By Heather Leach
I have been incredibly lucky this summer working on the river. Almost every day I am on the water doing either a program, research, or an event. A number of work events have even included floats at the end of the day for river clean-ups or meet-ups to appreciate this outdoor recreation opportunity we have. One of our programs, Adopt-a-Stream, is dedicated to making sure that youth in Missoula are aware of and feel like they have access to these waters that run through Missoula.
When I started this position, I was not that familiar with river ecology or how our watershed works. I was knowledgeable about a very specific aspect of rivers and wildlife through my work looking at beaver habitat. But I didn’t have a broader understanding of how these animals and waters were so integrated to our survival in Western Montana. Throughout this year, I have come to a greater understanding and appreciation on the delicate balance that we are trying to keep of our urban river here in Missoula and making sure that the river is still a home to the animals and ecosystem that existed here long before we started using the river as a play area. As our population grows and we see more and more usage on the river, it’s important that we use it responsibly.
A portion of my summer has been working to create more awareness around our use of the urban river corridor and making sure that casual floaters are being careful with their trash on the river. We have had a number of events in East Missoula where we hand out bags for cans and clean up the popular beach and more than anything it has been great to create awareness. Often the people using the area were unaware we had a clean-up event, but were so grateful to see us there, and even jumped in to help sometimes. But our broader impact was just picking up the trash, people observing us doing that, and then making sure they had bags as they were floating. And, of course, it never hurts that we get to end the clean-up with a float back down in to Missoula!