Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Cleaning up the Playground

Monday morning was pretty nice for fall in Minnesota, but there is colder weather and snow on the way so if there are places to clean up before winter it's kind of now or never.  There's a short path in the woods along the Mississippi River next to the James Rice playground and it was one of those places that still needed to be spruced up.  Monday morning it looked like this, like you would expect a wooded path in nature to look like in the fall. But it didn't look like that just last week.

A few weeks ago during an evening walk I noticed a tent had been set up along that path.  Now, the wooded trail is just below the regular paved walking path and in full view when the leaves are off the trees.  I made a mental note that there would be cleanup to do at some later date.  The person camping here was not there long.  A day or two at most.  Personally, I'm not opposed to camping in the park.  Just pick up your stuff when you leave.  But I get it, there are all sorts of issues related to affordable housing in the Twin Cities.

Possessions were covered but were they abandoned?   I waited a couple of weeks.  At what point do you start a cleanup?  It rained.

I was walking by one day and noticed someone kind of poking around in the stuff.  The bike and some other stuff disappeared.  More rain.

Time passes and nature takes it course turning the path into a dump.  A good wind will start blowing stuff into the river.  Ok, I think, I can start hauling some things out of here.  There's a variety of stuff; wet books, kid stuff, fabric scraps, clothes, rotting fruit, and all kinds of miscellaneous household items.

I called Park and Rec and asked that their maintenance crew come and haul it out.  Unfortunately it was one in the afternoon on Friday and their day was almost done.  Their crew starts at 5am and is done by 2pm.  I piled about half of the stuff into a more visible section of the park above.  I wondered what would people walking by think.  Would they just wonder about the trash itself or maybe think about the homeless who occasionally live in the park. 

So Monday morning I walked back up to the playground.  It was really rainy and windy Saturday.  I wondered what it looked like on Sunday morning.  Everything in the pile I created and what was left down by the river was gone.  I'm sure Park and Rec arrived early and hauled it out.  I picked up a few things that got missed; one metal curtain hook and one scrap of fabric.  I noticed one of the trash cans by the playground was filled with stuff.  I recognized a few things in there from the trash pile.  There was the pink handle of the umbrella I'd brought up.  I was both glad and sad to see it.  It's a waste of someone's personal possessions and yet I believe other park users probably pitched in to do some clean up over the weekend  before Park and Rec arrived.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

High Life

I was planting native plants with a volunteer work group of about 30 people a week or so ago at Mill Ruins Park along the Mississippi River.  As we were getting started one of the coordinators of the group asked if anyone knew what is the primary thing that pollutes the river.  I thought to myself that surely I must know the answer to this.  Pop quiz.  I hate pop quizzes.  A few of us shouted out answers.  My response was pet waste.  I knew it wasn't right when I said it.  Finally someone from the Dept of Natural Resources said stormwater runoff.  Ack! I know this.  Of course I know this. The term dumb bunny crept into my mind.  The reason we are replacing invasive species like crown vetch with native plants along the river is because those native species with their very deep root systems are better at filtering out pollutants from runoff.  At the end of our volunteer morning we emptied our purple plastic bags full of vetch into a compost area.  The coordinator used the word resource to refer to those plastic bags.  Why not use those bags again until they are unusable?  I was hoping that the group would also work on litter pick up but we didn't have time for that.

