It all started in 1988, when a few forward-thinking anglers, fed up with unsightly trash disrupting their fishing in Roubidoux Creek, banded together to clean up the mess. Around that time, leaders in stream management envisioned a program that would involve citizens in river conservation.
In 1989, inspired by ideas shared at the first Rivers and Streams Conference, the Missouri Stream Team Program was born. The Roubidoux Fly Fishers (Stream Team 1) began as a group of local anglers holding small cleanups on their favorite fishing stream. By 1990, their cleanup event attracted 300 volunteers, including Governor John Ashcroft. More than 17 tons of trash was removed from the creek in a single day. Still active today, Stream Team 1 remains passionate about the unspoiled beauty of Roubidoux Creek.
Fast-forward 25 years. The Stream Team Program boasts several thousand active Teams, with approximately 81,000 citizens participating in a variety of stream conservation activities. There is something for everyone. Since 1989, Stream Teams have been an impassioned voice for the protection of streams that Missourians rely on for clean drinking water, quality fishing, and first-class recreational opportunities.
The three goals of the Stream Team Program are education, stewardship, and advocacy. Each Team puts a personal touch on achieving these goals through efforts in their own communities. The program provides supplies and technical assistance, and Stream Teams provide the rest. All that is needed to join is a sincere interest in conservation and willingness to contribute time for the betterment of Missouri’s streams. Volunteers of all ages and abilities come to the program from many backgrounds with one thing in common — a love of Missouri streams. The Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM) also sponsors the program, serving as a voice for citizen efforts in stream conservation.
Teams are resource stewards conducting many activities that benefit streams. Activities like monitoring water quality, planting streamside trees, removing invasive species, and stenciling storm drains provide lasting effects on streams. Litter pickups, however, are the most popular activity because of the instant gratification, the fact that anyone can participate, and it’s fun! There is something profoundly satisfying about sore muscles, dirty clothes, and piles of trash waiting to be hauled away, not to mention the camaraderie of a good barbecue and stories shared after a hard day’s work. In 2012 alone, more than 24,000 volunteers spent 136,518 hours removing more than 689 tons of trash from Missouri waterways.
Some Teams take litter personally. Armed with winches and heavy equipment, no tire is safe from “The Mighty 211” Stream Team. These dedicated volunteers have removed countless tires from Missouri streams, quite possibly in the hundreds of thousands! What drives this tire-hungry Team to scour the state for discarded rubber? Brian Waldrop, long-time Mighty 211 member and current Stream Team assistant in the St. Louis Region, offers some insight. “We have fun at it. Will you let the trash beat you, or will you conquer the trash? It is also a competitive game against other Teams. But, when we join forces with those other Teams, we are all on the same team.”
Some ambitious Teams combine learning opportunities and stewardship, organizing large community events aimed at bringing awareness to watershed issues. For example, the Mill Creek Watershed Coalition (Team 4510) held the very first Mill Creek BioBlitz and Cleanup in Newburg last year, attracting more than 100 volunteers and the partnership of numerous agencies and nongovernmental organizations. During this one-day event dedicated to a healthy Mill Creek watershed, tires, debris, and trash were collected and nearly 500 species of flora and fauna identified. Jim Marstiller, president of the coalition, summed up the experience as “living proof that there is no end to what can be accomplished when people work together toward a common goal and no one cares who gets the credit.”
In the St. Louis area, River des Peres Watershed Coalition (Team 3745) created the annual “Bike With Your Boots On” event, which brings conservation opportunities on urban streams to cycling enthusiasts. Participants make frequent stops to test water quality while biking along one of St. Louis’ many greenways. They also host the annual River des Peres Trash Bash, which mobilizes more than 250 volunteers at more than 38 sites in the watershed. “We have been able to reach out to people from all walks of life,” said Team member Danelle Haake, “and show them that there are streams in our urban places, and that these streams are able to support wildlife that rely on streams to survive.”
Missouri River Relief (Team 1875) has adopted the entire lower Missouri River, from St. Louis to Yankton, S.D., and continues to prove that no task is too large to conquer. With an army of volunteers and a fleet of boats, River Relief connects citizens to the river in unique ways. Not only have they removed more than 700 tons of trash from 863 miles of river since 2001, they have organized 30 educational festivals connecting more than 15,000 students and teachers to the Big Muddy. They have also taken on water quality monitoring and projects to improve river habitats.
River Relief Program Manager Steve Schnarr reflects on their successes and why there’s no slowing down for this crew. “It continues to grow because there is a need for this and people want to be involved. We try to help empower people and groups to develop their own local cleanups and activities and use our experience and connections to help them be successful. We can’t do it all, that’s for sure, but it’s important to keep it at a community scale and provide a way for people to connect to each other.”
