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Lovers locks on the Van Buren footbridge

An accumulation of lovers locks on the Van Buren footbridge has a Missoula resident concerned about damage to the structure and littering in the Clark Fork River from keys thrown in the water.

The 2,200 love locks on Missoula’s Van Bureau Bridge will stay put for the time being, even though they’re adding an estimated 400 pounds to the structure’s weight.

In a meeting Thursday, Missoula County commissioners and Missoula Mayor John Engen agreed that the locks aren’t creating any structural stability issues, and with only one complaint they aren’t going to make removing the locks a priority. While the bridge is within the city limits, it’s owned by the county.

“Trying to develop some interest in having someone going out every day with bolt cutters … seems like a lot of effort to deal with something that seems to be a relatively benign issue,” Engen said.

Missoula resident John Wolverton requested the removal of the padlocks of passion in January over concerns that the cumulative effect of “unsightly lovelocks” could threaten the structural integrity of the bridge or its chain-link fence.

In an email to the city, which later was forwarded to the county, Wolverton noted that in 2015, Paris officials removed about 1 million locks from a bridge after part of it collapsed under the weight of the metal trinkets. They had accumulated for about 15 years from tourists who had written the names of lovers on the locks, affixed them to the bridge and thrown away the keys.

Along with the potential structural damages, Wolverton called the locks “graffiti on public assets” and a “degradation of the public sphere.” In addition, he was concerned that people were throwing the locks’ keys into the river, potentially damaging water quality and harming endangered species.

Commissioner Dave Strohmaier did his own investigation based on Wolverton’s emails, and reported that he hadn’t seen any accumulation of keys on the bottom of the Clark Fork River in the area of the Van Buren Bridge.

“About half of them appeared to be combination locks, which wouldn’t have keys,” Strohmaier said, adding that he was contacted by the family who had put a love lock on the bridge with the name of their son, who had killed himself. “I got the impression they were not going to be pleased if the lock was removed.”

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