Twenty years ago, it started as an idea, and became a community. Nobody knew at that time what Missouri River Relief (MRR) would become, but they already knew it would be more than one cleanup effort. Since then, the organization has accomplished much. There are stories about how no one used the river; now MRR has watched appreciatively as a steady flow of people and boats and are spending more time along the banks and on the water, loving their waterway.
The organization began by organizing the first Missouri River cleanup, held in partnership with Chad Pregracke of Living Lands and Waters. Pregracke brought his towboat and barge upstream on the Missouri for the first time, 169 miles upstream to Easley, Missouri, for a massive one-day cleanup on October 6, 2001.
This cleanup attracted over 400 volunteers working by boat and on land with a long list of partners such as the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Missouri River Communities Network and many more. Many of those volunteers and partners continue to help the mission of MMR today.
For 20 years now, Missouri River Relief’s mission has been to connect people to this often overlooked and under-utilized majestic river. MRR was founded in early 2001 to engage individuals and communities along the Missouri River in the exploration, enjoyment, restoration and care of the river through education, stewardship and recreation.
Since the first cleanup in 2001, MRR has conducted 200 community-based cleanups, enlisting the help of nearly 30,000 volunteers to clean up 1,000 tons of trash from the banks of 1,500 miles of river. MRR education programs have brought 30,000 students and teachers into a closer relationship with the longest river in North America.
To commemorate 20 years of this work, MRR launched and is in the midst of two-month long rolling cleanup program called the “Big Muddy Clean Sweep,” covering nearly 200 miles of the river from Kansas City to Cooper’s Landing near Columbia, Missouri.
A team of experienced boat operators and volunteer crew are traveling downstream, targeting areas of high-density trash for proper removal and disposal until reaching our final destination at Cooper’s Landing in October. The organization plans to work with hundreds of volunteers, removing tons of trash from the riverbanks and floodplain.
This stretch of river is remote, but is no stranger to the trash and waste from upstream cities and farmland. Many of these areas have never been cleaned before. Downstream of Kansas City, they bear the brunt of pollution floating down the river, from waste tires and appliances, to countless pieces of plastic and styrofoam washed from the streets of upstream cities and towns. Forty-three percent of Missourians receive their drinking water from the Missouri River. By educating and leading by example, MRR aims to make this a healthier resource for everyone.
During the Big Muddy Clean Sweep, MRR is relying on existing equipment and an extensive network of community partners and volunteers to ensure the success of the effort. The Clean Sweep crew is traveling downstream with three aluminum-plate boats and hauling vehicles. The boats have several purposes including support vessels, volunteer transport and trash hauling. Vehicles are following the boats to each boat ramp along the way, ready to pull full boats out of the water to dispose of the trash at rented, on-site dumpsters.
In addition to working many days at remote locations along the Missouri River, the organization is hosting community-based volunteer events in cities and towns along the way. Below are the dates and locations of those community-based cleanups. Many of the slots are already full and registration at firstname.lastname@example.org is required to participate.
- August 21 – Kansas City, MO (Riverfront Park)
- August 23-24 – Kansas City, MO (LaBenite Park)
- August 28 – Sibley & Napoleon, MO
- September 1 – Lexington, MO
- September 4 – Waverly, MO
- September 18 – Miami, MO
- September 25 – Glasgow, MO (Stump Island Park)
- September 27-29 – Lisbon Bottoms & Jameson Island
- October 9 – Boonville (Franklin Island Conservation Area)
- October 11-12 – Rocheport, MO
- October 15 – Cooper’s Landing, Columbia, MO
The Big Muddy Clean Sweep is sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, Veterans United Foundation, Spire Energy, WestRock Foundation, Missouri Department of Conservation, Mid-Missouri Solid Waste Management District and AGRIServices of Brunswick.
20th Anniversary Celebration
On Tuesday, September 14, the organization will host a 20th Anniversary Celebration at Cooper’s Landing from 5:30 p.m. until the sun goes down. There will be music by The Blue Stooges and Naked Dave, with a short reflections program in between. The Clean Sweep crew will be on a much-needed break, enjoying stories, boat rides and camaraderie with this river community that has blossomed in the past two decades.
MRR is following local health department guidelines closely when it comes to in-person gatherings. It is important that community members do everything possible to protect themselves and each other, regardless of vaccination status. The organization strongly recommends wearing a mask when gathering close to others outside of your household.
What: 20th Anniversary Celebration
Date: Tuesday, September 14
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Cooper’s Landing
Event Webpage: riverrelief.org/mrr-20-anniversary/
What: Big Muddy Clean Sweep
Date: August 21, 2021 – Oct. 15, 2021
Location: Missouri River Cleanup in Kansas City, Sugar Creek, Sibley, Lexington, Waverly, Miami, Brunswick, Glasgow, Arrow Rock, Boonville, Rocheport, Columbia and all the spots in between
Event Webpage: bit.ly/clean-sweep-2021