McDonald County Press
Wagner Cleans For A Cause
It’s a brisk 20 degrees and Nathan Wagner, who is wearing chest waders, is in a knee-deep cleanup mode in a McDonald County creek.
On this Saturday morning, he and his wife Maryah are plucking out trash that shouldn’t be a part of the Ozarks landscape.
The Goodman residents fill two canoes full of tires and other discards of life. The work is hard and exhausting.
For the Wagners, hauling loads of trash from McDonald County waterways is sparking a change for a better tomorrow.
Nathan Wagner, who grew up enjoying the great Ozarks outdoors, wants to secure a serene, well-kept spot for his children.
“I want my kids to be able to
catch crawdads,” Wagner said.
Since starting their ICleanWaterways effort a year ago, the couple has pulled more than 32,000 pounds of trash and 317 tires from McDonald County waterways.
They’re on a trash crusade of sorts, hauling out refrigerators to hypodermic needles from Ozarks’ creeks and rivers.
With help from Zachary Wells, the crew works sunup to sundown on the weekends, doing its part to clean up the environment. The canoes are loaded up on Saturday. It takes an all-day effort on Sunday to log and process all items by hand.
Their organization, ICleanWaterways, is endorsed by the McDonald County Chamber of Commerce. The Big Elk Campground offers canoes for their work.
The trio has logged five sets of decks, loads of metal, hot water heaters, propane tanks, three recliners, three or four mattresses, seven hypodermic needles and more.
Trash has been plucked from 33 miles of Little Sugar, Big Sugar and Indian creeks. In a year’s time, they’ve seen a refrigerator that didn’t fit the river landscape. For each mile that is floated, they’ve also seen upwards of 100 plastic bags and an average of 500 pounds of trash.
“This is 100 percent from negligence,” Nathan Wagner said. “We go out when the sun rises and don’t stop until the boats are full.”
What started as a family outing with the Wagners and their children, quickly turned into a workday.
The family went out on the river, thinking to enjoy some relaxing time in a canoe.
Instead, there was so much trash, even the children commented.
“We were floating with our kids. We have to do something. It’s gotten worse in the last 10 to 20 years. When I grew up, it wasn’t like this,” he said.
“We are seeing a lot from a canoe.”
The Wagners conduct a great deal of work in the winter, though they are still working this spring. Summertime offers heat, snakes, chiggers, full-blown poison ivy and talkative, well-meaning canoers. Working in the cold weather enables the crew to push, pull, load and log the algae-covered, filthy, dirty stuff that doesn’t decompose.
The Wagners aren’t just devoting their weekend time to hauling away stuff out of the waters. The two hope to launch some major change.
They are in the process of transitioning ICleanWaterways into a nonprofit for access to grants and more.
Great Rivers Law Firm in St. Louis is providing legal direction for the once-forprofit business to dissolve and then start a nonprofit.
The nonprofit status will enable the organization to tap into bigger resources. The two also plan to work with the Department of Natural Resources and the Corp of Engineers.
Wagner hopes that the documentation that the organization conducts will pay off, leading to public record documents, locations of farm dumps and how much is pulled from the water.
McDonald County Chamber officials say the work is critical.
“The Chamber absolutely supports what ICleanWaterways is doing for the streams, rivers and lakes in our area,” said Terra Sanders, Chamber office administrator. “They are a great advocate for our environment.”
The Wagners aim for putting the wheels in motion.
As they process the stuff pulled from the water, the couple videotapes all the weighing that is conducted.
“We want complete transparency in everything we do,” Nathan Wagner said.
In the ’70s, farmers tied tires to their fences as a way of securing them. Now, those tires are breaking free. The Wagners mark everything they come across; farm dumps are identified and mapped in a global positioning system.
The family seeks permission from local farmers to be on their land for cleanup efforts.
“Any place that’s legal for us to be, we’re cleaning it.”
As the Wagners clean up local waters, they hope to motivate others to pick up the cause.
Long-term, they hope to present their documented information to McDonald County Commissioners for review.
Public record information can then be documented and reviewed by others.
Wagner also wants to delve into how often law enforcement issues citations for littering. Other legislation — such as a tarp law — could be enacted.
Seeing how much is dumped has propelled Wagner — a successful carpenter — into changing his own construction practices.
“It has changed the way I do stuff,” he said.
Building a house while keeping in mind a flood plain’s location, makes a big difference in how the structure is built should raging waters try to rip the house apart.
Since making a difference, others have learned of their beautification efforts.
Their work has attracted various people, who wish to volunteer for a couple of hours.
The couple insists, however, that the effort takes a minimum of six hours, ranging to 14 hours. It’s not necessarily, right now, a two-hour volunteer effort in which people can readily join in.
Once they’re out there, they’re all in.
Wagner explains that everyone, however, can do his or her part.
Wagner encourages others to pick up their own trash. If each property owner spent an hour each week cleaning around his or her own property, it would help keep that trash from getting into the waterways, polluting others’ property and flowing into other waterways.
“It’s completely a man-made problem,” Wagner said. “People neglect, from picking up the trash.”
Chamber officials say the effort has a ripple effect.
“Cleaner waterways means a safer environment for tourism and the wildlife in the area,” Sanders said.
Though the work is never-ending and extremely labor-intensive, Wagner feels compelled to keep on with the cause.
“I am not going to stop cleaning it,” he said.
For information about volunteering, making a donation or learning more about ICleanWaterways, write the Wagners at P.O. Box 404, Goodman, MO 64843.