Spring is here and that means the Clark Fork River is rising, and that’s a problem for city, county and community leaders as they race to finish cleaning up the tons of trash and debris from the Reserve Street homeless camp area.

KGVO News spoke with Missoula County Commission Chair Juanita Vero who was at the site and provided this comment.

“We have a lot of partners and volunteers, and some city and county folks all helping out to pick up what's been collected by volunteers the past few Fridays,” said Ms. Vero. “People are probably curious about why it is taking so long. We have a very tight window as in this weekend before the water rises, and that's why we're pushing so hard because there's a channel that we can't get across and so we're concerned about water rising and not being able to clean up what people have collected, so that's the push.”

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Kevin Davis, head of the Reserve Street Working Group shared the phone with Ms. Vero and told KGVO what was happening on Friday.

“This is cleanup number four,” began Davis. “We kicked it off with an Earth Day event, and today we've got the best turnout in terms of city and county support. We showed up this morning thinking we'd have another couple of dozen volunteers to pick up loose items. However, we were met with several city and county staff, a couple of County Commissioners, and lots of heavy equipment. So we're getting so much more done today and we remain optimistic. I think today we're looking to get what's left out of here before the river takes it away.”

Credit: Peter Christian
Credit: Peter Christian

Davis looked back at his early efforts to help the individuals who had been living under the Reserve Street Bridge.

“I came down with a friend a couple of Thanksgivings ago and we delivered Thanksgiving dinner and visited with some of the campers just to hear their stories,” he said. “I tried to understand why they're here. There have been so many for such a long time. For many years it's been entrenched here. We determined just for your observation that it’s a dangerous place for anyone to have to live.”

Davis was able to look ahead at what he hopes will happen eventually to the area beneath the Reserve Street Bridge, eventually open to public access to see the rich variety of wildlife in the area.

“It becomes a safer place, it becomes more ideal for the wildlife that's here,” he said. “I mean, I just saw golden eagle fly overhead half an hour ago and we saw that same eagle last week. There are geese making their way through and ducks of all sorts, so the wildlife is here. It's an ideal place for the general public. When you're down here and you just see the trash littered in every direction, it’s good to see the community coming together to make it better. It's very inspiring.”

The County Commissioners declared a state of emergency on Thursday evening, enabling the county to join community volunteers in removing the trash that has accumulated under the bridge due to people living illegally on the property owned by the Department of Transportation for years.

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