The Clean Sweep: "Island Life Near Waverly"

"Island Life Near Waverly" - Shift 4 of the Big Muddy Clean Sweep

Waverly Boat Ramp and Camps @ Baltimore and Hill's Island - Thursday, 9/2 - Wednesday, 9/8/2021

By Alyssa Thomas and Steve Schnarr


  • 9/2- Moved from Lexington to Waverly
  • 9/3-  Storm and water rising @ Baltimore Island (5 mi upstream from ramp), Doris cooked us food
  • 9/4- Cleanup @ Port of Waverly, Eileen and Barney bringing us dinner 
  • 9/5- Canoe cleanup/organization/take down camp to move to Hill’s Island
  • 9/6- Labor Day! Canoe pickup around island and scout/retrieval of big items and afternoon cleanup/relax! 
  • 9/7- watched at the edge of Hill’s Island to watch the pelicans sit on a shallow island between the dikes, sun was setting, beautiful sight!
  • 9/8- The Clean Sweep crew packed up and pulled the boats out of the river.

Shift Summary:

And onto the next! We moved on from our sandbar just downstream of the Lexington Riverfront Boat Ramp to Baltimore Island, which was 5 miles upstream from the Waverly boat ramp. When we arrived at Baltimore Island on Thursday afternoon (Sept. 2), we were greeted with a flock of pelicans heading to their winter home. On the corner of the island sat an eagle perched on a large log. The whole crew took these as a good sign that we were welcome here! The chute that create this island was completely dry. We could walk across on dry sand to the mainland, which is the massive Baltimore Bend Conservation Area. 

This was short-lived however. Not only was the river predicted to rise from a big batch of rain up in Nebraska, but we were expecting more rain locally and upstream in Kansas City. We had lucked out most of the trip with good weather, so honestly, the thought of some storms and the challenge of a rising river was welcomed with optimism and planning. We had a bit of rain and lightning Friday morning, giving us a chance to catch up on some computer work. During the morning, we suddenly realized that the chute behind us was now flowing. Now we were really on an island! As river projections kept creeping up, we had to move our whole camp higher up for the anticipated river levels. The crew also took turns throughout the night to check the boat fleet and camp as the river water raised. We called this our home from September 2- September 5.

That Friday morning (Sept. 3), a few of us crew members were hunkered down under the camp kitchen enjoying coffee when they saw a refrigerator floating by! Quickly-we grabbed our life jackets and hopped in a boat to chase down the fridge. We were so excited that we failed to change into our closed-toe shoes/boots! In spite of the spur of the moment and successful removal of the fridge, we do take our safety seriously. Check out our video of the moment on the Missouri River Relief Facebook page!

Once the rain officially stopped, we headed back upstream to snag some trash we'd passed by on our way to the island. We found a few spots, including a large trash trap that we decided was worth floating into and picking up as much as we could grab.. And guess what we found—dentures that included a couple of gold teeth! In total that day we hauled in 16 bags of trash. We are really figuring out how to maximize our efforts for the biggest return. The shift crew joined us and we headed back to the camp to eat a hearty dinner provided by Doris! We appreciate you, Doris!

Then we battened down the hatches for a pretty intense storm. Lightning gave us quite the show in the distance, followed by periods of torrential downpours of rain.

Cleanup at the Port of Waverly (9/4)

Waverly is a really cool historic town across the river from the larger town of Carrollton. Waverly is particularly known for its apple and peach orchards. The hills surrounding the town are full of fruit trees, just beginning to ripen.

We held a cleanup with a small batch of volunteers (including the Davenport family once again!). Luckily we had some extra crew folks show up since one of the local groups couldn't make it because they were sick. One of the groups was led by Klarissa Olvera, the newspaperwoman from the Santa Fe Times. The Times is Waverly's newspaper named for the Santa Fe trail that once ran through the area. In big cities, we often have journalists wearing high heels or $200 athletic shoes that can barely get in the boats. Not so in Waverly! Klarissa, her brother and her husband climbed right up on the driftwood piles and commenced to filling bags with trash.

A driftwood rackpile at Waverly. Banjo is doing recon. Photo by Steve Schnarr.

We were also joined by our old friend Robin Kaltoff, who was joined by his son Chris and two of his cousins. Robin is one of the admins for the Missouri River Paddlers Facebook group and is known as the Waverly area river angel for long distance paddlers headed down the Missouri River. He often picks up paddlers at the ramp and gives them a lift to his house for a home-cooked dinner, a shower and a real bed. He is also one of the main organizers for the ramp volunteers at Waverly during the MR340. He also runs a local Stream Team (La Saline #5114). He's pretty much the river dude in these parts.

There was a light rain all morning during during the cleanup - but with such a great batch of volunteers we barely noticed. After a rapid rise, the river was cresting during the cleanup, and a lot of the floating trash was accumulating in the eddies on the side of the river. Several crews spent a lot of their time working from boats picking up flotsam from the swirling eddies and trash traps. A super impressive haul for a relatively small batch of volunteers. Nice work y'all!

