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Tube hatch on the Clark Fork

During hot summer days, Clark Fork River floaters pass Missoula's Madison Street Bridge on average once every minute, with a peak of 174 floaters in an hour on July 21, 2018. Managing this and other river topics is the goal of the volunteer organization Three Rivers Collaborative.

There will be snacks, beverages, socializing and maybe even an inner tube: Everything you’d expect from a mid-week afternoon on the river except the currently frozen water.

The “Celebration of Missoula’s Rivers” gathering from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at Conflux Brewing Co. brings together at least 18 organizations, businesses and government agencies, plus anyone with an interest in the waterways flowing through the city.

“If you care about the rivers, you could go to 60 different public open houses, or come to this one and see all the different projects happening,” said Missoula Conservation Lands Manager Morgan Valliant. “There’s going to be a bunch of information we collected on river use to help understand what types of folks are using the rivers. There will be ways to get involved with the collaborative. And we’re going to feed everybody.”

Appetizers will be provided by the Three Rivers Collaborative, a group that started meeting regularly last fall and soon realized it had lots to both learn and share.

“For me, it was seeing a lot of the same people at the same meetings four or five times a year on slightly different issues,” said Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 2 Supervisor Randy Arnold. “And one group or another was trying to accomplish something a little too late. We all started thinking: Why don’t we be a little more intentional about this?”

For example, the growing popularity of inner-tube floating along the Clark Fork River has both benefits and downsides for the river community. Floaters buy refreshments and gear from local businesses and have a good time. But because tubers don’t need boat ramps to get in and out of the water, they spread their put-ins and take-outs up and down the shoreline. That leads to erosion, parking problems and neighborhood irritation.

And it reveals something not obvious until everyone started meeting: the role street transportation plays in river activity. Would a bus route tweak reduce parking congestion at a popular access point? Would a strategically placed public toilet reduce some of the litter and sanitation problems?

Pelah Hoyt of Five Valleys Land Trust said the collaborative has so many different participants, no one can tell someone else what to do. But simply being together in the room gives everyone a sense of what’s possible, what’s needed, and what’s in the way.

“We haven’t prioritized the list of things to do,” Hoyt said. “We want to hear more about that from the public. That’s why this event is important. To have so many people value the river is a good problem to have.”

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