More Than Removing Litter
Missouri is a national leader in volunteer stream stewardship efforts thanks to the creativity and determination of Stream Team members and strong agency support. While cleanups are a popular activity with volunteers, the Stream Team Program is about much more than just removing trash from streams. As the citizen movement to protect our streams picked up momentum, Stream Teams wanted to know more about the condition of their adopted waterways. In 1993, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) became a program sponsor to kick off the Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring portion of the program, enabling citizens to collect data that would provide critical information about stream conditions across the state. That first year, more than 200 volunteers were trained to collect biological, chemical, and physical monitoring data on their adopted streams. Today, nearly 6,000 citizens have attended a water quality monitoring workshop.
Water quality monitors are provided equipment to collect data that are used in a variety of ways by municipalities, agencies, and other organizations. Data collection ranges from backyard creek monitoring for educational purposes to long-term projects that support watershed management plans. Many teachers incorporate water quality monitoring as an important educational tool. Pat Brannock (Team 711) has taken Ash Grove High School students to Clear Creek in Greene County since 1997. “Students love to be outside and hands-on, and this program reinforces how important our water sources are in everyday life,” said Brannock.
Bob Steiert (Team 304) has faithfully monitored water chemistry on the Little Blue River in Kansas City for the past 20 years for a different reason. “My goal was to collect 15 years of continuous monthly sampling, which is needed to show if best management practices affect water quality,” Steiert said. “This is done now, but retirement allows me the luxury of extending the timeline.” While Steiert chose a more intense monitoring schedule to follow, all data provided by trained volunteers is valuable.
By 1995, many Stream Teams began to think big, and it was clear that they needed help tackling larger challenges. Enlisting talents of nearby Teams for bigger projects led to the creation of the first Stream Team Association, Scenic Rivers Stream Team Association (Team 674). Currently, there are 21 Stream Team Associations comprised of Stream Teams that work together for the benefit of their watersheds. Association activities vary broadly and can include educational watershed festivals, watershed management plans, or community rain garden projects.
Acting as a unified council of Stream Team Associations is the Missouri Stream Team Watershed Coalition (MSTWC). Founded in 1998, the watershed coalition is a not-for-profit organization made up of association representatives who strive to promote collaboration and communication, provide funding opportunities, and serve as an advocate for stream resources on behalf of Stream Teams. Recently, The coalition partnered with researchers from the University of Missouri to tackle the daunting task of organizing 17 years of volunteer biological and chemical data into two State of Missouri’s Streams reports. These reports enable the Program to share the results of volunteer monitoring efforts with the public and water quality volunteers. The coalition also assists Stream Teams with tire disposal through DNR’s Scrap Tire Program using the Chuck and Sharon Tryon Revolving Tire Fund, and allows associations to use their nonprofit status to receive donations and grants.
Stream Team volunteers are always hungry for a deeper understanding of stream resources that can help them to speak up for waterways and educate others. Stream Team staff look for ways to provide more technical information to Teams in a manner that is fun and hands-on. As a result, in 1997 the Stream Team Academy was established as “a university without walls” for Stream Team volunteers wanting to learn more about stream ecology and issues. The first academy workshop was Understanding Streams, a two-day watershed management course that included an educational float on a nearby stream. Since then, workshops have been added on many topics, including crayfish, mussels, aquatic insects, scientific drawing, invasive species, and more.
Several Stream Team Associations have also jumped in to organize academy workshops, including a GIS workshop hosted by Show-Me Clean Streams (Team 523), and a Plywood Canoe Building workshop provided by Scenic Rivers Stream Team Association. Stream Team Academy workshops are open to all Stream Team members and are held throughout the state.
As we look to the future, there is no doubt that Stream Teams will continue to find new ways to care for their adopted streams and make positive changes in their communities. Recently, rain barrel and rain garden projects to reduce stormwater runoff are becoming more popular, and Teams are finding creative ways to reach their peers and elected officials using social media. Stream Teams are proof that Missourians care about clean water and know their actions can improve their quality of life, even if they have to get a little muddy along the way.
As Governor Ashcroft said at the Roubidoux cleanup in 1990, “You’ll know you’ve succeeded when tens of thousands follow in your footsteps.” The Stream Team Program is a model of a successful stream conservation program that enhances the lives of Missouri citizens. Here’s to another 25 years of citizen-led education, stewardship, and advocacy for Missouri streams!
Visit mostreamteam.org to learn more about the Missouri Stream Team Program, and “Like” Missouri Stream Teams on Facebook at facebook.com/mostreamteams.