At the site of one of Missouri’s biggest waterfalls, one man is out every day, keeping the water free of trash.

Stream Team #48 is comprised of Ron and Ann Phelps and their son, Robert. For 31 years — since before the founding of Missouri Stream Team — they have been cleaning Shoal Creek, which washes over Grand Falls.

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“The Grand Falls is our responsibility, that’s what our Stream Team does is take care of it,” Ron Phelps said. “It’s a tourist attraction, so it’s a 365 day a year project.”

Calling the effort “no big deal,” Ron is outside in his backyard at least once a day, picking up trash and educating locals about keeping it clean.

“We have lived next door to the waterfall for 31 years, and when we moved here, we started trying to turn it into as nice a place that it could be from the trash dump that it was,” Ron says.

The first few years were spent clearing trash that had built up for decades.

Described by Rural Missouri as a “miniature Niagara Falls,” Grand Falls holds the title of Missouri’s highest continuously falling waterfall. Its geology makes it ideal habitat for wildlife.

“The chert is often pocked with pools of water, making tiny natural swimming pools for frogs or small plants to grow and abide,” a July 2005 article describes.

That attracts animals, and it also attracts people.

“It’s not very developed, and in fact there’s not even a formal parking area, but there’s a lot of travel there, a lot of visitation,” explained Chris Pistole, education coordinator for the Wildcat Glades Audubon Center in Joplin, Mo.

That means a lot of trash, every day, from tourists, fishermen, and sources upstream.

“Most of our teams know Ron as taking care of Grand Falls,” said Kat Lackman, Stream Team biologist for the Southwest region.

Ron has submitted an annual total report to Stream Team since 2009, Kat said, and has collected an average of 25 tons per year for a total of 163 tons.

On top of trash like bottles, diapers, and fireworks, the area has yielded weirder things like a plastic swimming pool full of tree debris and a doll hanging over the creek.

Ron also helps with an annual canoe cleanup on Shoal Creek, where up to 60 volunteers take canoes and kayaks to pick up trash.

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“We can always count on Ron,” Chris said.

While seeing trash every day can be disheartening at times, Stream Team #48 knows they’re making a big difference.

The most important thing is that people understand that if it’s clean, it stays more clean,” Ann said. “If Ron would quit picking up trash today and leave it for 3-4 weeks, it would become just uninhabitable.”

Stream Team #48 is open to other volunteers join their efforts. For more information on how to connect with them, visit www.grandfallsstreamteam48.net.

– By Tina Casagrand

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