Thursday, September 10, 2009

A word about true service to others

I've one more letter I would like to share, this one arriving shortly after our project received a Heroes of Conservation award from Field & Stream magazine. That short article led a guy by the name of Justin to discover our site, our project, and our passion. It is a passion he shares, according to his letter:


I just wanted to let you know that what you are doing is great.Probably more important than the trash you remove yourself is theattention you are bringing to the cause.

As an avid fisherman I canappreciate the work you are putting into your area. Incidentally I havehad the privilege of fishing on the St. Croix once myself, it's where Icaught my one and only sturgeon.

Something my dad taught me at a young age was too always take more trashthan you bring. Every fishing trip I take ends in a walk up and downthe bank to remove whatever I see. Unfortunately my clean-up effortsare restricted to places my feet can take me, but I think things arelooking a little cleaner here in the waterways in and around Fort Riley, Kansas.

Keep up the good work, I'm sure you know that your efforts areappreciated and enjoyed by many!

SSG Justin Tryggestad
Currently serving in the U.S. Army

Of course, a note like this would be gratifying at anytime, from anyone. But Julie and I appreciated this especially, because Justin is currently serving all of us.

We're particularly sensitive to that, because this weekend, we are having a going-away party for our youngest son, Zachary, who will depart for basic training next week... with the Minnesota Army National Guard.

As parents, we are both nervous about his departure and very proud of his decision. Zach, as he explains it, is "...looking forward to being a part of something that is bigger than himself." In other words, his sign-up is the pursuit of service.

I wrote back to Mr. Tryggestad shortly after receiving his note, and let him know of our son's pending adventure. He replied by saying, "Tell your son, welcome to the team!"

So, to Justin Tryggestad: We loved the letter, Justin. It is nice of you to acknowledge our project, even as it is so small, in comparison to the sacrifice and service you and people like you are offering to all of us. Thank you.

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

More than a social network; a socially responsible network!

Recently, I've received a couple of fantastic notes from river advocates (see the letter from Brian Finstad immediately below). Another example of an ideal outcome came together because of Shannon in St. Paul. She dropped a note to me back in July, with a simple request:

Hi Mike!

I came across your website through googling river clean-up projects in the Twin Cities. I enjoyed reading your site and appreciate the work that you are doing to educate people on cleaning-up and caring for our waterways. I would like to organize a river clean up in the St. Paul area and wondered if you had any ideas for me. I'm coordinating this event for a church in the Grand Ave area... We expect 30-50 people to volunteer for this event. The date we were hoping to do this is 9/12/09. We have access to a large truck and a trailer. Any ideas would be welcome!

I look forward to hearing back from you!


Shannon's request specified a part of the south-metro watershed that I am less than familiar with. But thankfully, I knew that the Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) are more than familiar with the area... so I introduced Shannon, via email, to a few folks at FMR. Turns out that she recognized a couple of those names... and followed-up on that suggestion. And today, Shannon was kind enough to send me a follow-up note today... letting me know that her group had arranged a clean-up expedition to the Vermillion River watershed, with the help of those folks at FMR.

I find it comforting that so many groups in Minnesota are concerned about and working for the protection of so many waterways. When I didn't have the information that someone like Shannon was looking for, it's nice to know that someone at FMR, or the DNR, or Minnesota Waters, or C.R.O.W., or the St. Croix River Association... among all those authentic river stewards, someone will have the answers!

