Groups target trash on the Missouri River

2010-08-12T02:00:00Z 2011-08-31T14:35:03Z Groups target trash on the Missouri RiverBy BRIAN GEHRING Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune
August 12, 2010 2:00 am  • 

You might see them Saturday, if you happen to be playing on the stretch of the Missouri River between Bismarck and Mandan.

Their tan shirts with colorful badges are sewn on; some wear a kerchief around the neck as part of their uniform.

They will be the ones with the large, white trash bags picking up the garbage others have left behind on the shorelines and sandbars of the river.

The Missouri River truly is a gem, but some worry it won’t be that way for much longer.

Older-timers will tell you they remember when, not that long ago, they could spend the day fishing the river and scarcely see another boat.

But times have changed.

With new marinas popping up as development continues up and down the river, comes increased traffic.

And with more people come more problems.

At 63, Sam McQuade Jr. is not exactly an “old-timer,” but he remembers when folks around here respected — almost feared — the Missouri River.

A few years ago, after a Fourth of July holiday, McQuade said the litter and fireworks debris on some of the sandbars was so thick he could hardly walk across the sand.

There were other areas along the river from Christmas Tree Island to the “Desert” where people left trash strewn along the water’s edge.

So a few people formed an ad-hock group with the intention of, at the very least, creating awareness of the problem.

One of the allies the group aligned itself with was Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, chairman of the House Natural Resource Committee.

Porter introduced legislation setting aside $200,000 over two years to increase law enforcement patrols and a presence on the river.

The funding passes through the State Water Commission then back to various agencies on both sides of the river.

Funding for the second year of the program began July 1 and, so far, Porter said the program has done what it was designed to do within the letter of the law.

But more needs to be done with the funding, Porter said. He said the language of the bill was very specific on what the money could be spent on: salaries for hours spent by local law enforcement agencies patrolling the river.

Bob Timian, chief of enforcement for the Game and Fish Department, said patrols on the river have increased awareness, but problems remain.

“We definitely have some issues with littering,” Timian said, making particular note of the area adjacent to Sertoma Park.

Timian said the patrols could be more effective if the Legislature, on the next go-round, broadens the scope of the original spending authority.

“You only have so many resources and you do what you can,” he said.

McQuade and others like Mark Westgard say that patrolling is not enough.

“We need them to get off the boats and walk the sandbars,” McQuade said.

Timian said that is being done now, but McQuade and others say they are not so sure the result has been what was envisioned two years ago.

Jim Collins, with the Keep North Dakota Clean campaign, has had his group place garbage cans and bags at local boat ramps and other areas where people congregate.

Signs also have been placed reminding people to pack out what they pack in to areas on the river.

But problems still exist, Collins said.

“I get a lot of calls about the littering,” he said. One recent event, a July Fourth bash at one of the marinas, left bottles, cans, cups and other trash everywhere in the water, he said.

McQuade said one of the original intents of the program, loosely dubbed Missouri River Watchers, was to create an awareness campaign to go with the increased enforcement.

“That’s really the first step,” Collins said. “It takes some good PR (public relations) to get the word out.”

Enter Boy Scout Troop 73. Assistant scout leader Mark Gaydos has enlisted some of his troop to help spread the word.

The scouts will be out on the river Saturday handing out garbage bags and stickers to “pack it out.”

After Labor Day, the scouts will join others taking to the water and getting some boots on the ground picking up what others have left behind.

Last year, the group drug out everything from tractor tires to televisions to kitchen chairs.

Alex Schroeder and Matt Koppinger are two of the scouts who will be out Saturday. And while it does help fulfill a requirement for a conservation project, they said there is more to it than that.

“We’ve been surprised at what people will throw out,” Koppinger said.

Schroeder said the troop cleans up the Community Bowl as a service project and he’s learned, “People leave a lot of trash behind.”

In the bowl is one thing, the scouts said, but doing the same thing on a public waterway is another.

Schroeder said it’s kind of sad to see how some people disregard natural areas like the river. He and Koppinger said they are hoping they can at the very least get people to start thinking.

“If we get one message out, it would be for people to stop and think about what they are throwing out and where they are throwing it,” Koppinger said.

So from McQuade, Westgard, Collins and others, a relatively simple message: Clean up after yourself and help keep the river clean for the next user.

And if that means speaking up when you see someone littering, Collins said that’s what it might take.

“It’s going to take river users policing other river users,” Collins said.

Porter agreed, saying the while the current increased enforcement has helped, some people just don’t get it.

“There are people out there using this resource that are slobs,” he said.

“In a perfect world, you would expect them to be responsible and pick up after themselves.”

Porter said you can throw money at problems like this, write tickets for littering and other infractions, and put more cops on the water, but in the end things won’t change until attitudes change.

“There are some that look at the sandbars and shorelines as one big toilet bowl,” Porter said.

