Three rafts and one guide boat bobbed down the Clark Fork Sunday, flanked by snorkelers and hauling mounds of garbage. Passersby kept asking which church group the 20-odd boaters belonged to. Bjorn Nabozney replied they weren't from any church. Just a couple of local breweries.
A mix of staff from Big Sky Brewing and Kettlehouse Brewingalong with local fishing guide Jay Dixonwound up pulling four boatloads of trash from the water over the course of a day-long trip from Sha-Ron to Silver Park. The whole thing came together last-minute, says Nabozney, one of Big Sky's co-founders. Someone suggested an impromptu cleanup float via email, and most figured they'd be on the river anyway.
The Clark Fork Coalition launched its annual cleanup effort in April, pulling six tons of trash from the waterway. But as with any hot Missoula summer, river users in June and July quickly undid the nonprofit's hard work. Based on recent buzz about increased float traffic and messier-than-normal riverbanks, Nabozney expected the grain bags both breweries had brought along to be spilling over.
"We had a bunch of people snorkeling for cans and stuff on the river bottom," he says. "I was pleasantly surprised. I really expected the worst."
Megan Riek, who works at both Big Sky and Kettlehouse, says the initial goal was to clear the "can graveyard" that had formed near Brennan's Wave. But someone beat them to the punch, she adds, indicating other unofficial cleanup efforts have recently hit the river.
Nabozney admits there was some concern that the breweries would wind up finding cans bearing their logos. "We were telling each other, 'Okay, what's the penance if we find one of our own?'" But in the end, snorkelers recovered mostly Bud Light Lime-a-Rita and Coors Light, he says, along with glass bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade and Twisted Tea.
For the past five years, Big Sky has done similar floats along the river west of town. What they typically find there, Nabozney says, are tires. "Not a couple tires. Like, a couple dozen." But it wasn't bottles and cans he found taking up most of the space during last weekend's trip. "Most of the stuff we found was old industrial-type trash, big metal stuff," he says.
Nabozney says the float was enough of a success that both breweries are considering doing it again in a couple of weeks.
"What you find in those situations is stuff that the alcohol industry created," Nabozney says. "So we're just going to go out there and help it out."