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Year Round River Clean Up

Hamilton High School student Caden Brown works on one of 15 stands that will hold free reusable garbage bags made available to floaters this season from the Bitter Root Water Forum.

Last August volunteers collected 2,360 pounds of trash in and around the Bitterroot River during an annual cleanup project that’s been happening for years.

This year, the folks who host that annual event are hoping that volunteers won’t find nearly as much to pick up.

The Bitter Root Water Forum is starting a new project that it’s calling Year Round River Clean Up.

Their plan is to set up stands in up to 20 Bitterroot Valley businesses that will offer free reusable trash bags to floaters getting ready to spend a day on the river. Their hope is the people will fill those bags not only with the trash they generate, but also the stuff they notice on the banks of the Bitterroot.

“We’ll have reusable trash bags available throughout the valley that folks can pick up and take with them when they head out on the river,” said Bitter Root Water Forum Executive Director Heather Barber. “Getting bags into people’s hands before they hit the water will give them somewhere to put their trash while they’re out.”

The forum is following the lead of the Blackfoot Home and Community Club that’s been doing something similar for several years on the Blackfoot River.

“They’ve had great success with their program,” said Katie Vennie, Bitter Root Water Forum program coordinator. “They started with somewhere around 1,000 bags a year and now they’re up to close to 7,000.”

The Blackfoot organization provided the forum with its first 100 bags last year as a test run. After finding that businesses and floaters were interested in ramping up the program, folks from the forum reached out to Hamilton High School woodshop instructor Russ Fisk for help in building the stands.

Earlier this week, three of Fisk’s students were busy drilling holes and sanding the stands that will begin appearing in businesses later this month.

“This is a good learning experience for them,” Fisk said. “We are always looking for ways to help out the community.”

The project is being funded through a grant from Rapp Family Foundation.

Big Sky Watershed Corps Member Aissa Wise said the local businesses that have agreed to set up the stands are happy about being part of the program.

“I’ve talked with numerous businesses about it and everyone was really excited and immediately wanted to be part of it,” Wise said. “We’re working with local fly shops and grocery stores. They all realize that they get a lot of folks coming in for some last-minute supplies before they hit the river.”

People want to do what they can to keep the Bitterroot River trash-free.

“We enjoy seeing fishermen and women stop by the store in the mornings to grab their last minute snacks for their day out on the river,” said Kris Harrison of Gary and Leo’s Fresh Foods IGA in Florence. “Having reusable trash bags available to these folks at our store will help keep their trash out of the river.”

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Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.