The Missouri Stream Team program is a citizen movement to conserve Missouri’s flowing waters, with goals of stewardship, education, and advocacy for streams.

The program is sponsored by the Conservation Federation of Missouri, as well as the Missouri Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources which provide supplies and technical assistance.  

Whether by foot, canoe, kayak, or jon boat, over 227,000 individuals have removed more than 20,000,000 pounds of trash from Missouri’s waterways since 1989.

In that time, teams have also planted nearly 265,000 streamside trees, stenciled over 17,000 storm drains, and conducted more than 25,000 water quality surveys. That adds up to a commitment of over 2.2 million hours of volunteer service to the resource, not accounting for the many efforts that go unreported each year.

This is the story of just one of over 4,000 active Stream Teams.

What happens when citizens with a passion for clean water and genuine contempt for carelessly discarded tires come together? The result is the Mighty 211 Stream Team from Arnold, Mo.

“Mighty” is certainly no exaggeration for this team with nearly 400 members. A powerhouse of hard-working volunteers, they enlist dozens of other Stream Teams in their mission to make tires an extinct species in Missouri rivers.  

Since 1991, the Mighty 211 and friends have removed over 1,000 tons of garbage and thousands of tires from streams in the greater St. Louis area.

One of their adopted streams is the Big River. Historical practices that used tires for bank stabilization and sediment control at mining operations have made this river a hotbed for recent cleanups.

Long-time Mighty 211 member Brian Waldrop reflected on one cleanup in 2012 that yielded some amazing results.

“Some of the best Stream Teamers from across the state gathered at Bone Hole Access to collect every tire, within means, from the river and gravel bars, said Waldrop. “These fine paddlers, in 25 canoes and one kayak, became divers, diggers, draggers, pullers, pushers, flippers, pluckers, and stackers for the day. In six miles, we pulled out 325 tires.”

This is in addition to the over 400 tires removed in 2011, all part of a large-scale effort in the Meramec River watershed for the last 46 years known as Operation Clean Stream.

Every year, the Mighty 211 returns to that stretch of the Big River, pulling every tire they can carry. In 2013, a massive, one-ton tire demanded the efforts of six strong adults to hoist it onto two canoes. The paddlers had to maintain a balancing act downstream for nearly three miles before finally liberating it.  

According to Stream Team member Bo Jarvis, the running joke of the day was that every time an exhausted Teamer asked, “How much further?” the chorus that followed was, “Just around the next bend.”

A cleanup effort like this would be financially difficult, if not impossible, without community collaboration and support. Aside from the substantial elbow grease donated by volunteers yanking tons of tires and debris, outfitter Cherokee Landing and others donate boats and shuttle services, landowners provide access and assistance, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources handles tire disposal.

With that kind of backup, no tire can beat a team with as much heart and determination as the Mighty 211.

By Amy Meier