Scenic Drive just got a lot more scenic.
Well, coming down the hill that's 180th Street did.
That's because the street coming down the hill lets drivers look over onto the island in the middle of the Des Moines River, and with water levels at an unprecedented low, tires poked out of the river bottom like mushrooms in a dark, dank hollow.
"As you came down the hill, all you could see was tires out on the sandbar," said Carol Eich, who lives along Scenic Drive with her husband, Jim. "It was right in front of Roger Habhab's, but it affected all of us because we all saw it."
All those tires seemed to ridicule Jim Eich, until he could take it no longer. He decided now was the time to clean up the island, and the couple contacted neighbors along Scenic Drive with a flier. They even gave the notice to Bob Heidenreich, who lives at the top of the hill, but runs along Scenic Drive.
He took the hint, and when the crew of willing workers gathered about 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 27, he was right there to help.
"People have thrown tires in the river over the years," Carol Eich said. "But the river's never been this low."
It's hard to ignore something like hundreds of tires growing from a sandbar.
"We didn't go through the DNR," she said. "It was just a bunch of neighbors who were tired of looking at the trash."
And some of this trash has been around for a long, long time. Like the Model A tire on a rim that had to be dug out of the sand.
This wasn't a quick fix, by any means.
"I thought with all the help we had lined up, I thought we'd be in and out of there in two hours," Jim Eich said.
He was wrong.
The crew worked until about 2 p.m. Around 1 p.m. Bob Heidenreich's wife, Julie, and son, Jacob, brought lemonade, orange juice, water and cookies to the river workers. That was their only food of the day. Some of them had small bottles of water, but no one considered the possibility of dehydration or exhaustion because of lack of food, and no plans had been made for a meal or snack.
"We didn't think it would take us so long," Carol Eich said. "When Julie came down, I've never been so glad to see somebody with water in my life."
They had to quit work at 2 p.m., said Mark Alcorn, who used his little John Deere tractor and a wagon to pull tires off the river bottom, though he often got stuck.
"We ran out of gas that day," he said. Then he laughed. "We got a skid loader stuck. A trailer stuck. A lawn mower."
Jim Eich joined the laughter. "We got stuck lots of times," he said.
"There was soft sand, and it was hard to move," Carol Eich added. "To get up the bank, we had to get behind the wagon and push."
Alcorn laughed again, the memory far less painful than the actual fact. "There were sandy areas, then spots where it was rocky, but it was muddy under the rocks and you'd sink right in. Then we had to come up out of the river bank."
The 202 tires removed from the river were taken to Daniel Tire Co., which offered to get rid of them for just $1 a tire. It costs $5 a tire - and more for the larger tires - to take them to the dump.
"We moved these tires about three times," Carol Eich said. "We put them in piles. Then Mark would come along with his trailer, and we'd load up as many as we could get on it. Then they had to put them on the big trailer."
Jim Eich and Sherwyn Thorsen made four trips with the big wagon and one pickup trip with tires.
Piles of trash remain on the river bed, waiting for the workers to get rested enough to start the process again. Besides a mattress, there are tarps, gallon barrels, metal pieces off cars, lots of scrap metal, a stovetop and shoes, plus all the pop cans, plastic bottles and milk jugs - all the stuff that just does not disintegrate.
"There are still things down there we couldn't get because we were just too tired," Carol Eich said. "There's an engine down there, and it was too heavy. And this is just a small area of the river on the west side of that island. If people would just take care of their own trash and think what it does to the environment and community, we'd have a much cleaner river."
Jim Eich said this cleanup is something he's been thinking about for years, but he never got anything organized.
"The problem was getting rid of the tires," he said.
After making arrangements with Daniel Tire, Eich made a plea to the neighbors, and enough money was raised to pay for the disposal. Neighbors who were physically unable to work donated to the cause, too.
"There are more tires on the east side of the island," Carol Eich said. "But we didn't go there. We don't have to look at those."
The group's favorite find of the day was a United States flag still attached to a pole. The flag had belonged to Tommy Messerly, and it was Tommy Messerly who found it.
"During a flood, part of his dock was taken out, and he lost his flag and the pole," Carol Eich said. "And he found it. That was really fun."
When Julie Heidenreich brought refreshments, she planted the flag near a pile of trash - one giant step for tired trash pickers.
Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org