“The water comes up and flushes it way ... it doesn’t matter how much money you stick into programs like this. People need to be responsible for themselves.”

(Reach reporter Brian Gehring at 250-8254 or

Copyright 2015 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

  1. Tennessee
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    Tennessee - August 12, 2010 2:02 pm
    I have been up & down the river for the past 34 years. Each year it gets worse. It makes me sick to see all the garbage either strewn on the banks or floating down river. One of my pet peeves is the people that insist on throwing aluminum cans & bottles into fires. I pick up what I can and let others know of their littering. I am glad to hear others share my concerns for such a beautiful resource as the Missouri River. I would like to see more patrols with much stiffer fines for littering. Maybe with higher fines, they could help pay for the extra time the patrols spend policing the river. And maybe, just maybe the light will come on in the empty heads of those offenders.
  2. WinnieJ
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    WinnieJ - August 12, 2010 12:57 pm
    I was in Sertoma a few weeks ago for a family picnic and took a stroll down to the sandbar...a little memory lane trip from my teen years. What a mess! Trash everywhere and well within range of a nearby garbage barrel. Oink Oink, you little pigs and shame on you for having the boy scouts deal pick up after you.
  3. bismarck701
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    bismarck701 - August 12, 2010 12:23 pm
    My husband and I have been picking up floating cans and garbage on the river for years. We often discuss the disrespect of the people whom we share the river with. Not only are people leaving litter everywhere and not picking up after their animals but they are parking compact cars in boat trailer spots, disregrading no wake zones and other peoples safety. It is a blessing to have such a beautiful and recreational area at our disposal. PLEASE just be safe and respectful and pick up after yourself and your animal.
  4. proudtobefromMandan
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    proudtobefromMandan - August 12, 2010 10:43 am
    Pewter Peter, do you really think we should have to start a "real organization" to clean up after other people. That in itself speaks volumes. The real problem is the people that refuse to pick up after themselves on property that does not belong to them, but belongs to everyone. I live along the river and happen to have several sand bars directly in front of my property and I wish everyone who comes to spend the day and play would take along what the bring with, but it does not happen like that all of the time, and that is the problem. We also frequent the sandbars along the river and always before leaving for the day a spot check is done to mke sure all is picked up, that is why we have garbage cans and bags on our pontoon. It really does not take too long to do especially if you put it in the garbage as you finish with it. The Missouri River is a great recreational resorce and we all need to take care of it and not pass it along to "some other organization" to keep clean. Pack it in and be sure to pack it out with you.
  5. H2OEduc8tr
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    H2OEduc8tr - August 12, 2010 10:33 am
    Mr. Pewter ... agreed. That is why our loose knit group conducts a cleanup every September. Unfortunately, the problem exists all summer long. The financial costs, of cleaning up after people that are quite capable, are not cheap. We would like to thanks the scouts who will be out this weekend handing out garbage bags and encouraging people to clean up.

    When it comes to cleaning up after river users the volunteer line is pretty short. So we do what we can with the resources we have.
  6. lifeisgood
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    lifeisgood - August 12, 2010 9:40 am
    Sad but true...we hear this same story every year. I would like to thank these boys for doing this even though it won't stay clean for long. The last thing I want to do is pick up soiled diapers and empty popcans or beer bottles. If I bring it to the river I take it back and alot of other people's crap too. It makes you wonder about the cleanliness of their own home.
  7. MN Reader
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    MN Reader - August 12, 2010 9:09 am
    Thank You Boy Scouts for cleaning up after people who should have done it themselves. My son was in scouts and they had a campout every month. They were taught: "Always leave the campsite the same or better than when you got there". My only wish is that the boys were wearing some type of water shoes to protect their feet from broken glass or other hurtful items.
  8. PewterPeter
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    PewterPeter - August 12, 2010 9:01 am
    if we started a "real" organization to save the missouri that actually concentrated on "saving" the missouri with people out actually picking up garbage instead of flapping gums on television and not actually doing anything.. The Sierra club should be out there picking up,, or Friends of the missouri river, or any of these organizations that claim to be trying to good.... Grab a garbage bag and go pick up garbage if you really want to make a difference.
  9. citizenconcerned
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    citizenconcerned - August 12, 2010 8:01 am
    I love to see this type of story. I spend a ton of time on the river myself... always carry a garbage bag and am continually picking up after worthless lazy, no good, people that cant seem to pack it out. Thanks to all involved. This river is a thing of beauty and we need to take care of it for future generations.
  10. Booger
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    Booger - August 12, 2010 7:57 am
    It is sad that people are so disrespectful. How inconvenient is it really to bring a garbage bag and take your trash home with you? Every marina or boat landing I know of has dumpsters or trash cans. Come on people, clean up after yourself! How about getting some of the county or or state inmates out there to patrol the sandbars and pick up trash?
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