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Parents planted the roots of a conservation ethic Saturday, as they took their children out on the Bitter Root Water Forum’s annual river cleanup day.

Robin Pruitt is a supporter of the Bitter Root Water Forum and goes to the Riverfest every year. But this is her first time out for the river cleanup day.

“We’ve always wanted to get the kids involved,” Pruitt said. “It’s important to teach them about the river and their heritage. It’s all about what it means to be a Bitterrooter and to promote good stewardship.”

The Pruitt, Massey and Tellock families banded together on a float from Veteran’s Park in Hamilton to Woodside Crossing and decided to stop and pick up any garbage they saw along the way.

The children all had a copy of the Bitter Root Water Forum’s scavenger hunt list. Garbage items were assigned different point values and they could earn a prize for a score above 25 points. A food wrapper earned one point, discarded fishing gear two points and “something bigger than your head” earned a whopping five points.

Knox Pruitt is 6 years old and said he remembers seeing a Gatorade bottle out on the shore one of the last times he and his family floated the river. Knox was excited to participate.

“It sounds fun and I don’t like trash in the river,” Knox said. “I love the Bitterroot.”

The Bitter Root Water Forum organized more than 70 people to collect trash and beautify the river Saturday, as part of its annual cleanup. Volunteers participated at 30 different walk-in locations and along 10 different floats, covering the entire length of the Bitterroot River, including its East and West Forks.

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The Bitterroot cleanup day generally removes more than 1,000 pounds of trash from the river, according to Katie Vennie, the program coordinator at the Bitter Root Water Forum. This year, the water forum is having the soft-launch of its year-round cleanup project, and has been distributing trash bags to fly shops to give to floaters.

Next year, instead of one-time use plastic trash bags, the Bitter Root Water Forum will be distributing reusable mesh bags for people to use on their floats.

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Madeline Pruszenski filled in at the Bitter Root Water Forum’s table at the Hamilton Farmer’s Market. Pruszenski said the cleanup received a lot of attention. 

“Lots of people came up to us and thanked us and told us they appreciate what we do,” Pruszenski said.

The table at the farmer’s market offered the opportunity to collect donations in support of the Bitter Root Water Forum. Donations will go toward a project to pull an old car out of the bank of the West Fork of the Bitterroot this fall.

By hosting a table at the farmer’s market, the Bitter Root Water Forum reached out to people who were not planning to participate in the river cleanup effort.

One family, the Hackers, are visiting Montana from out of state, but picked up a trash bag at the farmer’s market to take out on their float Saturday.

“We didn’t come out today to pick up trash intentionally, but we definitely plan to pick up whatever we see today,” Karen Hacker said.

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