Streams are the lifeblood of Missouri landscapes and communities. They are a source of recreation; they hold memories of events with family and friends; and often, towns and livelihoods are built around them. Many of us have streams that are near and dear to our hearts.
Since 1989, Missourians have been signing on to improve and protect our streams. Teams of individuals, families, friends, clubs, scouts, school groups and kindred spirits were created, and people from different backgrounds got the chance to learn about streams, become stewards, and speak out on behalf of the Stream Team program.
With 3,000 Teams on board, an estimated 60,000 members are working to improve our streams. An average of 200 Teams have registered each year since the program began. This was accomplished with very little recruitment effort and reveals how much Missourians care about their stream resources. From the largest rivers in the state to the smallest backyard tributaries, groups have adopted nearly 15,000 miles of flowing water.
As the program has grown, so have the Teams’ projects. It is not uncommon for stream cleanups to involve hundreds of citizens removing many tons of trash in a day’s time. In 2004 alone, 13,500 volunteers removed over 650 tons of trash from Missouri streams! They also planted over 7,000 trees and made over 1,300 trips to their adopted sites to monitor water quality. Stream Team volunteers aren’t satisfied with the ordinary—they aim for extraordinary accomplishments with each outing.
Stream Team projects are chosen according to each Team’s interests and local needs. Some pick up trash, plant trees or stencil storm drains, while others monitor water quality or help educate their community. The level of involvement depends on the amount of time the volunteers have to commit and how deep they want to dig in. The Teams call the shots, but biologists trained in stream management and water quality are available to provide guidance and answer questions.
The program is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Conservation Federation of Missouri. These three groups provide different strengths, resources and areas of expertise to volunteers.
Missouri leads the nation in volunteer stream organizations. Each year, other states seek guidance as they establish their own unique stream adoption programs. We share our experiences and materials with these groups so that no one has to “reinvent the wheel.”
Stream Teams are not limited in the types of projects they tackle. Program sponsors make it a priority to continually add new activity choices. The volunteers’ interests guide many of these activities. Water quality monitoring is a great example.
In the program’s early days, volunteers were clamoring to do more than pick up trash and write letters to their local officials. They wanted to take an active role in monitoring the stream miles they adopted. In 1993, water quality monitoring was added with supporting workshops, equipment and expertise.
Other activities that have been added include storm drain stenciling, adopt-an-access, photo point monitoring (using photographs to monitor and compare area conditions) and mentoring. Whether you like to get your hands dirty or not, there is something for everyone.
Stream Team volunteers have a variety of technical resources at their fingertips. The Stream Team Academy is the program’s “university without walls” and offers continuing education on natural resources. Workshops have been held on understanding streams, fish identification, crayfish, herpetology, mussels, hellbenders, tree planting and groundwater.
Our bimonthly newsletter, Channels, is full of information for and about Stream Teams. Occasional fact sheets are included that give background and information on stream-related topics. These resources make it possible for Stream Team volunteers to couple technical information with their passion for stream improvement and protection.
It’s not uncommon for these informed and educated Stream Team volunteers to become an integral part of the decision-making process in their watershed or community. They serve on task forces and boards, and they testify at hearings and council meetings. We can all be proud of the work they’re doing in the name of our stream resources.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Networking is one of the greatest strengths of the Stream Team program.
Through our workshops and special events, members have the opportunity to connect with other groups in their watershed. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that by working together, goals that once seemed lofty now seem within range.
When Teams really get serious about joining forces, they form Stream Team Associations. Several successful Associations exist throughout the state. Some apply for not-for-profit status, making them eligible for grants and special funding. When two Teams put their heads together, they usually find that they have complementing specialties. Stream Team Associations are one of the best ways to make Stream Team dreams a reality.
Stream Teams never stop looking for new opportunities and even greater challenges. Perhaps this is what led them to develop the Missouri Watershed Coalition (MWC). The MWC is a statewide group made up of representatives from Associations. Although they are a newly formed group, their hope is to help oversee the Stream Team program and offer one-on-one advice and services to Teams and newly forming Associations. The volunteers who make up the MWC have years of experience and are poised to use what they’ve learned from their own mistakes and successes to help new members.
Stream Team began because a few individuals had a vision: clean, healthy streams we can all enjoy. It has been successful because of the many people who have signed on to share both the vision and the work needed to make it reality. It may take us awhile to get there, but Stream Teams are a tenacious lot. They’ll stick to the task until it’s accomplished. As we now look beyond 3,000 Teams, there may be no limit to what they can achieve.
If you’d like to start a Stream Team or get involved in similar efforts in your area, contact a Stream Team biologist at (800) 781-1989 or www.mostreamteam.org.
Volunteers Reclaim and Improve a Kansas City Stream
Sixteen years ago, a group of volunteers set out to clean up a small section of the Blue River near Lakeside Nature Center in Kansas City’s Swope Park. This group, which formed Stream Team 175, started Project Blue River Rescue (PBRR). The project involves over 500 citizens annually.
The Blue River flows northeasterly through Kansas City for 41 miles. The watershed, or land area draining into the river, is 270 square miles and is home to 583,000 people. This area covers parts of two states (Kansas and Missouri), three counties, 12 local governments and 10 school districts. “The Blue” (as it’s called by locals), its tributary streams and corridors provide valuable resources and habitats in the midst of the city.
Water quality in Blue River watershed streams is degraded by point and non-point pollution sources. Point sources are those that enter the stream at a specific point, such as from a pipe or inflow. Non-point pollution includes runoff from land-based sources such as streets and parking lots. Soil is one of the biggest non-point pollution sources throughout the state, especially in developing urban areas.
Perhaps the most unsightly problem for the Blue has been solid waste dumping. Some out-of-the-way areas become known as easy-access dumpsites. Other sources of trash include roadside litter that washes into streams via streets and storm drains or improper disposal by nearby residents or business owners.
Over the years, Stream Team 175 has removed more than 1,200 tons of trash from the banks, corridors and surrounding watershed of this urban river. Volunteers have worked to clean up dumpsites and raise awareness and enforcement so future dumping does not occur. Some areas now have surveillance to catch local dumpers.
PBRR volunteers have improved habitats by planting more than 35,000 trees to stabilize eroding stream-banks. The group also monitors water quality and leads monitoring demonstrations during the annual cleanup.
In 2005, PBRR celebrated its 15th year. Nineteen cleanup sites, including 24 sections on a 20-mile stretch of river, were tackled, including dumps at Byram’s Ford, a local historic Civil War battlefield. In addition, volunteers from Missouri River Relief, Inc. (Stream Team 1,875) partnered to clean up the confluence of the Blue and Missouri Rivers. More than 800 volunteers participated in removing more than 200 tons of trash, 14 cars and 1,200 tires.
If you attend Blue River Rescue, you’ll begin your day at Lakeside Nature Center on Gregory Boulevard. Volunteers sign in, enjoy breakfast and divide into groups according to their abilities and interests. Participants spend the morning at their sites and then lunch is provided at Lakeside. Those who have steam left go back out after lunch to put finishing touches on their sites.
PBRR has become a Kansas City springtime tradition. It is held on the first Saturday in April every year. If you’d like to get involved, join us at Lakeside Nature Center on Saturday, April 1.
Editor in Chief - Ara Clark
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