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Stream Team Adventures! The Devastation of Buck Creek! 9/19/2015

October 3, 2015

Buck Creek 005On the night of July 1st, 2015, the area along Buck Creek in Festus, Missouri received 5 inches of rain in a matter of hours. Around 60 residents along the creek valley were forced to evacuate, and two women lost their lives that night, their cars swept into the violent rush of water careening along the path of this quiet little waterway. Buck Creek is typically not any more exciting than a wet weather gurgle, trickling through the valley over the wide expanse of flat exposed bedrock, but with so much rain in such a short amount of time, it was transformed into a devastating and fatal torrent. The light of the sun the next morning revealed a place I drive past all the time to be one of uncontrolled elements, the power of nature reminding us that it can perform the unthinkable with little ability for us to stand in its way. The soft banks and relaxed demeanor of Buck Creek was replaced with a water-swept scene of broken trees and scattered human belongings. It had experienced a change in just a short period of time that would leave it wrecked and battered for quite a while.

Buck Creek 194So the wheels of rehabilitation started to rotate, and with the actions of some of the members of The League of Watershed Guardians, we took it upon ourselves to help return this little waterway back to the look that nature intended. On July 11th, just ten days after the storm under the veteran lead of Ken Thomas and Christine Burrows-Endsley (Stream Team 4660), we conducted our first cleanup there, removing a massive pile of trash, destroyed pieces of furniture, and a handful of tires as well as three cars with the help of Pippin Towing, a local business in the area. The next month saw a few more minor cleanups and scouting trips in a couple of sections, and this past September 19th we had a larger cleanup off of Buck Creek Rd. which runs parallel with Highway 67 on the other side of the creek from it.

Buck Creek 022It was in a section near the Stonegate subdivison, that we had scouted about a month earlier. At the head of this stretch there is a large pool in the creek that is sort of a natural impoundment, with massive amounts of gravel and debris dumped into this spot by the flood waters. Within the piles of rock, upside-down and buried, we discovered a red sedan, three tires exposed at the surface taunting us to try to remove it. This was just one bit of treasure that we were going to go after. There were also two dumpsters that had been swept within the banks of the creek, presumably from some of the businesses along Highway 67 that had been flooded out. Along with removing all the trash that had been deposited in about a half mile of Buck Creek, we were also determined to get the car and the dumpsters up and out so that they could be taken to a more proper resting place.

Buck Creek 029So a few weeks later on a warm September morning, around 30 volunteers showed up to tackle the Stonegate section of Buck Creek. From seasoned veterans to enthusiastic new volunteers to people from the neighborhood, we worked our way upstream from the intersection of Buck Creek Rd. and Stonegate Rd. It was a quiet section, flowing subtly below a canopy of arching river bottom trees, shading us from the rising sun just over the hills to our east. We swarmed along, working both banks and crossing back and forth to pull all the trash and debris out onto piles along the road to be collected and taken over to the dumpster we had waiting to be filled. A mass of Missouri Stream Team volunteers, moving up the creek, collecting everything in our path that didn’t belong there.

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The debris against the tree illustrates how high the water was!

As we worked, it was impressive to see the sticks and litter that had accumulated against some of the tree trunks along the creek, indicating how deep and scary the water actually had been. Rising to heights taller than most of us, it makes sense how a flash flood could be so immediately devastating. Weather events like this happen rarely, but they do happen, and they can transform the landscape and the lives of whatever resides there in just minutes, including people. To imagine the water flowing above your head and spanning the valley wider than you could ever think possible is a frightening thought…and it is exactly what happened here.

Buck Creek 041We were spread out and working hard along the creek when we made it to the big gravel deposit just before the pool of water. Volunteers scattered all over, picking up trash and pulling out pieces of metal and plastic that were foreign to this natural setting. Bernie Arnold of Stream Team 211 had been in this spot all morning, working to pull out the dumpsters. Earlier in the week, he and Ken Thomas of Stream Team 4660 had dug up and and dragged out the red car, performing the herculean task with some shovels, a cable winch, and an unrelenting intent to get it out however they had to.

Buck Creek 069It’s not just about having the right tools, but also having the right person to use them, and Bernie is the man for any job when it requires pulling something gigantic from a creek. So as we got to where he was working this morning, some of us took a break and stood back to watch as he reeled in one of the big blue dumpsters, dragging it up the bank past the trees and out toward the road where one of the local residents with a Kubota tractor pulled it the rest of the way with a strap and moved it to the far side to be collected later. If there is a will, and Bernie is there with his equipment, then there is definitely a way.

Buck Creek 141As the morning started winding down and it got closer to noon, we all made our way back to the entrance of Stonegate where the wonderful people who live on the corner along Buck Creek had fixed us hot dogs and hamburgers for lunch. It was a real treat to have this level of local involvement, and it was very nice of the people who live in the community for getting involved and supporting us doing what we do. Enough kind things can’t be said for all the great residents that come out and help at these events, especially the ones who want to feed us!

Buck Creek 156The end result from this latest Buck Creek cleanup was 25 tires, 30 cubic yards of trash, more than a ton of metal, two roughed-up dumpsters, and an upside-down and buried car (earlier that week). Pretty impressive for a group of just 30+ volunteers on a Saturday morning. A lot of these Stream Team cleanups are because of the carelessness of people’s bad decisions and generally it seems that nature is the victim of human influence. This time it was more extreme in the other direction, with the elements taking on a larger role in how the garbage got there. Regardless of the cause, that is where we like to come in, banding together to remove the results of the devastation and let the creeks and rivers get back to the way they’re supposed to look.

Thank you to everyone who came out to help, especially those in the community that Buck Creek is a part of!

To follow the adventures of The League of Watershed Guardians, and even get involved, check out our Facebook page here!

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The League of Watershed Guardians, an unstoppable force for good! Get involved!



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