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Volunteers clean up over 8 tons of trash on new addition to Young Conservation Area

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Mo.—The Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Young Conservation Area, south of Eureka in Jefferson County, is about to get about five percent bigger, thanks to the Open Space Council of the St. Louis Region (OSC) and help from a group of dedicated citizens. 25 volunteers gathered on March 27 near Young Conservation Area to take the first steps in making a brand-new portion ready for public use.

The cleanup event was sponsored by MDC, the OSC, and Missouri Stream Team Program. It was made possible by the David Risberg Memorial Grant administered by the Conservation Federation of Missouri. The volunteer litter bashers included Missouri Stream Team members and six master naturalists from the Miramiguoa Chapter based out of Franklin County.

They all joined staff from MDC and OSC in the first phase of making the area ready for public use. “These things definitely take a partnership effort to put on,” said Bonnie Harper, Executive Director of the OSC.

The new 70-acre parcel will eventually be an addition to the existing 1,300-acre Young area. It adjoins the northeast border of the conservation area. Funds to buy the land, formerly owned by the Click family, were acquired through donors and fundraising efforts of the OSC. Purchase of the property from the Clicks was completed last year, and OSC presented it to MDC to be used as an addition to the Young area. However, there are a number of steps that need to be taken before the new site is ready for public use, including clearing it of trash.

“It takes a lot of staff hours to clean trash. The work of these volunteers allows us to concentrate more on the resource management and not just the cleanup part,” said MDC District Supervisor Raenhard Wesselschmidt.

The volunteers spent nearly four hours removing garbage, metal, glass, and tires from the new addition as an essential first step to preparing the site to open for the public. The event provided a socially-distanced opportunity for the volunteers to make a significant contribution to return the area to its natural state.

“It’s pretty satisfying to start seeing the ground again and see those trash cans fill up and know that you’re bringing it back down to what it used to be,” said volunteer Lynn Stephenson of St. Louis, who attended the event with her son and husband. ““It’s a great way of getting the family together and doing something. Everyone has a good time and at the end of the day, while tired, we’ve done something good.”

One challenge of the cleanup was gathering up all the glass and other debris on one of the hillsides near the former residence on the area, much of the litter having been there since generations past. Master Naturalist Janis Schweitzer came to the cleanup with her husband, Rick. “A lot of the cans are just flakes, and the two metal rims around the top and the bottom are that’s all that’s left of them. So, I think we’re talking about really old trash” she said.

In addition to providing recreation for the public, the new addition will join Young and other MDC conservation areas in the vicinity to help protect the nearby Labarque Creek watershed. Missouri Stream Team Assistant Brian Waldrop said Labarque is one of the most pristine streams in Missouri and includes an exceptionally diverse fish and invertebrate population.

“The water quality is spectacular. It’s a precious gem,” said Waldrop. “Everything flows downstream and that means downhill from this ridge.   If that tire gets loose or piece of plastic it will migrate down to the small tributary, then to a slightly larger one, and then to Labarque Creek, and down to the Meramec and out to the Mississippi.”

The cleanup work on March 27 helped to prevent that from happening. The final trash tally picked up by the volunteer effort that morning was 66 tires, 5,740 pounds of metal and a boat trailer, in addition to 40 cubic yards of trash. All together the team removed a total of 8.5 tons of debris from the area.

“I’m just amazed. We have two giant dumpsters totally overflowing,” Harper said.

The tires will be shredded and recycled along with the metal. “We tried to minimize what went into the landfill as much as we could,” said Wesselschmidt.

The next stages for the new addition include removing several structures, final grading, and work to get rid of invasive species. Wesselschmidt said woodland habitat management was in the property’s work plan, as well as eventual trail connections to the existing Young area.

The day’s work was a big initial step. “I think we made some real progress in getting this site on the road to become a really great natural area for everyone,” said Harper. “I’m excited for new things to come and the continued progress.”