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.