Columbia organization provides a connection to the Missouri River

Dec 2, 2014

River Relief crew members gather around a camp fire the evening before a river clean-up near Boonville in late September.
Credit Missouri River Relief

Some of the volunteers who work with a Columbia organization called Missouri River Relief refer to themselves in a manner that some might find interesting.

"We are kind of a tribe, 30-40 of us.  Crew," said Tim Nigh who is one of the founders of the organization. 

Nigh also said, "Learned to work well together.  We all know how to do every aspect of the organization and what we do.  And we always watch each others back.  And so it works out really, really well."  For 14 years River Relief has planned and coordinated clean-ups on the Missouri River mostly in this state.  On a clean-up day the River Relief veterans sometimes have to get a couple of hundred volunteers into boats and drop them off at selected points along a section of river where Nigh said they then spend part of a day removing trash from the river bank and surrounding area.  "The most gratifying thing about it is watching people who have never gone out on the river go out and they are a little tentative and scared at first.  And then, they come back  and they are just lit up.  They want to be out there all the time."

The program director for Missouri River Relief is Steve Schnarr.  He said people take part in a clean-up to pick-up trash. "In the meantime they are seeing a hawk fly above the forest, an owl roosting during the day.  They see strange bugs and spiders.  Kids really connect to that experience in a way that they wouldn't if you just said let's go on a nature walk. "

Schnarr hopes that experience will make them better stewards of the river.  Crew member John Brady of Rocheport has been with River Relief since the beginning and said that's what it's all about.  "Well, we realized after about three years of doing it that our product was not the trash.  That what our mission was, and it is our stated mission now, is to connect people to the river.  To take people out on the Missouri River and show them the resource we have here."

A couple of months back, on an evening before a clean-up on a stretch of river near Boonville, some of the River Relief crew set-up a campground near where all the action would begin the next day.  As 70s era rock music played on a boom box, Steve Schnarr talked on his cell phone and worked-out last minute details with a businessman.  Schnarr wanted to make sure the trash got hauled away when the clean-up was over.  Meanwhile, Tim Nigh walked through the camp ground looking to help out in some way with last minute preparations. "Bunch of river rats getting together trying to do the right thing," said Nigh.

Many of the River Relief crew had pitched tents.  There was a camp fire and dinner was being prepared in an open-air kitchen.  One crew member put catfish filets into a pot of hot cooking oil while Gale Johnson cut up watermelon.  She said she will also help out with the next days clean-up.  "First of all, it's really fun for your family to do activities outside.  And then if it's sustained within the family that's the way that child is going to learn.  And he or she will behave the same way.  So you are planting tiny little seeds every event that we do."