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March 25, 2010 3:37 am

Shoshone spring cleaning

Written by Tribune Staff

Local Trout Unlimited chapter cleans up Shoshone River

The local chapter of Trout Unlimited and a few Wyoming Game and Fish Department volunteers did not celebrate spring's arrival by wetting a few flies; instead, they policed a stretch of the Shoshone River.

About 20 folks — East Yellowstone Trout Unlimited representatives, Game and Fish personnel and volunteers — showed up on Saturday morning just south of the Belfry Bridge in Cody for the annual Trout Unlimited river clean-up.

Folks in rubber rafts and waders paddle down the Shoshone River, stopping along the way to pick up the litter lining its shores.

The discarded items found over the years run the gamut from washers and driers to tires, cans, bottles, cars and even a trampoline.

There are floaters — folks riding rafts — and shuttle drivers, who pull trailers to haul trash and the boats. The trash run starts at DeMaris Springs, roughly below Trail Town, to the Corbett Bridge below U.S. 14-A.

Game and Fish Cody Fisheries Supervisor Steve Yekel, Trout Unlimited Council President Dave Sweet, Trout Unlimited member Cathy Sweet, former Game and Fish Director John Baughman and this Powell Tribune reporter launch two rafts at DeMaris Springs.

Cody fisheries biologists Jason Burckhardt and Mark Smith and the rest will work downstream.

It's beautiful here. Steep cliffs tumble to the river like stratified russet mountains, and the river flows emerald green and sure. Geese riding the river or camping on cliffs honk like morning commuters, and ducks quack cantankerously and lift off in flashy sequence.

Yekel mans the oars in one boat, Baughman the other, guiding their rafts like oarsmen in rowboats.

With a swish, we're riding the waves and bouncing over occasional stretches of equable white water.

It is even more appealing around the bend, meeting the sun bouncing off the river like a welcome friend. In minutes the chill morning has transformed itself to a gorgeous one, expediting the mind to a celebratory mode.

A little stretch of grass and thorny Russian olive is the first stop. Yekel eases the boat in and I stumble out in a pair of borrowed chest waders and armed with a trash bag. A couple cans, a plastic bottle, bits of plastic grocery sacks snagged around brush and golf balls are my first take.

Back on board, Yekel says people litter mindlessly without contemplating the consequences.

Downstream, a hawk soars overhead, riding air currents as though on an invisible roller coaster, and the river shimmers like green glass.

At another stop, I fetch more plastic clinging to brush like tattered and dusty ribbons, more golf balls and steel cans in an old campfire.

Returning to the boat, I note Yekel has found a 55-gallon barrel he has lashed to two pallets we wrestled onto the raft earlier.

The boat is beginning to resemble a miniature garbage scow with the barrel, pallets and a couple trash bags.

This is Trout Unlimited's operation, but the department is on board, too, Yekel said. The clean-up was initiated years ago by the Park County commissioners, but then the organization took over.

“It has to be at least 12 or 14 years that we have done it,” Yekel said.

On the side of a hill, I spot a water heater. Yekel drives the boat in and I clamber over rocks to fetch the ungainly thing. With Yekel's help, we roll it to the shoreline then strap it next to the pallets and barrel.

In sight of the Belfry Bridge, Sweet's crew has found a slew of slimy iron pipe. With plenty of heaving, we manage to load the pipes on Yekel's raft, which is settling with the added weight.

In a few minutes we're back at the bridge, unloading our mucky spoils in a horse trailer.

A few years back, Burckhardt and others loaded a pickup truck cab on his raft. With chuckles, they remember that it appeared as though Burckhardt was driving an old truck down the river.

Installed this morning along public fishing access points are thick pieces of PVC pipe where anglers can deposit their gnarly fishing line instead of leaving it in the water. Ducks and geese can get tangled in the leader, Sweet said.

On April 24, at 8 a.m., Trout Unlimited and company will finish the trail from the Belfry Bridge upstream to the Paul Stock Trail in the subdivision below West Park Hospital. Volunteers are welcome, Sweet said.

A success story in my book: Spending a lovely morning on the river and making it a better place for wildlife and humans alike.

“When we first started doing this, we would literally fill two horse trailers,” Sweet said.

Today, only one trailer is filled.

Folks are becoming more conscientious, Sweet said.

“Every year, it gets a little cleaner.”