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Missouri's 3,000th Stream Team is a Family Effort

July 25, 2006

In some ways the MacBrides seem average, but their decision to take an active role in stream conservation makes them part of something remarkable.

FREDERICKTOWN, Mo.-James and Sheila MacBride's family seem average on the surface. He is the general manager for Timber Creek Resort in De Soto. She teaches second grade at Fredericktown Elementary. They love being outdoors with their three sons. Like many Missourians, they want to take care of the natural world. When they saw a story about Missouri Stream Teams in Missouri Conservationist magazine, they decided to form the Coldwater Creek Reclaimers. That made the MacBrides part of something extraordinary.

They happened to be the 3,000th group of Missourians who formalized their love of running water by adopting a stretch of stream to look after.

"The boys were really excited," said James. "It's a little bit of bragging rights, being the three-thousandth Stream Team."

The MacBrides celebrated their notoriety May 21 by spending the day on "their" 3-mile stretch of Coldwater Creek, a small, spring-fed stream that issues from the earth not far from their home. Sons Elijah MacBride, 11, Chayce Mell, 9, and Bryce Mell, 7, all got in the act, picking up cans, bottles, plastic bags, a couple of tires and two rolls of discarded fencing. The trash added up to a pickup load.

Statewide, Stream Teams conduct dozens of trash pickups annually and much more. "Stream Teams struck a chord in Missourian's hearts and took off like a rocket," said Mark VanPatten, who organized the first Stream Team, the Roubidoux Fly Fishers, and served as the program's first coordinator. "It has always exceeded our wildest hopes for success. We didn't realize it at the start, but this was an idea whose time had come."

When the program began in 1989, the Conservation Federation of Missouri and the Missouri departments of Conservation and Natural Resources hoped eventually to organize 250 Stream Teams. They surpassed that figure in two years. By 1994, the number of Stream Teams topped 500, and it surpassed 1,000 in 1997. It took only five more years to double that number and four years to add the next 1,000 Stream Teams.

"Nowadays it is normal to add as many Stream Teams in a year as we once hoped to have in the whole program," said VanPatten. He said the biggest challenge today is keeping up with Missourians' enthusiasm for stream conservation. "As far as I know, there is no other program in the nation or the world that matches Missouri Stream Teams for citizen involvement and achievements. It is extremely exciting to be a part of."

Like the MacBride family, Stream Teams began with trash clean-ups but soon sought bigger challenges. They quickly branched out into other stream-conservation work.

The first addition was water-quality monitoring. With training from the Conservation and Natural Resources departments, volunteers check for direct and indirect evidence of pollution in thousands of miles of streams statewide. James MacBride plans to take this training soon, so he and his family can monitor the health of Coldwater Creek.

"The creek seems to be very healthy right now," said MacBride. "We want to be sure it stays that way."

Some Stream Teams paint notices on storm drain inlets, "Dump No Waste - Drains to Stream." Others are getting ahead of litter problems with innovative solutions, such as placing fishing line recycling receptacles at stream accesses. Each year some Stream Teams plant trees along streams to prevent erosion. Public education is the main goal of others.

In 2005, more than 45,000 Stream Team members spent 134,964 hours in activities ranging from adopting an access to zebra mussel monitoring. The value of their labor was calculated at $2,434,750.

In all, 60,000 people are enrolled in Stream Teams. That means that three-quarters of program members were active in 2005, a level of participation that most volunteer organizations would envy.

Stream Team expertise is growing steadily through continuing education courses. These include fish and crayfish identification, tree planting, ground water and Level 1, 2 and 3 water quality monitoring workshops, which trained 448 Stream Teamers last year. The latest innovation in Stream Team education is a Stream Team Academy with in-depth classes in such specialized topics as "Understanding Streams" and the biology of hellbenders and freshwater mussels.

Stream Teams keep up with each other through the program's newsletter, "Channels." They also share work and fellowship through Stream Team associations. Some of these associations have incorporated and obtained tax-exempt status, increasing their chances of obtaining grants to tackle ambitious projects.

"Combining the strengths of several Stream Teams can produce amazing results," said VanPatten. "The Missouri Watershed Coalition is an excellent example. When they get fully organized, they will be in a position to help new Stream Teams get started and coordinate different teams' activities. Stream Team associations are powerful tools for marshaling the resources needed to do big things."

For information on Stream Teams and how you can get involved, contact Missouri Stream Team, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, 800/781-1989, streamteam@mdc.mo.gov, or visit www.mostreamteam.org/.

-Jim Low-

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