A few days later I was off to clean up some litter on my own with my new litter grabber that one of the Mill Ruin work group coordinators had given me.  I had been watching a number of homeless folks over the last month or so who had been living under the Hennepin Bridge.  I happened to be on the bike ramp looking over the railing at a pile of buttons in the weeds.  They were blue and green plastic buttons with a note that said 'butts for buttons".  I don't even know what that means and I'm afraid to google it.  My camera lens had broken and I was getting a grinding noise and blurry pictures so no photo to be had.  Just then a couple walked by and started heading for the homemade cardboard house up in the rafters of the bridge. They are not the first people I've notice temporarily living there over the last few years. The flat concrete area suitable for sleeping is about 25ft up a stone wall and I had been wondering how folks get up there.  I had convinced myself that they dropped down from above and swung around a wire grate, but no, I watched the couple quickly and athletically scale the wall.  When the guy noticed that I was watching he shouted out to me "the police know we're here and sometimes they bring us lunch".  I responded with something like "I'm just watching you climb that wall and am amazed at how you got yourself up there so fast.".  So a few comments back and forth and I told him if you see me around I'm just picking up litter around the river.  He said they try to clean up their litter.  That couple is gone now as is their cardboard house and I give them a B minus on their cleanup effort. I picked up a little trash under the bridge, not everything, but I wondered what happened to them.

Another couple of guys had been also living nearby under the same bridge but on a concrete slab right next to the bike/walking path.  Out in plain sight, horribly uncomfortable, an all around bad place to sleep at night.  Those folks are gone too.  Litter left behind. I am just the observer and cleanup crew, but D minus for you guys.  So I looked over the railing to see if the third camp right along the water was gone too.  Yes, gone and a big bag of litter was wedged into the rocks below. Good job just not finished. I hopped over the railing and dragged it up.  I spent about 1/2 an hour picking up stuff and left it all by the park and rec trash barrel.  There is more to do but instead I wanted to walk up river a bit.  I wondered what happened to everyone and then I got to thinking about something that I'd seen on Facebook from Samantha Pree, one of the candidates for city council.  Basically she wondered if police were evicting homeless from places that would be embarrassing to the city as we get ready to be hosts for the Super Bowl this winter.  But that seems like a long way off.  But maybe that is exactly what is happening.

Further up the river I returned to work in the woods next to the kid's area at the James Rice Playground.  This was my second time in the last month working that set of woods.  A rough estimate is that I found about 60 quart bottles of Miller High Life (they weren't all empty) and another 40 quart bottles of gin.  Most were under vines that I had to trample down to reach.  I was glad to have my new litter grabbler.  Resources, not just litter.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Ole Olsen Park Native Prairie Garden

If I ever look back on this particular blog I will remember it as a day when I felt I was in danger of losing my optimism about the world and this country in particular.  We've had a number of bad things happen.  There's the string of hurricanes (Harvey in Houston, Irma in Florida and the Caribbean, and Maria in Puerto Rico).  And then yesterday we had the mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas.  What's a person to do when you feel like things are crumbling around us.  Well, not to make light of it, but I did take a piece of chocolate cake out of the freezer.  Second, look for some positive stories in the areas that interest you.  Lastly, take a walk and don't give up on the idea that whatever small things we do in our community do make a difference.  So I walked about 2 miles upstream north of downtown Minneapolis to see what progress has been made on the prairie garden in Ole Olsen Park.

Folks volunteering with Friends of the Mississippi have been working the river banks in this area to create a native prairie garden.  The flowers and grasses provide bee, butterfly and bird habitat and reduce the amount of pollution going into the river.  It has been awhile since I've been up here and it seems like the project is pretty much finished.

So what did this area look like a couple of years ago and why is this better.  Most likely this area had quite a bit of crown vetch, an invasive pea family plant that has a pretty little pink flower on it.  The bees probably like it just fine. So why is that bad.  Well, apparently it crowds everything else out and has a short root system that does nothing to filter out pollutants heading for the river.  The Department of  Transportation brought it over from the other side of the world years ago thinking it was a good thing.  The variety of newly planted native species have deep root systems which are much better at helping to filter the pollutants in the water that head to the river from all our streets and non porous surfaces.  You know that river there is our drinking water.  I didn't bring a bag with me on this walk to pick up trash.  But on the way home I pulled some crown vetch and that made me feel more optimistic.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Feeling Lucky

I met this man today.  Albert from Fridley or "Lucky" as he said to call him.  A complete stranger and he was willing to wade out in the muck and haul in that tire that's been sitting at the entrance to Bassett Creek for as long as I have lived in downtown.  I didn't ask him directly to go get the tire, but I did put the thought in his head.  What happened was this.  I was on day four of picking up trash along the Mississippi River.  Lucky was quietly fishing when I snuck up on him with my trash bag. To backtrack a bit, I'd been working the beaches on both sides of Bassett Creek and further up river to the water ski area.  Yesterday, day three, I was here where Lucky is standing. I call this spot Fisherman's Point.

