In an era of contradicting information, it only seems fitting that when one researches the Missouri River, many sources have conflicting information.

One source claims it is the longest river in North America, while yet another has it listed as the second longest. If you try to verify the length of the river, you’ll get numbers ranging anywhere from 2,341 miles to 2,466 miles. 

However, one thing that does seem universally agreed upon is this: the Missouri River is in trouble.

In 2008 the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services issued a statement that advises children under 12 years of age, and women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, to limit consumption of all fish caught in the Missouri River to one meal per week due to heightened levels of pollutants including mercury.

In recent years, when various agencies issued reports listing our “Most Polluted Waterways,” the Missouri River was included. 

Many Missourians want to change this. That is why river festivals that include opportunities for education and service are popping up around the state. One such festival is coming up this April in Washington.

The Washington River Festival will be held at the James W. Rennick Riverfront Park on April 8. The cleanup runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the festival runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Festival planners are still working out the details of the day, but in the past there have been trash to art demonstrations, nature walks, tipis on display, as well as live music and presentations by the Department of Conservation and the World Bird Sanctuary. Food and beverages will be available for purchase, too.

In addition to learning more about the Missouri River, there will be opportunities for participants to get on the river for hands-on excitement. Yes, attendees can get their hands a little dirty in order to make the Missouri River a little cleaner. 

“The problem is that people have used the rivers as a trash service for so many generations that now we have to do something about it. Someone needs to clean it up. We take for granted all of the water we have here in Missouri, but if it is full of trash, so is our drinking water,” said Ryan Snider, festival committee member.

You can be that someone who pitches in to help clean a river that has inspired artists and travelers, a river that has nourished the land and its people in immeasurable ways.

“I often walk the trail next to the river here in Washington and truly enjoy the river’s powerful peacefulness. Hopefully festivals like the Washington River Festival will make people think of the importance of the river,” Snider added.

For more information about the Washington River Festival and other opportunities to help in Washington or other parts of the state, visit www.riverrelief.org.

By Michelle Turner

(Michelle lives in Union, Mo.)