While I’ve always made it a habit to pick up any litter I find around my neighborhood, I’d never participated in a cleanup event before. So, when my Great Rivers Greenway coworkers put out a call for Confluence Trash Bash volunteers, I decided to give it a go. That’s how I found myself at the 10th annual cleanup on a chilly Saturday morning last March. While the air was damp and cold, the hot cocoa and enthusiastic volunteers made for a warm welcome.

The goal of the annual event is to improve the condition of the waterways surrounding the Confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Volunteers had their choice of seven check-in locations scattered across North St. Louis County. At each check-in, volunteers were placed into smaller groups and assigned to one of many cleanup sites within the Confluence area.

My coworkers Sarah Olmstead and Elizabeth Simons and I reported for duty at the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area for instructions, supplies and a free bagel breakfast. When we arrived, I was impressed by not only the number of volunteers, but also the age range. There were about 100 people at this site, extending from grade-school kids, to college students, to senior citizens.

I signed a safety waiver and was given some gloves and trash bags. The site leader gave everyone a detailed safety speech and demonstrated the arm-waving-Trash-Bash-distress-signal. We were told to use this in the event of an injury, such as a twisted ankle, or the discovery of a large or potentially hazardous item. The site leader also reminded everyone to wear gloves at all times and to be careful when picking up glass. (For the record, no distress signals were needed that day!)

My colleague Sarah was the crew leader for Trash Bash “Team 4,” so I jumped in her truck and we headed over to our assigned cleanup site along Riverview Boulevard near the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Our goal was to pick up trash along the road and the Mississippi Greenway. Removing the trash would obviously make the area look better, but more importantly, it would keep it from finding its way into the Mississippi River.

It was upsetting to see so much trash in just a half-mile stretch of road. We picked up a least 100 plastic bottles, along with pounds of broken glass. All this debris is unsightly and hazardous to people and animals, whether it is on land or in the water. You’ve probably seen photos of animals harmed by plastic straws and six-pack rings or birds bound up in discarded fishing line. Heartbreaking images like those gave us all a sense of urgency to clean up as much as we could.

Many hands made light work, and Team 4 removed two full truckloads of trash in just three hours. During the cleanup, I found a plastic tiara and dubbed myself the “Queen of Clean” — well, at least of Team 4.

In addition to feeling good about all the trash and debris removed, the unexpected highlight of the day for me was all the great people I met. It was really energizing to work side-by-side with folks who were willing to donate their time and get a little muddy to improve water quality and wildlife habitat. While I wish there was no need for trash cleanups, the truth is volunteers are always needed. There are plenty of opportunities to pitch in across our region, and I encourage everyone to give it try.

In fact, my son Ryan and I already have Operation Clean Stream 2018 on our calendar for August 25-26. It will take place at various locations throughout the Meramec Watershed. Hope to see you there!


Trash Bash by the Numbers
Volunteers: 401
Tons of Trash Removed: 14.74
Number of Tires Removed: 374
Square Yards of Honeysuckle Removed: 186
Storm Drain Inlets Marked: 70
Sponsors: Great Rivers Greenway, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District and Missouri American Water.
Other Partners: St. Louis Audubon, Greenway Network, League of Watershed Guardians, St. Louis Brightside, St. Louis County, Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri Stream Team. Participating municipalities include St. Louis County and the cities of St. Louis, Maryland Heights, Creve Coeur, Florissant, Bridgeton, Overland, Hanley Hills, Bellefontaine Neighbors, Jennings, Normandy, Black Jack, Hazelwood, Breckenridge Hills, Chesterfield and Ballwin.

Author: Tiffany Clinton is the administrative assistant at Great Rivers Greenway. She loves to explore the greenways and live life outside with her son Ryan.