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Volunteers pick up trash from St. Charles County waterways
St. Charles County
STREAMS

Volunteers pick up trash from St. Charles County waterways

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A few treasures could be found among the crushed paper cups, moldy fliers and wet fast-food wrappers picked up by volunteers Saturday during the Missouri Clean Stream cleanup.

Jeanette Hamilton of Wentzville showed a $20 bill she found while she and her son, Nathan, picked up trash along an unnamed creek behind the Dierbergs store off Wentzville Parkway.

But for Hamilton and other volunteers, the day was more about tidying up than finding things.

This is the second year Hamilton and her son participated in the annual cleanup. They weren't with a Scout troop or company performing a service project. “We just do it to help out the community,” she said.

That goal motivated small armies of St. Charles County residents to pick up trash from creeks in several communities and from the Missouri River.

The Greenway Network Inc., an environmental organization, coordinated the event, cosponsored by such organizations as the St. Charles County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Missouri Department of Conservation through its Stream Team program, and the General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville.

GM hosted an Earth Day festival on its parking lot, which served as a jumping-off point for Wentzville and Lake Saint Louis volunteers heading out for several hours of work before returning for lunch. Festival-goers could sample ice creams made from nitrogen, watch Stream Trash Art sculptors create works of art using scrap metal and trash pulled from local streams, and buy specialty items from vendors.

Jamie Paige, Wentzville's storm water management coordinator, said she expected about 200 volunteers at her location alone.

Volunteers were given trash bags, gloves, maps, a safety lecture (don't pick up broken glass and syringes, for example) and told to wear boots and heavy pants. They were sent to six Wentzville and Lake Saint Louis locations, ranging from well-known places along Peruque Creek to small tributary streams near residential and shopping areas.

Even though St. Charles County has become increasingly urbanized, Paige said, water quality tests in many of the creeks show they remain relatively clean, particularly if they have a riparian zone or buffer with trees and little development along their course. But they can become magnets for litter and debris, much of it from storm water runoff, unsecured trash containers and litterbugs.

The cleanup has been taking place for 11 years and can draw as many as 1,300 local volunteers, said Larry Ruff, treasurer and a volunteer coordinator for Greenway Network. Ruff said the network started out by enlisting support from cities that publicized the event.

The event struck a chord with many residents. “A lot of people moved out here, they wanted to be out of the city and into a more rural-looking area. Part of that is living close to a stream,” Ruff said.

“One of the problems we had was developers developed too close to a stream, and that caused problems. I think at the same time, people were looking at these little tributary streams and they were wanting to see them clean.”

Ruff said the result has been a cleanup event that continues to grow. Since 1996, 30,013 volunteers have devoted 141,428 hours to the cleanup, collecting 1,088 tons of trash that can clog drainage areas, he said.

Volunteers said they were ready to get their feet — and perhaps much of the rest of their bodies — wet and probably muddy.

Tony Glass of Wentzville was at the GM plant to pick up bags and gloves and get directions. “We are trashing this world at a record pace,” Glass said. “It's good to clean up to keep our waterways clean for future generations.”

Glass was among the adults accompanying 10 Girl Scouts assigned to pick up trash from a small feeder creek behind Dierbergs. “It shows them the value of keeping everything clean and not leaving a footprint where they go,” he said.

Scott Draper was in a group of eight Walgreens employees picking up trash behind Dierbergs. “We're just trying to help the community,” he said.

The work can be painful. Eight-year-old Ian Norris of Cub Scout Troop 854 fell victim to a thorn bush that grabbed his leg, penetrating his jeans as he filled a trash bag along a small creek behind Taco Bell off West Pearce Boulevard in Wentzville.

“He's all freaked out because of the thorns,” his mother, Andrea, said as she applied a Band-Aid to his leg. “Earlier, he was saying he really liked this because it was like being out in the forest. Next year, we know now to wear the thickest jeans and our heaviest gloves.”

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