It seemed awfully early on a Sunday morning to see a line of trucks heading out of Rattler Gulch, just west of Drummond.
So Richard Goldberg broke off a trip to his own property to investigate the exodus. Three big bags of garbage later, he vented his frustrations about another season of careless keggers.
"They picked a beautiful site to have their camp-out," the Missoula engineer said Monday. "I spent 2 1/2 hours picking up stuff. At least I got some reward out of it - I found a pocket knife and a nickel."
The site is one of many that get lots of unwanted attention as schools close and summer vacations begin. While cool and wet weather has literally dampened some of the festivities, recreation managers around Missoula say they're braced for disappointment.
"We spend a tremendous amount of money out of our maintenance budget on vandalism and wanton damage," said Lolo National Forest resource staff officer Andy Kulla. "Miller Creek is constant. Garbage and litter and off-road driving."
Partyers also frequently tear up bulletin boards and benches for firewood. While they don't typically use developed campgrounds, they set up activities in nearby clearings. Kulla said Pattee Canyon, the upper Rattlesnake, Blue Mountain and Lolo Creek were other regular targets for sloppy drinking parties.
U.S. Forest Service law enforcement patrols go on extra alert around the end of school to prevent party activity. So do wardens for the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. FWP information manager Vivaca Crowser said the recent addition of a recreation warden position has helped provide extra patrols of fishing access sites and state parks.
"The Deep Creek area gets lots of use," Crowser said. "We encourage people to use our 1-800-TIP-MONT (800-847-6668) line. You can call and report anything on that line. It's not just for hunting and fishing violations."
Underage drinkers face criminal penalties for minor in possession of alcohol, driving under the influence, and a variety of land-use violations if caught at keggers.
At the Rattler Gulch scene, Goldberg found spray-painted logos for a Missoula high school as well as other lasting degradations. The site was on a saddle at the end of a very rough road. Along with the trash, Goldberg also hauled out a rain-soaked mattress that had been abandoned.
He passed an informal message to the high school students he suspected were responsible, inviting them to come clean up the mess. As of Sunday, no one had, so he did it himself.
"I could see why they chose the site because of its privacy and beauty," Goldberg said. "I could not understand why they would come to such a beautiful place and leave such a mess. I would like the students that did this deed to be more responsible in the future. I would also like it if the up-and-coming classes of high school graduates would have more respect for this earth. It sustains us all."