My “backyard paradise” has always been filled with tributaries of rivers and streams near Alton, IL. Even though I do not live in the City of Alton, I grew up just about 25 minutes northeast on a small lake near Cahokia Creek. This lake was paradise for me, the home of both sides of my grandparents, as well as countless memories on the water. My detailed recollections of my time on the lake span a spectrum from calm pontoon rides, 4th of July fireworks shows, and rewarding fishing outings to a particularly terrifying ride in which my grandpa’s “freshly-repaired” ski boat caught fire with my grandmother and I on-board. In short, I grew up on water.
Have you ever been to a place that made you feel so wonderful that you never wanted to leave? Before your mind wanders to cruises in the Bahamas or Hawaii, look no further than your own backyard.
While it is part of a larger watershed encompassing 31 different states and millions of neighbors within the Mississippi River watershed, my story takes place in an area just south of the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge(depicted below from Mosenthein Island’s southeastern sandbar) near St. Louis.
This pristine stretch includes the one and only Mosenthein Island. “Mosie Island” is just south of the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, which was named for the seemingly natural series of rocks extending the breadth of the river just north. The Chain of Rocks prevent boats from directly crossing this stretch of the river, the only eleven miles of the Mississippi not commercially-navigable. The lack of commercial boat traffic passing the island contributes to the positively pure state that the island has been left in (appearing in picture below). Here, nature abounds. According to “Big Muddy Mike” Clark, the premier navigator of this portion of the river and proprietor of Big Muddy Adventures in St. Louis, the island is inhabited by numerous deer, raccoon, a pack of approximately fifteen coyotes (including three fresh pups from this spring), beavers, bobcats, hawks, various reptiles and amphibians (including the baby copperhead centered below), large spiders, and the rest of the creatures necessary to comprise an entire food web in this well-preserved ecosystem.
Once you set foot on the island, the rest of the world vanishes. The troubles of taxes and politics vanish, immediately replaced with luscious willow trees, blue holes of fresh, naturally-filtered water and white, sandy beaches gently swaddling the north reaches of the land. You are only reminded of how close you are to civilization by the distant lull of traffic echoing across the wide channel, the mild glow of city lights from nearby St. Louis, and the scattered bits of litter deposited on the island from annual flooding. Unfortunately, the litter is a larger problem than simple aesthetics. Not only are native animals and plants continuously exposed to the toxic contaminants that complement waste, but the solid trash items themselves can block animals’ airways or entangle them, among other life-threatening possibilities.
Luckily, the reason everybody was on the island on the Saturday when I visited was for one purpose: to leave it cleaner than we found it. (And also to attend an afternoon beach party on the island, in celebration)
…And clean it we did, as over a hundred volunteers racked up enough trash from four collection points on the island to fill an entire 40-yard dumpster with garbage and half of an additional dumpster full of tires from both the island and the launch point. The launch, North Riverview Park, was where trash was dropped off on the Sunday after the trash sweep.
The trash clean-up and beach party were hosted by a variety of organizations, forming The Coalition of Area St. Louis Environmental Organizations (COASTL) which includes: 1 Mississippi, Big Muddy Adventures, Missouri River Relief, Missouri Department of Conservation, Our Missouri Waters, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Open Space Council, Piasa Palisades Group of the Sierra Club, Watershed Cairns, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/EPA, and Urban Waters Ambassador. The permit to use the island was issued by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Mosie Island is not a plane trip away, contains no modern amenities like electricity or plumbing (the port-a-potties were NOT going to cooperate with loading and unloading), but it is as close to paradise as I have ever been. Can YOU help me in future efforts to preserve what is left of our precious, limited backyard paradises? The easiest way to contribute is to BECOME A RIVER CITIZEN! Also, please check out our 1 Mississippi event calendar for more opportunities to get involved in a wide range of groovy, river-related events. Connect with the waterways that border your “backyard” to do your best to actively preserve them, as they are irreplaceable.