Missouri’s great Meramec River is finally getting some good publicity after lots of negative news about overflowing its banks this spring. The winding wonder is now the object of a new film, “Meramec River: Miracles and Milestones,” and later in May the mercurial Meramec will host the National Poling Championship.
River poling is a unique way to get upstream without a paddle. The nation’s top canoe polers will compete on the Meramec at Route 66 State Park, just off Interstate 44. No admission will be charged and learning clinics will abound. The May 29-31 event will be the American Canoe Association’s 43rd annual poling competition.
In addition to the national poling champions who will be on the Meramec, St. Louis area river favorites will also be rolling out their pole-popping skills. Among the local canoe poling masters will be Mike Guenther, Marty Guenther, George Barhorst, Syl and Al Beletz.
No better Meramer River storytellers can be found than the Beletz brothers!
Al Beletz can catalog Meramec River characters going back decades. He knows the campers, floaters, tubers, paddlers and racers who’ve enjoyed the waters of the Meramec. Among his favorite mavens of the Meramec are such legends as:
• Ralph “Treehouse Brown.” He was the Dizzy Dean of Meramec canoeing and actually lived in a treehouse on the Huzzah. He won the 1965 canoe poling championship. He could carry a 200-pound log to the campfire. Of course, he couldn’t do that after he lost partial use of an arm in a duel.
• Emma Crow. She is described by Beletz as a “real Indian girl from Oklahoma,” who lived in a one-room shack near the Museum of Transport. She’d bring chickens in a cage on canoe trips. She’d break their necks and fry them fresh on a gravel bar when it was time to camp.
• Joe Schele. He lived on the river, surviving on a diet of ducks, squirrels and potatoes. According to Schele’s own diaries, the legendary riverman “bagged” 994 red and gray squirrels from 1932 through 1976. Some would say Schele murdered an awful lot of little critters, but then they never ate squirrel stew with Joe.
• Arno Storbeck. As the German caretaker of Stites Beach, a Kirkwood recreation area on the river, Storbeck got tired of those who described the Meramec as especially treacherous, full of deadly eddies, whirlpools and undertows. Storbeck, used to say: ‘Das ist bullshit. There is no magical undertow,’”
The Meramec River is treasured by nature lovers for its tall bluff areas, scenic bends, its flora and fauna and its excellent gravel bars for relaxation. Environmentalists have done much to take this once degraded stream and to slowly nurse it back to health. According to the Open Space Council, river restoration work on the Meramec began in earnest in 1967 with the first annual Operation Clean Stream.
Of course, the Meramec River also is treasured – not just for its natural attributes – but for the great memories it has provided for those who love the outdoors along the river. Do you have some Meramec stories to tell? Do you know some Meramec characters like Emma and Arno? Please share them on our blog site here. We can’t wait to read more Meramec memories!