On day three, I filled those six Target bags twice over, depositing the junk in the Park and Rec barrel and heading back down the path to refill. What a mess.

That tire out there in the creek was bugging me, but seriously there was nothing I could do about it personally.  Today I was intending to hit another beach but thought I would just do one more sweep of this area.  That's when I met Lucky.  Fishermen are usually in their own quiet zone of contemplation and I apologize for butting into that moment.  We discovered we both had lived in the state of Mississippi years ago and I told him about the cleanup project that is taking place on the Pearl River that runs through Jackson.  Before I knew it he was offering to wade out there and get that tire and roll it up to the parking lot a few hundred feet away.  By the time we got up there he was a muddy mess but I wanted to shake his hand anyway.

We left the tire by Biff's house.  I called Park and Rec to tell them to come and get it.  I tried to move it a little for a better photo op, but couldn't budge it even just a smidge.  The rim was still on it and it was caked with mud.  Lucky and I parted ways.  He was headed back down to the river and I continued on to my next cleanup spot.  Park and Rec had that tire out of there an hour later.  It was definitely my lucky day.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Hiking the Mississippi River Gorge

The Mississippi River gorge is probably my favorite place to take a walk in the Twin Cities.  Located in the city, but definitely makes you feel that you are not in the city.  One goal I've had is to walk and explore both sides of the river from the Ford Parkway all the way into downtown Minneapolis. Roughly that is a 12 mile loop or so.  I may not have gone down every trail, but I've walked most of them now.

A couple of weeks ago I was hiking in some of the areas of the gorge that I had missed.  On the St. Paul side of the river near the University of St. Thomas is an area called Shadow Falls Park.  I had been wondering what was underneath the bridge that crosses East River Parkway.  I was there last summer at some point but didn't go down the path to see what was in the ravine.  I can check that off my things to do list now.  There was graffiti of course, and I liked the message here.  "Derive an understanding of our differences, don't surrender to the developing doom".

And I enjoyed this blobby little character too.  Perhaps it was painted by someone just finishing a science class on germs and diseases.

What I didn't expect to see was a grave marker a little further up the ravine away from the river.  There were a series of crosses so we followed them along the path.

There were five or six grave markers and my first thought was "this is weird", but walking up the ravine led us to this peaceful, beautiful little grotto.  If we had walked back down the ravine to the river, I think we would have come to the falls at Shadow Falls Park.  Instead we walked to the overlook where a guy in a Hawaiian shirt was serenading folks with his bag pipes.  A volunteer was collecting trash and I thanked him for his efforts.

There was some trash left over from a party that was too far down the cliff for either him or me to climb down and retrieve.

Across the river on the Minneapolis side, there were a bunch of canoes and folks enjoying the beach.  My guess is the canoes were from Wilderness Inquiry, a group that offers canoeing opportunities on the river.  I've been to that beach and generally people refer to it as the Lake Street Beach.  There were 4 or 5 people swimming and I always wonder about swimming and water quality issues here.  Eventually, I hope, we will improve the water quality on the river to the point that swimming here will be a more normal activity.

 A little further up river is another beach called White Sands Beach.  Now there is a spot I didn't know about and had not explored.

I walked back home and picked up bits of trash all the way to the U of M before hopping on the light rail for home.  I did not take that bridge girder with me.  Exhausted, but ready to find out about White Sands Beach on another day.  Although this article is 4 years old, it still perfectly describes the area here.  