The letters you love to get

There are a number of reasons that I enjoy writing this little blog about river restoration. First, it helps me organize my thoughts... and leave a trail of bread crumbs over the path we've come. But no less important is the fact that people stumble across this blog from time to time, and either contribute or take away ideas... or simply share memories about how they've enjoyed the outdoors, or why river stewardship is important to them. Here's an example, which I received not long ago from Brian Finstad of Minneapolis:

Dear Mike,

I discovered your blog doing some Google searches to find out more about the Mississippi in Minneapolis. I have lived in Minneapolis four years now, and it seems that Minneapolis has a love affair with its water, but usually the focus is on the lakes. Although I love rivers, for some reason, I have had very little "connection" with the Mississippi in MPLS until this year. I myself grew up in Gordon, Wisconsin near the headwaters of the St. Croix. In my early memories, I remember my father pointing at the river in front of our house and telling me that water went "ALLLL THE WAY TO THE MISSISSIPPI" which in a child's mind was a place very distant and exotic. (LOL!)
Since I moved to MPLS, about once a year I would walk the Stone Arch Bridge. Then I spent an afternoon transfixed on the river from the Endless Bridge at the Guthrie. That made me "read up" on the fascinating history of St. Anthony Falls. From that point the river came more and more into my consciousness and I began to explore. Lakes are pretty, but rivers have movement and have more ties with history and travel - the imagination. Next I started walking up the river past the Post Office, under the Hennepin Bridge, and along the Rice Parkway. All very beautiful.
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised that there was so much nice area along the river front - but what I love more than anything is an underdog. I love the idea of taking something that is completely neglected, forgotten, or broken down, and turning it into something wonderful. What really excited me was when I discovered the area of river above Plymouth Avenue. Beautiful views of downtown. Some good stuff obviously happening there, but yet still an "undiscovered" treasure. I figured there must have been some planning process in place for the recent improvements that have taken place there. Some "Googling" brought me to the "Above the Falls" Master Plan. I fell in love. Transforming the neglected, abused, industrial river front somehow just sparks my imagination. And providing North Minneapolis, as equally neglected and abused as the River, with a water front to embrace, recreate, and enjoy. I think of the population that lives in a very short radius of this stretch of river and think of all of the human capacity to build a momentum behind this plan. And yet, it feels as if the "Above the Falls" plan, and that part of the river in general, is just for some reason outside of the consciousness of most Minneapolitans.
I know I am making a short story long, but other Google searches led me to read about your clean-up of this stretch of the river. I just wanted to thank you for being a force of good for this stretch of the Mississippi. It has captured my heart and I hope to make a regular practice of doing some clean up there myself. I took my nephew there tonight for a starter. Thank you for inspiring me!


Brian Finstad


Editor's note: I am reminded that conservation begins with appreciation. Those with an emotional or recreational attachment to a waterway... are the most likely to be her caretaker. Thanks for the kind words, Brian.


Good news from the good doctor

Two weeks and two days after surgery, I've been cleared for a few upcoming work-related travel assignments. And I've been told that I can get back into a kayak within the next two to three weeks (on the condition that I get help putting it on or taking it off the roof of the truck).

Sounds like my days of personally dragging safes, air conditioners or appliances out of the water are over. But that just means I'll have to refine the "recruitment" part of our GeoTrashing strategy. And it's a nice consolation that I'll be back on the water--and back to basic cleanups--within a few weeks. (Hopefully, before the cold weather sets in.)

Life is good.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Debris as artifact

Back in the middle of June, I took my first kayak run down the Crow River near St. Michael. By that time, I had engaged in an email exchange with a gentleman by the name of Curt Oien, who has many spent years, paddled many miles, and conducted many clean-ups on the Crow over the last seven years or so.

My run was quite simple, putting in near Berning’s Mill bridge, and paddling against the current until I made it a mile or two upstream.

Among the few debris items I found that day: A fragment from a pottery crock. This is the only piece of the crock I found… but it holds the number “2,” meaning that it held two gallons of either butter, lard, or other commodity. And beneath the numeral, the partial stamp of a red wing, indicating that it came from the Red Wing pottery company in Red Wing, Minnesota. (I found the photo of a full-sized Red Wing butter crock on e-Bay. You can enlarge either photo by simply clicking on the picture.)

Obviously, the fragment is worth nothing. But a Red Wing crock like this--if intact--can fetch hundreds of dollars to collectors. The Red Wing pottery company was a big business in the early years of Minnesota, and its products have avid fans to this day... my wife among them. (There is even a Red Wing Collector's Society.)

