PLEASE REMOVE YOUR LITTER – Mighty Quapaw Mississippi River Flood 2011 Cleanup Aftermath

Bringing in trash by Stand Up Paddleboard. Montezuma Landing

Bringing in trash by Stand Up Paddleboard. Montezuma Landing

By DRIFTWOOD JOHNNIE ( aka John Ruskey )

I have been thinking about the question — Why Clean Up?  I must admit I have been dismissive of the cleanup trend sweeping the Lower Mississippi, thinking I would rather appreciate and share the beauty of the world than clean up after the slobs upstream whose neglect has messed up the beauty.  But after getting my hands dirty for the past six weeks I am realizing there is a renewed physical connection to the river and it’s landscape in removing trash.  And maybe even a possible spiritual rejuvenation? It has definitely led to a feeling of responsibility and ownership that I and the Quapaws hadn’t felt before.

I surprised myself last week when I noticed a trio of fishermen carelessly letting their beer cans float away and tossing them on the beach we had just cleaned up at Montezuma Landing.  Instead of ignoring them like I usually do, I  walked up to them and pointed out the fact that their beer cans were floating away.  “You want me to retrieve them for you?”  There was a stunned silence.  Some palpable hostility could be felt in the air.  My daughter Emma Lou was waiting for me in the jeep.  Then one of them broke the silence and stammered out, “We…  We’ll pick them up before we leave…”  That was good enough for me.

ISLAND 67 ADOPTED BY THE MIGHTY QUAPAWS – Cleanup following Mississippi River Flood of 2011

At Island 67 we began to notice a pattern emerging from this flood–the highest water since 1937.  We are seeing a lot of trash hanging in trees, in places the water hasn’t been in over 70 years.  The tops of the sandbars are mostly sparkling clean and relaid with beautiful mounds of sugary white sand heaped so high they are overflowing the bluffs into the low places, almost completely free of trash or driftwood.

As found at all water levels the lower woods are full of the usual junk that has been caught by the trees which act like a filtering system catching all of the stuff floating in the water.  The big difference is found in the tops of the willow trees & cottonwoods which are prevalent on all the islands, the best camping places, and the places you want to go for privacy, for finding firewood, for birding and for a little shelter from the sun.

These willow and cottonwood trees have not had water flowing through them in 74 years; because of the flood, they have caught all the plastic bags, strips of rubber, rope pieces, trash bags, oil rags, and anything else that is found floating on the river surface, from diapers to tampons, from bits of industrial foam to clumps of industrial plastic to strange globs of protoplasm of unknown construction & substance.

We will have to exercise caution in handling these questionable materials.  We will note location and report these to the US Coast Guard and Miss DEQ or Arkansas DEQ.

John Ruskey is a regular Guest Bohemian columnist on The Delta Bohemian. John owns Quapaw Canoe Company and is THE MAN on The Mighty Mississippi River. VIsit John’s website and learn how you can experience the Mississippi River with your friends and family in a way that will leave a life long impression on your hearts. Knowing John and the river will be worth your time; you’ll be glad you did.

Driftwood Johnnie himself (aka John Ruskey) taking a dip in his beloved Mississippi River. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Driftwood Johnnie himself (aka John Ruskey) taking a dip in his beloved Mississippi River. Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Full Dewberry Moon -- colors are at their brightest at the crest -- nothing but the pure colors of the sky, the forest, the river, no mud or trash showing anywhere. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

Full Dewberry Moon — colors are at their brightest at the crest — nothing but the pure colors of the sky, the forest, the river, no mud or trash showing anywhere. Photo by Delta Bohemian John Ruskey

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