A Mandate to Save the Meramec
It was July 4, 1974, Independence Day, but the memory is as clear as though it happened yesterday. The prow of our canoe had hardly touched the gravel when my canoe partner jumped out, planted her feet solidly on the gravel bar, put her hands on her hips, turned to face me, and with trembling lips declared, "Daddy, you've got to do something!"
This passionate mandate was issued by my young daughter, JJ. The scene was the end of a memorable family float trip on part of the Upper Meramec River, a river apparently doomed to be dammed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I was floating the river that day because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Missouri Department of Conservation had decided to "reinvestigate" the impacts of the proposed dam on this particular stretch of the river. I was the MDC employee assigned to assist with this effort.
As we meandered downstream, I pointed out proposed reservoir levels, as well as what would be lost. Lost bluffs, lost riffles, lost overhanging branches, lost gravel bars, lost places to seine for fish. We would be losing a river, a legacy and a way of life. These were changes JJ and Jeff could comprehend.
My son, Jeff, and JJ grew quieter as we pulled out at the site of the soon-to-be-constructed dam. Surveyors' ribbons festooned nearby trees. A cleared path ran perpendicular to the river up the bluffs on both sides, creating a scar marking where the centerline of the dam would be.
Sensing a loss too profound for words, my daughter turned to the adult in her life who was supposed to make everything better and defiantly demanded that I right this wrong. My mission on this project immediately took on a very personal bent.
JJ is now a grown woman with a remarkable conservation career of her own. I'm not sure she recalls that particular float trip or the challenge she hurled at me that day. She will never know the heaviness in my heart as we left the river. I knew that the beauty and soul-refreshing experience my family enjoyed on the Meramec that day was worth its weight in gold. Quantifying that experience into data meaningful to others was to be an all-consuming challenge for the next six years.
To the newest generation of conservation workers, it is worth noting that those were opportune years