The crock chip supported Curt’s assertion that much of the debris in the Crow River was put there by early settlers and farmers… who often discarded items there, knowing the river would magically wash it all away. This was, of course, long before any environmental movement had taken hold, so there was no malicious intent to the practice. The earth was young, wide-open, and self-renewing, from their perspective. Resources were to be used… and it was better to place trash in the river that pollute the precious fields and farm land they had worked so hard to clear of trees. Again… all of this was more a reflection of environmental ignorance than apathy.

The find was a reminder that generations—indeed, ages—have lived and died along the banks of our waterways, drinking from the water, hunting among the wildlife that did the same, using the waterways for irrigation and agriculture... and disposing in the river those items that were no longer useful. Consider the full length of the north fork, south fork, and confluent Crow River... or the mighty Mississippi she spills into. From the headwaters at Itasca, to the Gulf of Mexico, how many cities, towns, farms and settlements have burdened the rivers with their debris during the period we would call, civilization?

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

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Saint Croix Six (plus one)

Here's the crew Alyssa assembled for a Labor Day weekend trash sweep on the St. Croix River. From left to right in the back row: Guy, Karen, Aaron, Alyssa, Amelia, and Jason. (Photos by Alyssa: Click on any picture to enlarge it.)

Front row: Bishop the beagle.

I admired the ingenuity of the group... like Guy, who brought along wire hangers to snag soda cans that were just out-of-reach.

In the end, the group gathered soda cans, water bottles, two diapers, a flip-flop, and other miscellaneous trash. But along the way, they were treated to some fun, some beautiful scenery, and some campfire memories at the end of their voyage. (Including the way Bishop hijacked Aaron's canoe chair.)

I enjoyed the idea that a group of young folks set-out to keep a clean-up going when I had to step out of our planned event last weekend. I hope they enjoy the memories of their day on the river... as much as I enjoy mine.


My theory was great, even if my execution (and lack of patience) was flawed

Two years ago now, I was putting the finishing touches on an approach to river cleaning that we now call “Geo-Trashing.” It’s a simple process: Since I could not carry heavy debris out of the river via kayak, I would capture digital photos of the debris, along with their GPS waypoint location, and create an inventory of large “trash targets” that need to be removed from the river (most specifically, the Mississippi River). After nearly two years of work, I was able to create a strong inventory of the dumped objects along a 9.7-mile stretch of the Mississippi.

The good news: Timothy Brown from the Minneapolis Parks and Rec department built our maps into a riverside re-development project, which could help remove those targets over the next three to five years. (Mission accomplished!)

The bad news: Patience is not my virtue. The idea behind Geo-Trashing is that, “If I couldn’t lift it, I would at least create a list of what needs to be removed, and then hope to recruit teams or community groups who could remove the debris.” That’s a great theory… but tired of waiting for those groups to appear and get involved, I started removing the junk myself. And that’s one significant reason (although there are others) that the tear in my stomach muscles went from simply “annoying,” to requiring surgical repair. In fact, I can think back to a single instance where things began to deteriorate: When I was attempting roll one of the emptied “safes” we had found up a rather steep riverbank/spillway. (I shot video of that project… and you can see what went wrong at about 2:45 into this clip.) At one point, the safe started to roll back on me… and it was all downhill after that.

I have a post-op appointment this week, in which I’ll hear about what I can or cannot do for the rest of this season. My surgery was on 8/24, and my goal was to be on a plane within a week (for work), on a stage within three weeks (again, for work), and on a kayak within four to five weeks. But I’ll only do that last one if it’s “Dr. approved.”

