Taking out the trash

Park County locals set out the clean the Yellowstone River
Neil Patrick Healy
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Enterprise photos by Neil Patrick Healy

Brad Kaufman, left, and Carlos Miera, right, haul metal that was fished out of the river Saturday in Livingston. Below are other pictures taken during the Yellowstone River Cleanup on Saturday.

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Linda Ulrich poses with the remains of a rusted shovel she fished out of the river, Saturday in Livingston.

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Jamie Denny admires the pile of metals she will take to be recycled on Saturday in Livingston.

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Saturday saw Livingston locals hitting the river in their boats not looking for fish, but for trash.

The annual Yellowstone River Cleanup is put on by Livingston’s Joe Brooks Chapter of Trout Unlimited, where over 90 people spent the afternoon scrounging the banks of the Yellowstone looking for trash and debris left behind for who knows how long. What was brought back ranged from washed up car tires and styrofoam blocks to rusty pipes and beat up oil drums.

The sight of heaps of trash and waste being brought back may make an environmentalist squirm, but the bright side is that the piles are getting smaller every year.

“Every year we do this, we come back with less and less trash, so that is a great thing,” said Julia Tietz, president of the Joe Brooks Chapter. “I think we’ve ended up with hundreds of pounds of trash less each year that we do it, so that is very encouraging to us that we are getting the big stuff that has been left in the river for years and years and years. Every year, maybe people are taking a little more care and not letting their garbage getting away from them.”

All the volunteers met at the Livingston Civic Center at 9:30 a.m., were they divided into groups for each boat or assigned to sift for garbage along the banks. After digging and fishing out enough trash to fill their boats and bags, they went back to the civic center to dispose of what they collected. There were two bins: one was for garbage and the other was for metal or other materials that could be recycled. Volunteers trickled in throughout the afternoon dropping off what they had. After they were done, they had their boats cleaned so the next time they use it, it wouldn’t carry invasive species wherever they go.

“We had a couple boats that came in with some pretty big items,” Tietz said. “Old culverts and old pieces of metal they pulled out of the river.”

The volunteers were unable to get an exact weight of the trash they collected this year, but Tietz is confident that it was less than it was in previous years, something she views as a good sign.

The Yellowstone River had been a dumping ground of people’s garbage for generations before rules enforcing littering in the river were implemented. Many of the bigger metal objects dug out of the river are not from a recent dumping, but have been buried in the banks for years before it eventually gets found. Thanks to this cleanup and people more aware of litter, Tietz has seen drastic improvement.

“It’s been pretty amazing to be honest with you,” she said. “The first year I did it, we pulled a woodstove out of the river and our boat was ladened down with metal. It could hardly float. When we got back, there was a washing machine, a refrigerator and some really big items. So four years ago, there was a ton of big stuff, and it’s gradually gone down since then.”