 The article's author had his views on swimming in the river too. But that was in 2013.  "Not everyone in Minneapolis is a river beach person, though. River beaches are an oddball country cousin to the lake beaches. They're a little scrappier, a little less recreational, a little more hard-edged. For one, no one’s swimming. Almost everything about the Mississippi is too dangerous for swimming – if the currents don’t get you, the mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl will. The waterways along the stretch of the Mississippi River between St. Anthony Falls and the Ford Dam are generally considered “impaired.” It’s pretty common to see people recreationally fishing in the river, but it’s rare to see anyone splashing around."

A couple of days later I was on the other side of the river trying to figure out how to get down to White Sands Beach.  White sand and steep just like it looked from the St. Paul side of the river just days ago.

Someone had been picking up garbage but had not taken it back up top yet. The beach was reasonably clean but you can always find more stuff.

I picked up a bag or two and carried my haul back to a Park and Rec barrel before heading home.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Back to Work

Last night I was thinking about ending this blog.  You know, things get old and repetitive and you start wondering if you should find something else to entertain yourself with.  I hadn't been picking up trash on my designated mile along the Mississippi River in weeks.  So this morning I went up to have a look.  There was a guy with a guitar at First Bridge Beach to quietly serenade me while I picked up litter.  That was nice.  I found this little message on the sand.  Ok, things are starting out well.

This graffiti is new.  Should it stay or should it go?

 Grabbing clothes out of the water with a stick is always a fun activity.

I am always careful about picking up needles.  I put it in that bottle and capped it.  Should I do something else with it I wonder. You know that Whole Foods bag on the upper right of this picture says "Make your day a whole better".  Ok, I'm starting to feel like somebody's sending me a litter message.

A little further past First Bridge Beach was a patch of what I think is Yellow Loosestrife.  I will have to send a photo off to the Botanical Wanderings Facebook group to verify.  It may be an escapee from someone's garden.

 A little further down the path in the woods by James Rice Playground was a nest of Colt 45 cans.

But all in all it was a productive morning and a reminder that 3 weeks is way too long in between trash walks. Oh, and thanks for that little trashy heart. That was the last thing I picked up.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Two Days, Five Hours

Hello little piece of trash.  You made my day.  I was out picking up trash over the last several days.  Two days exactly and about five hours of work in total.  What can one person accomplish in that time?  Both days I walked the 1 mile West River Parkway route between Hennepin and Plymouth Bridges.

I barely got this sofa cushion stuffed in the park and rec trash barrel.  Onward to First Bridge Beach where a mom and her teenage son were camping.  I tried to pick up around their tent and be as quiet as I could, but you know I've got work to do and it's ten o'clock in the morning.  I should have recommended to them, if they have to sleep out another night, a place a little further up river that is more private with a water fountain and a bathroom.

On June 1st the City of Minneapolis was supposed to start a ban on plastic bags but at the last minute the state overruled it citing it would be problematic for the city to have different rules than the state.
 The city, by the way, has banned Styrofoam takeout containers and that seems to be working fine.  Anyway, I have mixed feelings about plastic bags because I do use the plastic bags I get at the downtown Target.  I figure that I use each Target bag 2 to 3 times when I am picking up trash before they just get too filthy.

So in five hours I can pick up about a dozen bags of trash.
Bassett Creek has really been stinky this week.  There were probably a dozen or so rotting fish, several other dead animals, and one old dried out muskrat carcass that was as hard as leather.  I was reading an article recently about fireworks disrupting fish and wildlife and it is that time of the year.  We do love our fireworks here.  But the fish are most likely Common Carp and unwanted by the fishermen who just caught them and they get left behind on the bank of the creek.  Like bait, I'm guessing the DNR would prefer that they go in the trash can.

