Removing Trash from Treasure: Debut Cleanup Day is a Success on the Upper Swan River

By Rob Rich

The news today is filled with horrific updates on the likes of microplastics (in drinking water, in sea salt..) or the Great Pacific garbage patch (the frightening gyre of trash that’s at least as big as Texas). So, for a change of pace, here’s some good news: On August 24, SVC hosted our first-ever Upper Swan River Cleanup day, and over the course of four hours, we filled a pickup truck with trash. By foot and float, from the bridge on Porcupine Creek Road to Lindbergh Lake, we searched banks and log jams, boat ramps and fishing sites, cleaning up everything you’d expect: hidden clumps of toilet paper, mossed-over cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, cigarette butts, and fishing line. But there was a whole lot we didn’t expect: a bag of diapers, a useless stream gauge, and a nice MSU Bobcats cap. And perhaps most surprising of all: a monkey mask, with supersized ears and river-gnarled black hair streaked with mud, no doubt from a Halloween party upstream. 

It’s always uplifting to see a concentrated heap of what would otherwise be insidiously dispersed through the watery heart of our valley. We share the uncommon privilege to live, work, and play in one of the wildest, healthiest watersheds in the Northern Rockies, and perhaps the whole of North America. These superlatives make it all the more important that we keep it as clean as we can. You can learn more about why this work is so important for our native fish and wildlife in our next Swan Valley Almanac video, which will focus on bull trout, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Much of this Swan River and its tributaries are designated as Critical Habitat for this legendary fish, so we were especially pleased to conduct this cleanup in tandem with our partners, the Swan Lakers, who worked downstream of Swan Lake. Together, we had a watershed-wide impact, and we look forward to growing our efforts with your help next year!

Large woody debris diversifies and complicates the river’s flow, and it provides an important refuge for native fish and wildlife. But it’s not every day you find an entire canoe buried in a log jam. This fiberglass shipwreck was too much to be salvaged without chainsaws. Despite its burial, this vessel looked pretty intact, and now we know where to go when we’re ready for a good excavation.

Large woody debris diversifies and complicates the river’s flow, and it provides an important refuge for native fish and wildlife. But it’s not every day you find an entire canoe buried in a log jam. This fiberglass shipwreck was too much to be salvaged without chainsaws. Despite its burial, this vessel looked pretty intact, and now we know where to go when we’re ready for a good excavation.

This half-a-canoe could be salvaged, however, and it fit nicely in a packraft.

This half-a-canoe could be salvaged, however, and it fit nicely in a packraft.

The Swan River is lucky to have access to its floodplain throughout most of the watershed, which makes for dynamic habitats as the water finds the path of least resistance. But as the floodplain gets submerged in high water, the gravel bars and riparian vegetation can become unfortunate, unintended resting places for our garbage.

The Swan River is lucky to have access to its floodplain throughout most of the watershed, which makes for dynamic habitats as the water finds the path of least resistance. But as the floodplain gets submerged in high water, the gravel bars and riparian vegetation can become unfortunate, unintended resting places for our garbage.


Here are seven of our eleven volunteers who participated in our debut river cleanup – thanks to Rebecca, Caitlyn, Apryll, Joost, Dan, Laura, Mike, Luke, Sharon, and Steve for all your efforts!

Here are seven of our eleven volunteers who participated in our debut river cleanup – thanks to Rebecca, Caitlyn, Apryll, Joost, Dan, Laura, Mike, Luke, Sharon, and Steve for all your efforts!