By JEN SLAYDEN
On a bright Saturday morning, approximately 75 boaters, tubers, and divers met to talk trash! River trash that is. It was the 13th year of the annual Blackfoot River Cleanup, this year sponsored by local grocery store Missoula Fresh Market.
The Blackfoot River cleanup was the inception of my sweet and spunky neighbor, Marietta Pfister, who you would never think would talk so much garbage!
Asked why she started the annual event she responded, “I got mad because I would see people throwing garbage in the river and around the sides of the banks. When I would ask them to pick up they weren’t very kind about it. So I called the state and EPA and asked them what I could do about it! I also called the FWP, and they were very helpful and then it just snowballed. BLM got involved. The Sheriff’s department got involved because there was trouble at Johnsrude. Families wouldn’t go up there. So they started writing tickets, taking drunks to the jail. They clamped down.”
The first years of the cleanup were held in the backyard of Marietta and husband Bob’s home on the river, and up to 200 people would show up. There were piles of trash that were sorted and various items found. Eventually, the event moved venues to start and end at Johnsrud Park.
Marietta’s grassroot effort continued beyond the once a year gathering. She continued: “This one day of cleanup works good, because everyone is helping, but what about the rest of the year?”
So she bought 300 mesh bags from former Army Navy store and distributed them. She got the Blackfoot Home and Community Club in Potomac involved. When it was clear that more bags could be distributed BLM and FWP said they would help out. Dick Sichtler from BLM was a liaison between our little corner and Washington DC, who wanted to see a pilot program take off that would entail educating schools and clubs about the river cleanup.
Marietta took her presentation to eight schools, and the Boy Scout and Girl Scout clubs, teaching kids about the importance of keeping our rivers clean so everyone could enjoy them. Teachers could tie Marietta’s presentation into a larger unit on environmental issues. Potomac resident Janelle Schiller and Marietta’s husband Bob joined in for a few of the classes.
Each year BLM provides approximately 7,000 bags for distribution that are FREE for the public to grab before heading out to our rivers. Students from Hellgate High School wood shop built 40 stands over three years for display at several of the places who carry the bags. You can find them at Fresh Market Missoula, Orange Street Food Farm, Les Schwab, Cully’s, Tirama, REI, Ole’s East Msla, Murdoch’s, the Trailhead, Town Pump in Bonner, the King Fisher, Grizzly Hackle, Bob Wards, FWP, Roveros (Seeley Lake), and two local places in Ovando.
Last Saturday I participated in the clean up with two of my teenagers. We floated just a short stretch and managed to completely fill our mesh bag with items. Among them were unopened alcoholic drinks, a golf ball, and a MSU Bobcat cap. Go ahead and insert your very own trash joke on that Bobcat hat!
We took our bag up to Jonsrud and added it to the pile of miscellaneous junk spread out on a tarp, where hard working volunteers were sorting. We enjoyed camaraderie with the other volunteers and neighbors while eating a delicious meal provided by Missoula Fresh Market. It made me proud to live by the river matriarch who was passionate enough to say “enough is enough” and stand up for a clean river. I also feel so thankful for the 75 plus volunteers who came out to be a part of the day, and for all those who utilize the bags that are available around town each time they go out on the river to relax, fish, and enjoy.
Missoulians, we live in an amazing place! No matter what neighborhood you choose to rent or buy housing, you are not more than a quick walk, bike ride, or drive from several rivers and streams. We are so fortunate that we have access to recreating and enjoying the beauty of our rivers. With folks like Marietta Pfister, perhaps someday we can quit talking trash because our rivers will remain pristine and everyone will float clean.
Jen Slayden wears many hats: Mother, Real Estate Agent with Main Street Realty, teacher for the non profit music program Center for Music, UM alumni, runner, and supporter of all things local. Her RealChange program dedicates a generous amount of her Real Estate commissions to be given back locally to organizations of her client’s choice. You can find her on Facebook, or give her a call at 406-370-0300.