We returned to camp for a relaxing evening, visited by our friends Eileen and Barney Combs who brought handmade sandwiches. Perfect easy meal for a bunch of hungry river cleaners.

Island Hopping

The next day (9/5) opened with a sublime, foggy sunrise. While some folks packed up camp, Matt Britt and Carol Leigh Brack-Kaiser paddled the canoe downstream to a trash trap we'd been passing by all week. One of our boats headed downstream to fuel up and stage our equipment for the next several days. On the way back upstream to camp, we picked up Matt and Carol Leigh and their huge pile of trash. They were only able to clean up 1/3 of the area but it was an impressive haul none the less. We've gotten used to cleaning up what we can when we can with the resources we have on hand. We can't get it all but we work really hard to get all we can.

We loaded up our gear and headed downstream to Hills Island, 12 miles downstream of Waverly. This very wild spot has seen a lot of changes in recent years. It's part of the Big Muddy National Fish & Wildlife Refuge (Cranberry Bend Unit). It's an old island, with a nice mature cottonwood forest in the heart and a ring of sandbars all around. Several years ago, a second chute was added by the Corps of Engineers, creating an entire new island. During the flood of 2019, both of these channels eroded a lot, creating some very unique habitat - shallow, variable depths and speeds of water, a matrix of sand and forest.

A foggy sunrise at Baltimore Island on Baltimore Bend Conservation Area, Missouri River. Photo by Steve Schnarr.

A nearby levee, built right next to the riverbank just upstream of the island, was breached and has since been rebuilt right on the riverbank once again. Some of the levee district members blame the habitat project on the levee breach. Seems like it would be a great location for some hydrologists to do some modeling and see what the impacts of a habitat project and very narrow levee floodways like this would have on flood height.

After being squeezed by a rising river at our last camp, folks really decided to spread out on the huge sand bar at Hills Island. As the sun began to set that evening, painting the sky and water with fire, a massive pod of white pelicans cruised in above our heads. Their flight is so effortless, and choreographed so elegantly they barely made a sound as they flew by. Dave Owens counted about 115!

A pod of pelicans cruising over Hill's Island. Photo by David Owens.

We took a break in the morning for Labor Day (9/6), but everyone really wanted to get on the river and cleanup spots we saw on our way to the island. We piled in two boats and really hit a few coves really hard. One cove had a long row of wooden pilings (the original channelization structures) which had accumulated a pile of trash and driftwood. We got two boats working on this before we finished for the evening.

Message in a Bottle...from Friends!

It's always a treat to find a message in a bottle. To find a message from friends, that is really something! When Matt Britt was cleaning out a trash trap, he found this message in a glass bottle from some folks that have volunteered with Friends of the Kaw, an amazing organization that is celebrating their 30th year of creating change on the Kansas River.

The note read "Adrian & Tori dropped this bottle in the Kansas River at Lawrene on March 3, 2021. If you find it tet Adrian at (number). Let us know how far it went!"

The message included a phone number, so Alyssa texted them and got a reply!

Building Data on Missouri River Trash

On Tuesday (Sept. 7), the crew from Missouri River Bird Observatory arrived for their second day of brand auditing the trash collected on the Big Muddy Clean Sweep. They spent over 4 hours sorting through 12 huge bags of river trash meticulously tracking the origin and type of each trash fragment - to the best of their ability.

Missouri River Bird Observatory and Missouri Master Naturalists conducted a brand/type audit on trash we collected from the river near Waverly, MO. photo by Melanie Cheney.

Now MRBO has quite a data set to share with us and we can't wait to dig in deeper. Linked here is a brief presentation by MRBO's Dana Ripper with a discussion of the preliminary results of the brand audit. It's amazing data to have.


Plastics Break Free From Plastics Webinar


With one more day of cleanup and two more beautiful nights on Hills Island, we got ready to leave the river for a weeklong break. And in the middle of that break would be the Missouri River Relief 20th Anniversary Party at Cooper's Landing! Big Muddy Clean Sweep Second Reach will be kicking back into gear Thursday, Sept. 16.

Stretch Results:

  • Miles: mm 303 – mm 281 (17 miles)
  • Volunteers:
    • Shift crew: 18
    • 9/4 Volunteers: 14
  • Trash:
    • Bags: 85
    • Tires: 13
    • Refrigerators: 4
    • Other finds: 7 55-gal plastic barrels, 1 55-gal metal drum, 5 5-gal plastic buckets, 2 Washing Machines, 1 Water Heater tank, 1 large Propane Tank, kid’s mini jeep, turtle sandbox, car bumper, truck bed liner, 4 mineral buckets, 2 10-ft PVC pipes

Crew Highlight - Alyssa Thomas

Missouri River Relief lucked out when a friend recommended that Alyssa Thomas appy for our Americorps Stewardship position. Growing up in a military family, her childhood was spent in a huge variety of places, but she also has deep roots in Missouri. Her background is in biology and she had tons of diving and ocean experience. Now she's adding river experience. She works harder than anyone on the crew - always with a contagious smile and positive attitude. And she probably found the most valuable piece of trash so far on the Clean Sweep.... Photo by Kevin Tosie.

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