Geo-Trashing remains a great approach to helping solve water pollution, especially for those of us who are getting older, and would still like to make a contribution to the cause, even if we can’t be the ones to do the heavy-lifting. The practice could become even more relevant to me in the coming seasons, if I learn my physical abilities will be limited in any way, for risk of recurrence. But I’ll have to work on my discipline. Once you know where junk has been dumped in a waterway, it’s hard to not just jump into the process of getting it out of there. I should not be surprised that Mother Nature decided to intervene, teach me this lesson about self-discipline, and re-acquaint me with my limitations.

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

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Today, my thoughts (and my daughter) are on the St. Croix

For two years now, I’ve had great ambitions to create a larger-scale clean-up of the St. Croix River… that would be called “The Dash for Trash.” The original idea was to start small, with a group of committed river stewards, who would clean about an 18-miles stretch of the St. Croix River, starting at Interstate State Park near Taylors Falls, Minnesota, and flowing south to William O’Brien State Park. After we've studied the route and measured the effort and resources required, we would recruit a larger team... with perhaps dozens of people and canoes. However, last year this project became a casualty of the challenge and loss faced by our family, and this year, I had to call it off because I would be physically unable to do it.

Well, my daughter called last week with a suggestion. Alyssa, all along, has been one of the biggest fans of the Dash for Trash idea (she loves anything that sounds like a festival)! She had been speaking with a few of her friends and co-workers, and announced that they would like to go ahead with a St. Croix River clean-up, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. (The photo here is of Alyssa on the Mississippi; click on it to enlarge the photo.)

I got in touch with Amy Frischmon at Wild Mountain/Taylors Falls Canoe Rental, to see if she’d be interested in outfitting the group. (Amy had offered to be an outfitter for the original “Dash for Trash” idea.) She said she’d be pleased to provide the shuttle service, canoes, paddles and PFDs the group would need. Amy, I can’t thank you enough for your help. As I’ve said before, it is clear that you don’t just make your living in the beautiful St. Croix River Valley… you give life back to it, too.

So, today, my daughter is on the St. Croix River, soaking-up some sunshine and picking-up some trash. I’d really like to be along, paddling right there with them. But if that’s not in the cards, it’s really nice to see my daughter and her friends working on the water… and keeping it well.
© 2009 Mike D. Anderson, St. Michael, MN. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Our Pungo kayaks return to their source, eager to find their next adventure

Back in early August, when it was clear that my season of river work would end early, I decided that it would be prudent to turn-in the pair of kayaks that were on loan to us from Joe’s Sporting Goods in St. Paul. For those not familiar with this relationship, Joe Rauscher is the gentleman who got in touch with us back in early 2008… when KARE 11 first aired a story about our project. He also submitted our project to the publishers of Field & Stream, which led to our selection as Heroes of Conservation, as explained in the July, 2009 issue of their magazine.

Joe wanted to help us in our river clean-up work, and provided us with two “Wilderness Systems” kayaks (14-foot Pungo’s, to be precise). He recommended these particular kayaks for two very specific reasons. When I was working on the Mississippi, I would often find myself working with or against the current, near bridge trusses, spillways, piers or a wide variety barely-submerged hazards. The Pungos offered good primary stability (they didn’t tip easily side-to-side), their size offered additional stability (and great “trash” cargo space), and they skimmed across of the water very well, making them useful even in the shallows where most garbage was beached.

As much as I loved this great pair of kayaks, it made little sense to retain these boats when it was clear my next significant clean-ups would not happen until at least 2010. So I packed the two kayaks up and delivered them back to Joe’s. Certainly, it won’t be my last trip to the store! I’ve already purchased one other kayak from Joe’s Sporting Goods (and open-bow Mad River kayak/canoe hybrid), as well as the racks that hold my boats to the roof of my Xterra.

Every time I’ve been in touch with Joe or one of his staff, I’ve been rewarded with encouragement for our project (and some great tips that have helped me avoid mistakes in the field). I thought one more thank-you would be appropriate here. Joe, I appreciate everything you’ve done and continue to do to help keep our rivers, parks, trails, and other natural resources protected… for all of us to enjoy.

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