At the intersection of stream stewardship and recreational paddling is a group of Missouri Stream Teamers known as Kayakswarm.
They are an informal troupe of paddling enthusiasts with experiences ranging from amateur naturalist to endurance paddler that frequently gather to enjoy the great outdoors, with a twist.
Some members are trained by the Missouri Stream Team Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program to collect water quality data while others focus on keeping rivers free of litter.
Together, they have a vision to add value, adventure, and education to their outings to do something that has never been done in Missouri – something that provides important data and educates the public.
The idea that emerged nearly 10 years ago is now known as the Great Meramec GPS Paddle.
The Meramec River drains a diverse 2,149 square mile landscape, emptying into the Mississippi River just south of Saint Louis. In its upper reaches this sparkling, spring-fed Ozark jewel is a favorite choice among weekend floaters, with its dense forests, towering bluff tops, and excellent smallmouth fishing.
The lower section exhibits issues typical of an urban stream, such as sedimentation and polluted runoff. Volunteer-collected water quality data from this kind of diverse watershed is a great asset to state agencies tasked with managing dynamic landscapes.
In 2008, Kayakswarm embarked on a lofty adventure to record Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates, collect water chemistry data, and take photos along 203 miles of the Meramec River. Armed with equipment for the job and a good sense of humor, they collected pH, conductivity, turbidity, temperature, and phosphate data at every river mile while taking photos documenting bank and downstream conditions.
Their Meramec River data blitz was completed in five months. In addition, they also removed trash and made note of interesting features and paddling conditions.
Sure, there may have been a few mishaps, like the hungry riverbed swallowing a brand new waterproof camera or actions worthy of the “Tippers Award,” but there was never a scheduled paddle day without a ready and willing crew.
One might think that after such an intense year the ‘Swarmers would celebrate and call it quits. Not this cast and crew.
Instead they thought, why not do the same thing on all the major Meramec tributaries? That’s exactly what they did.
In 2009, they tackled 53 miles of the Huzzah and Courtois (pronounced “code-away”) creeks, also popular float streams. In 2010 they conquered 124 miles of the Bourbeuse River, and finally, in 2011, they covered 108 miles of the Big River.
After paddling a total of 488 miles and logging hundreds of hours and thousands of miles on the road, it’s no surprise that the ‘Swarmers took a break in 2012 and 2013 to crunch the numbers.
In the meantime, they continue their regular excursions and annual New Year’s Day paddles, and take to the land several times a year to clean up their Adopt-A-Highway section in Rosebud, Mo.
Plans for 2017-2018 are still in the works, but it’s not implausible that another scenic river will be mapped, monitored, and logged on their website in the near future.
To find out more about Kayakswarm and their accomplishments, visit lmvp.org/Kayakswarm.
(Amy Meier is a stream team biologist with the MDC.)