This last month I have been following a facebook group called Take2Miss.  You might think that the name refers to the river, but it is actually the state of Mississippi and specifically a litter problem along the Pearl River.  Like our Mississippi River, the Pearl River is the water source for a part of their state and also empties into the Gulf of Mexico.  And they have a litter problem.  They are planning a large cleanup of all 444 miles of that river this coming September.  So let's see, people on both sides of the river, double that, can one person work all day, no, not likely.....do they need 800 people to truly clean it up?  That's a massive undertaking.  Do they have tires and other large items that will need to come out. More likely it will need to be a yearly project. The importance of this group and the photos of trash is that it documents what a shit show their natural spaces have become.  See for yourself. http://www.take2miss.com/take2miss.html

So good luck folks.  Wish I could join you down there in Mississippi this September.

Friday, June 23, 2017

26th Mississippi Riverboat Cleanup

Last week was the 26th annual Mississippi Riverboat Cleanup.  This was just my second year for this adventure.  I can't believe this Twin Cities group has been doing this for a quarter century.  There were 75 volunteers and we removed 1160 lbs of trash, 120 lbs of recycling and 11 tires.  When I looked at the dumpster with our trash, it seemed like it was far less of a haul than the previous year. So, I went back to last year's blog and found that we had removed 3.7 tons of trash.  I think there were over 40 tires pulled out last year.  Our boat cleanup crew cleaned up virtually the same spot as last year which included both sides of the river just north of the 494 bridge.  So maybe next year our Conservation Corps hosts will choose another site for us to work on. More details and photos about the event are on their website.

I sat on the back of the boat (ok, the stern) enjoying the trip down river while listening to one of the event's team members tell stories about the river over the loudspeaker.  The stories kind of drifted in and out of my consciousness while I watched eagles circling around over head.  One of those stories that caught my attention was of a train accident from 1912 along the river.  It was a foggy morning and the engineer didn't realize the swing bridge was open and off they went into the river with people and livestock headed to South St. Paul where the folks in town could hear the stricken cries of the animals.

Volunteers on the boat were divided up into 5 work groups.  This year I worked the shady side of the river instead of the steep rocky side.  Lesson learned last year.  Yes, our group hauled out that wooden pallet that got lodged on the tree stump.  Last year I didn't realize that there is a trash contest for most dangerous trash, oldest trash, weirdest trash, etc.  This year I knew to hang on to some bit of trash that might fit into one of those categories.  Last year I found a drug needle but just threw it into my bag not realizing that I might have a winner!  Not going to make that mistake again.

So this year I found that can of carburetor cleaner.  That can looked like it had been there awhile and had a hole worn through it so all the remaining contents of that gets into our drinking supply.  Nice.  I thought I was a shoo in until we heard that one of the cleanup teams on the rocky side had found a hand gun.  Well, there goes my entry for most dangerous thing found.  But....the police were called and it was handed over to them for obvious reasons.  So....if it's not on the boat it can't be entered into the contest.  Darn.  My carburetor cleaner took home the most dangerous win and I selected a nice beer mug as my prize!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Shipwreck at First Bridge Beach

It's going to be another hot day here and the storm from a couple of days ago took out our air conditioner.  So off for an early morning walk before it gets too muggy.  I spotted this little tableau at the beach at First Bridge Park near the Hennepin Avenue Bridge.  I always appreciate folks who leave a little scene like this for me to discover on one of my walks along the river.  There is a story here.  There was a man and a small child.  He didn't make it, but the mermaid took the child to the shore who raised it on sushi.  Many years later....

Further along the river at Middle Beach the storm created a big snag of tree trash mixed in with garbage.  The great thing is most of it is easily accessible from the shore.

I'm just going to spend twenty minutes here which is about what I can put in one big bag.

There is always some interesting stuff in the mix of trash.  Cute clog.  That's a handle from a water ski rope.  I'll be back up here next week.  Hope the mermaid is still there next time.