Vandals are disrupting work by Missoula Parks and Recreation crews to re-vegetate Clark Fork riverbanks damaged by flooding in recent years.
Every year, Parks and Rec does restoration planting along riparian areas under its management.
Because of flooding on the Clark Fork River, especially heavy flooding in 2008 and 2011, about seven acres of riverbank were lost in the Tower Street Conservation Area.
“People’s tendency is to want to walk next to the river, so we have places where a trail has formed inches away from the bank,” said Morgan Valliant, conservation lands manager with Parks and Rec.
When flooding caused the erosion, the new riverfront didn’t have enough vegetation to stabilize the bank. Natural regrowth is difficult and time consuming, so Parks and Rec supplements with planting in the spring and fall.
Valliant said the plants also provide shade over the water, which improves fish habitat. The planting is specifically done to make sure there are plenty of places where the public can still access the water.
“We are really trying to balance public use and conservation,” Valliant said Friday.
This year, Parks and Rec put in a record 2,500 plants in its conservation areas.
But last week, a day after plants were placed in the Tower Street area, crews returned to the site to water them, only to find that many had been pulled out of the ground.
“Unfortunately, we went out and planted, then people tore them up, so we planted again with signs up around them,” Valliant said.
A line of potted dogwoods that Parks and Rec had put in the area was almost entirely pulled up and thrown around on the trails, Valliant said.
Parks and Rec always assumes that some plants will be lost to deer and other animals, but Valliant said when the damage was so widespread, they knew something more had happened.
Parks and Rec makes an attempt to clearly mark the native plants it puts into these areas, clearing a circle around the plant or marking it with a circle of stones to signify that it was done purposefully.
“We lost the value of the plants, we lost time, and long-term we could lose bank and habitat,” Valliant said.
Kate Sousa, a maintenance tech assistant with Parks and Rec, said someone had also destroyed the markings around the plants, and seemed to only be concerned with ruining the work that had been done.
“It’s depressing, a lot of times they’re not taken, they’re just laying on the ground dying,” she said.
Parks and Rec has made other attempts at reinforcing the bank, like placing logs along the edge. She said maintenance workers found that people had simply pushed them into the water.
Sousa and maintenance worker Rob Bell said they have seen similar vandalism in Greenough Park along Rattlesnake Creek.
After discovering the vandalism, Parks and Rec replanted the vegetation, but Sousa said there is only a limited budget and stock of plants to be able to replace the vandalized areas.
“We really need people to help out and self-police these areas,” Bell said.