HAMILTON – Imagine trying to survive in the Bitterroot Valley in this blistering weather without the life-giving resource of the Bitterroot River.
There’d be no water for crops and yards, no place to enjoy fishing and the outdoors, and certainly no place to float and cool off.
It’s a vivid reminder of why its important to take care of the Bitterroot. And this is the weekend to do it.
"The Bitterroot River is the lifeblood of our community. Not a person, plant, fish or bird could live here without it," said Bitterroot Water Forum Executive Director Heather Barber. "And beyond giving life, it provides tremendous opportunity for recreation and enjoyment. It supports the local economy through tourism and industry. So you really can’t understate the importance of the Bitterroot River."
That’s why for the last several years, the Bitterroot Water Forum has sponsored its annual Cleanup Day in mid-August, a chance for residents of all ages to roll up their sleeves, slip on some boots and show this legendary waterway a little love.
It’s a fun assignment, but not one to take lightly, and taking care of that watershed represents quite the responsibility. The Bitterroot River Cleanup stretches all the way from Sula to Missoula.
"We have a hundred and fifty five miles of river running north through this valley," Barber said. "And we really want to get people engaged in this stewardship and caring for that resource."
The cleanup has been done every year since 2012. But this year there’s been more of push to extend that awareness and activity throughout the year. Organizers began distributing cleanup supplies last spring. And they’re continuing to ask people to report problems along the river whenever they see them.
"And we average 2,000 pounds of trash that we remove each year. And last year we broke a record with 2,300 pounds of trash. And these are not the kinds of records we want to be breaking. We’re really trying to reduce the overall amount of trash in the river. So the cleanup all year was born to really get people thinking about the importance of a clean, healthy river all year long, and not just one day during the annual cleanup."
The good news is, the Bitterroot is in much better shape than other comparable rivers in the Northwest. However, keeping it that way takes cooperation. The Bitterroot Water Forum works with landowners, residents and state and federal agencies to maintain and improve the Bitterroot.
"We’re very fortunate that the Bitterroot River is fairly healthy when you look at it, when you fish it you can tell that it’s doing pretty well for itself," Barber said. "But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems. We have nutrient, temperature, and sediment problems. So temps that are too high, sediment is too much and so we really try to get out and encourage people to take a different look at the river."
The cleanup weekend starts with the "Run for the River" 5K Thursday evening, which includes the Splash Dash for Kids which is bound to be very popular in this temperatures. Then the cleanup runs throughout the day on Friday along the entire length of the river, with a volunteer appreciation BBQ at River Park from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.