On a sunny Saturday in late July, volunteers from all walks of life scoured the Blackfoot River of northwestern Montana for garbage. For the third year in a row this clean up effort was hosted by the Blackfoot Home and Community Club and sponsored by the BLM, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the University of Montana Campus Recreation Program.
This year more than 258 volunteers, including 38 divers and 30 boats, searched every inch of river bottom and shoreline for trash. This year’s clean sweep from the BLM’s Whitaker Bridge to the community of Bonner collected 3,352 cans, 451 plastic bottles, 188 glass bottles (banned on the river), hundreds of pounds of rusted steel scrap, 100 shoes, eight hats, three wallets and two keys. The good news is we had over twice the number of volunteers and yet we found less garbage then previous years.
Tthe BLM supported the cleanup work with rafts and staff members. Dick Fichtler, outdoor recreation planner, Jo Christensen, fisheries biologist, and John Wienert, forester, spent the day on rafts supporting two-person dive teams.
The river segment below Whitaker Bridge is an extremely popular section for inner tube floats. With no convenient way to hold on to empty cans, tubers are tempted to sink the empties. In response to this problem, the BLM each year purchases over 5,000 cheap mesh bags (really just 5 lb. potato bags) to hand out to tubers before they launch. In addition to being available at popular put-in points, the Blackfoot Home and Community Club also distributes these mesh bags to all of the tube rental and retail stores.
“The fact that we hit it so hard and got less says a lot,” said Fichtler. “The public awareness and the mesh bag program are helping.”