George Sims was named Missouri's Water Conservationist of the Year at the Conservation Federation of Missouri's annual convention in Jefferson City recently.
Sims, who is retired from the City of Bastrop, got involved in the water conversation program shortly after moving from Bastrop to Mansfield, Mo. with wife Amanda and daughter Susan in 2007.
“We have a stream that runs through our property,” said Sims, who received the Water Quality Monitoring Ambassador Award in 2009. “The water was flowing when we moved here. I didn't realize it at the time, but it is a seasonal stream— most of the time there is no water.”
He soon found out about the Missouri Stream Team program and became participating in cleanups. Strictly a volunteer organization, the Stream Team program has over 4,000 teams and 80,000 individual volunteers statewide.
“When I first moved up here, I I heard about the Stream Team program through the Missouri Department of Conservation's magazine” Sims said. “I started going to Stream Team cleanups. I would drive 50-100 miles and basically canoe downstream with a lot of like-minded people and we would have a barbecue afterwards. It was a lot of fun for me from the start.”
From there, Sims signed up for one of the organization's eight-hour workshops in the volunteer water quality monitoring program. Upon completion of the course, the state provides members with the necessary equipment for monitoring the physical, biological, and chemical parameters of Missouri's rivers and streams.
The program has four levels. In the introductory course, students are taught how to identify aquatic macroinvertebrates (Spineless creatures that are large enough to be seen without magnification), which are mostly larval indicators, and which can serve as indicators of water quality. Levels 1-3 reinforce the introductory training and introduce chemical testing methods. Sims has advanced to Level 3, which includes less than 100 members.
“We learned how to catch bug larva to help measure water quality. Some bugs thrive in fresh water, just like others thrive in sewage,” Sims said. “We collect bugs, ID them and give data to the state. The state gives you about $500 worth of equipment. They test you to make sure you know what you are doing.”
Funding for the equipment is provided by the state.
“Missouri passed a 1/8-cent sales tax for conservation, so they have money to spend,” Sims said. “That's why Missouri probably has the best statewide conservation program in the country.”
In less than five years, Sims advanced to Level 3.
“Level 3 is pretty tough,” Sims said. “They sent a man from the state and we spent about four hours together. I had to catch and ID every bug in front of him.”
Page 2 of 3 - Sims also had to provide a chemical sampling, measure the flow of a river and assess stream bank conditions.
“Once you get past that, they figure your data is probably about as good as that provided by the professionals from the department,” Sims said.
Sims is in charge of four streams in the area, including Bryant Creek which runs through Wright County where he resides in the Ozark Mountains. In 2010, Sims organized the Bryant Creek Assessment Project and his team took on the task of monitoring all 42 miles of Bryant Creek.
Last year, Sims was part of the group completing the Upper White River Monitoring Project.
In addition to his activities with the Steam Team, Sims also participates in the Master Naturalist program. The workshop last for three months, one night a week.
“They teach you about everything from streams and plants to mountain lions,” Sims said. “It's like a nature club.”
In the mid-1990s, Sims was among the founders of a loosely-organized outdoors group in Morehouse Parish. Some longtime Enterprise subscribers may recall reading about the (exaggerated?) adventures of the Bartholomew Society.
“We sort of talked a good game,” Sims laughed. “It was pretty much an old fellas club. We'd get together and go canoeing and have a fish fry afterwards.”
The Bartholomew Society was born when its founding members, former Bastrop High teacher and Enterprise columnist Mickey McLean, the late Frank Tugwell, former Enterprise Editor Tim Franklin and Sims climbed Driskill Mountain in Bienville Parish. Although it's summit reaches a modest 535 feet, Mount Driskill is Louisiana's highest point.
“We climbed Driskill Mountain 535 feet above sea level and Mickey made it sound like a real adventure in his column,” Sims said. “The next thing you know, Mickey and Frank started giving out certificates to people — mostly women — making them charter members. Pretty soon, they had given away about 100 certificates.”
Despite rising to his current status as an award-winning conservationist, Sims hasn't forgotten his humble roots.
“I have my Bartholomew Society flag hanging behind me in my man cave as we speak,” Sims said during a telephone interview for this article.
Mansfield's most prominent resident of all-time would be proud of the impact that Sims made during his brief time in the town of approximately 1,300. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote her series of
“Little House” books in Mansfield, which inspired the “Little House on the Prairie,” television series.
“Larua Ingalls Wilder and her husband lived their entire lives in Mansfield and are buried here,” Sims said.
Sims and his family plan to relocate at the end of the school year as Amanda has accepted a teaching position at Landers Valley High School in Landers, Wyo. at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
Page 3 of 3 - Needless to say, it will be interesting to see which projects Sims attacks next.