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Watershed Wellness: Join our Watershed Enhancement Team

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The Bitter Root Water Forum works diligently to restore and enhance our unique water resources and features, but with a watershed 2,899 square miles in size, of course, we can’t do it alone. Volunteer support is crucial to this mission of the Water Forum. With long-term volunteer help we are able to implement, monitor and maintain restoration projects throughout the valley, ensuring their ongoing success. As we start this year’s restoration season, we invite you to join our volunteer team for water in the Bitterroot.

The Watershed Enhancement Team (known colloquially as WET) started in 2016 and has since grown into a group of core volunteer members who oversee maintenance of our various restoration sites and provide intermittent help with new project implementation. WET volunteers have immeasurably expanded the Water Forum’s capacity to implement more ambitious projects and to maintain a growing collection of restoration sites across our valley as they help ensure restoration areas are sufficiently established for long-term success.

“What keeps me coming back to volunteer,” said Frank Pelfrey, long-time WET member, “is results that continue to prove successful, the comfortable dynamics of the Water Forum, and the enjoyment of the folks I work with on projects.”

In our most ambitious project yet, the Water Forum planted a revegetation strip, in what’s called a "swale," at Hamilton’s Skalkaho Bend Park last year in an effort to protect portions of the park from the quickly eroding cutbank of the Bitterroot River. This rapid erosion is causing the bank to erode about five feet away each year taking approximately 1 acre of the park every five years. During implementation of this project, over 50 volunteers gave nearly 600 hours to plant over 3,000 trees. With the help of both new and established WET volunteers, we aim to protect this investment into the future.

Frank Reed, another WET member, said, “The WET team ensures success of restoration projects by recognizing the ongoing effort for the Bitterroot is a marathon — not a sprint. Projects require long-term maintenance and perseverance. WET provides year-to-year continuity and adaptation to the river’s ever-changing conditions and challenges.”

This year, we will be implementing several different watershed restoration projects for including revegetation at fishing access sites, replacement of a road culvert for enhanced fish passage, installation of cattle water gaps and fencing, and water quantity monitoring.

We will be holding a kickoff meeting for the Watershed Enhancement Team at 2 p.m., on Friday, May 20, at Skalkaho Bend Park in Hamilton.

If you would like to volunteer with us — whether by maintaining projects in your area of the valley, intermittent project installation workdays, assistance in event organization, or more — please join us at our kickoff meeting or reach out to Alexander at 406-375-2272 or bswc.member@brwaterforum.org.

“Watershed Wellness” is a monthly installation provided by the Bitter Root Water Forum, a local nonprofit that builds community around the river. Learn more about the Water Forum and their education and restoration programs at brwaterforum.org. This informational project is funded in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, DEQ, and MACD.

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The O'Hara Commons & Sustainability Center is inviting community members to its membership drive and fundraising events this weekend, Friday at the Grange, Saturday at O’Hara, and Sunday on Fourth Street.

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