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 email@example.com)