Tireless volunteer effort helps cleans Kaw River sandbar
The unseasonably warm weather on Saturday was good for more than walks in the park and sports. About 100 volunteers came that morning to help remove about 1,000 tires on a Kansas River sandbar about a mile south of Linwood.
The cleanup was organized by Laura Calwell, Kansas Riverkeeper for Friends of the Kaw. Calwell and other members of the group discovered the apparent dumping site last November while patrolling the river.
Calwell said she expected about 25 volunteers to show up for the effort and estimated the job to take until about 4 p.m. But the unexpected number of volunteers began showing up at 7 that morning, allowing the job to be completed in about four hours.
AMCOR, a packaging company with a factory in Lenexa, was responsible for the windfall in volunteers after employee Al Stevens discovered the project on the Friends of the Kaw Web site.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also contributed to the effort by providing a truck to transport the tires to Hamm's Quarry in Perry, and Holliday Sand and Gravel of Bonner Springs provided a front loader and backhoe to move and stack the tires once they were collected from the river.
There were several different jobs for volunteers: some fished the tires out of the shallow riverbed near the sandbar, rolling the tires to lean together in rows, four people dragged the tires three at a time behind all-terrain vehicles up the bank to the growing pile of tires that the backhoe and front loader loaded onto transport to the quarry.
Wearing waders, Larry Shepard worked to free tires buried in sand, dirt and gravel.
It was hard work, the Friends of the Kaw member said, because the sand and silt inside the tires had solidified, making them harder to carry. He estimated that each full weighed about 100 pounds. By the time he knocked as much sand and silt out as he could, he said, he figured each weighed about 40 pounds.
"So you're pooped by the time you start walking," he said.
Shepard said he'd worked on similar efforts on the Missouri River.
While he said he could deal with the smell of the river, he figured his clothes would smell bad enough that he'd have to "strip down to underwear" and throw his clothes in the back of his truck.
Mollie Mangerich, president of Friends of the Kaw, said she was impressed with the turnout.
"We're making short order of a big mess," she said.
Vickie Matney came as part of the AMCOR group, and she drove an ATV hauling tires tied to a rope from the river up the small hill. She said her job that day was "kind of fun," and besides "it's always good to do a community project."
AMCOR employee Stevens said he organized his employees as part of a project to "repay" the company. AMCOR had paid for his EarthWatch trip to Belize to study the feeding and migration habits of manatees, he said.
Bob Medina, manager for KDHE's illegal dump program, said the state agency was paying for the disposal of the tires.
"This, we consider a nuisance," he said, because the tires are harmful to the river and provide a breeding ground for West Nile virus.
After they had finished, volunteers gathered to partake of barbecued hamburgers and bratwursts, provided by AMCOR.