advice, and authentic friendship. Everytime we hit the river, we feel like Joe's team is with us. Thanks, Joe. And thanks to Tom McCafferty and the editors of Field and Stream, as well as your national sponsor for this program, Toyota. I think this is a great thing you're doing... and I appreciate it.

Click here to see a scanned advance copy of the Hero’s of Conservation write-up that I received by email today.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pesky, but perfect

It is easy to become annoyed by the cottonwood seeds this time of year. They fly into your eyes and face, and they stick to everything that is wet… whether that’s a sweaty face and neck, or a yak that’s being pulled from the water. The fluffy specs turn into a scum that gets particularly thick in eddies where the current slows. Look closer at those side ponds, and you’ll see the helicopter seeds of ash, maple and box elder, as well as floating chestnuts, pine cones, and the seed pods of American elm.

As annoying as the cottonwood seeds can be, they are taking the current for an important ride. After the breeze drops them into the river, the river carries them to a place where they can wash ashore and take root.

One cannot curse the cottonwood seeds, and then celebrate the thick tree stands that border the river. They are mutually dependent.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Rivers and rewards

As I had hoped, I got out on the kayak today. But instead of heading out to Pelican Lake, as I had originally planned, I made way for the Crow River just east of Saint Michael. I didn’t go far. I put in at the landing where Nabor Road crosses the river. Without an up-to-date GPS, I went the safe way… paddling upstream about two miles, and then letting myself drift back. (A bad experience on the St. Croix River taught me to not drift down on the first leg and then paddle back upstream on the second leg. Always good to know you’re spending fuel on the way out, and then gliding on the way back!)

It was a lot of work heading against the current today. I was a bit surprised by the strength of the Crow’s current. But I was rewarded significantly. Today, I saw my first otter. I’ve been wanting to see one for a long time… but I’ve been zipped until today. They are curious creatures; the little critter was as enamored with me as I with he. He’d peak from the shoreline, then scurry into the grass and run downstream to take another look, as if to see whether I could keep up with him. I was able to keep pace, but I didn't successfully get a shot of him with my camera. (Some animals simply do not stop to pose for human popperatzi.)

As if I needed it, I got a second reward a few yards further down the river. I had seen an egret on the way up the river down the second bend. So, I lifted my paddle to drift with the current on the way back down, thinking I could get much closer to the big bird on my way back, using the element of surprise. My plan worked. I was able to study the huge crane as he fished from his perch on a log. (As always, click on any photo to enlarge it. Then, hit your "Back" button to return to this spot.)
Finally, as I got a little too close, he took flight… screeching at me for invading his territory. I was amazed by the loudness of his call… and delighted to snap a second shot of the huge bird as he became airborne. It was cool enough that I turned around and paddled back upstream to get a second look, where he had come to rest on a sand bar upstream. It was worth the effort… this breed of fowl is an amazing bird to study.

You can see these creatures in a zoo. But so much better, it is, to see them in freedom of their element.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Getting aquainted with some new waterways

Returning home from a travel assignment this week, I was pleased to see that FedEx had delivered the two GPS devices we had ordered to replace those stolen during the break-in back in April. The timing is perfect! Tonight, I will program the new GPS units with updated maps. With rain in the forecast for tomorrow, I’ll use the day to build a kayak storage system in my garage (we cannot store them outside in the neighborhood we live in, so I’m designing a system that will help me hang them from the ceiling of the garage with pulleys). But Sunday, I’m eager to explore one of the two new bodies of water that we now live near. One of those streams is the Crow River, which I’m told is a perfect paddling river.

But there is another spot I’d like to explore. Having driven a few times around the west side of Saint Michael, I thought I had come across a series of broad sloughs and wetlands. But looking more closely at a map of the area, I have learned that they are really the coves and inlets of a larger body, known as Pelican Lake. There are two reasons that kayaking the lake is appealing to me. First, it is not attractive to big boats and jet skis (a new neighbor tells me that it’s about ten feet at its deepest point). But second, it is somewhat secluded, and in many places not far from various roadways; I will almost certainly discover that it is the victim of dumping. We’re not talking about litter, here, but things like appliances, tires, etc. Dumping large objects is largely a crime of opportunity and convenience; when proximity to a bridge or roadway makes dumping easy, and unlikely that the dumping will be seen by passers-by, that’s where you’ll find junk in the water.)

In any regard, it will be fun to navigate a new waterway… and I’m looking forward to getting acquainted.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

One day, dozens of people, pounds and pounds of progress

I had two work-related road trips scheduled for this week, so I could not participate. But it was so cool to again see headlines about the annual Mississippi River paddleboat clean-up event sponsored by the DNR! Paul Nordell and his team consistently bring a bounty of volunteers together for this event, and get an impressive amount accomplished in a single day.

If you haven’t seen the story yet, enjoy it here as it appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. By the way... one of the comments a Strib reader had on the story was that the writer should have included information about how others can get involved. Let me offer one suggestion: Visit the Adopt-a-River web site! It offers some easy and enjoyable guidance.

Paul was a key figure in getting me interested in river conservation way back in 1993 and 1994. As passionate as he is about protecting natural resources, it does not surprise me that he continues to inspire countless others.

© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What a wonder the river is

This evening, I again read this passage worth sharing.

“For the first time, it occurred to me this afternoon what a piece of wonder a river is. A huge volume of matter ceaselessly rolling through the fields and meadows of this substantial earth—making haste from high places, past the stable dwellings of men and Egyptian pyramids—to its restless reservoir. One would think that, by a very natural impulse, the dwellers upon the headwaters of the Mississippi and Amazon would follow in the trail of their waters to see the end of the matter.”

Henry David Thoreau, from his Journal #1, page 55 (September 5, 1838).