Idea Of The Month: See It, Appreciate It

“Running Water for Helena” lets residents experience the city’s sensitive watershed and learn what’s being done to protect and improve it.
Idea Of The Month: See It, Appreciate It
Helena area residents enjoyed a run/walk on a scenic route along Tenmile Creek as part of the city’s initiative to raise awareness of the need to protect the watershed and a source of the city’s drinking water.

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The City of Helena, Mont., had tried public meetings, water festivals and citizen committees to raise awareness of issues facing the Tenmile Creek Watershed, a source of the city’s drinking water.

To keep the issues in the forefront and to try something different, they came up with, in Don Clark’s words, “a crazy idea.” Why not organize a run/walk through the watershed in west-central Montana and let people experience the resources that need protecting? Thus was born the annual, “Running Water for Helena” event, held for the fifth time on July 26.

“We thought we’d have people come out and do a 10-mile run or a 5K run, get some media attention, have shirts made up and offer tours of the treatment plant,” says Clark, water and wastewater treatment superintendent in the city’s Department of Public Works. “Our city manager, Ron Alles, thought it was a great idea. He approved it right away.”

Facing challenges

The event provides a forum where city officials can address critical issues facing the watershed. One is the cleanup of a U.S. EPA Superfund site, the Upper Tenmile Creek Mining Area, damaged by a legacy of gold, lead, zinc and copper mining from the mid-1800s through the 1920s. Another is the risk of wildfires after the mountain pine beetle killed almost all of the area’s lodgepole pine trees.

Participants get an intimate look at the watershed, through which water flows to the city’s Tenmile Water Treatment Plant. “We wanted to do something different,” says Jason Fladland, water production supervisor. “We wanted people to actually see the watershed. They run or walk on the road right along Tenmile Creek. It’s nice scenery, with pine and deciduous trees. The wildlife is abundant — you never know what you’ll see out there.”

A full day

On average, about 100 people attend, not all of them runners. The day begins with race registration at 7 a.m. The 10-mile run starts at 8 a.m. “At about 8:15, we have plant tours and educational booths,” says Clark. “Then at 9 a.m. we start the 5K.”

By 10 a.m. or so, the runners and walkers are coming back in. An elected official delivers a welcome and a few words about the watershed and its importance. Then come talks by representatives of the EPA, the U.S. Forest Service, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation about projects underway in the watershed.

At about 11 a.m., race winners receive their awards, and all can win door prizes donated by local vendors. Participants receive metal water bottles, on one side the city logo and on the other the emblem of Helena’s “Take Back the Tap” initiative, encouraging people to use city water instead of bottled water.

Ample cooperation

“The money we receive from sponsors and registration fees, about $3,000 each year, goes to the Montana Discovery Foundation and the Lake Helena Watershed Group, nonprofit groups that do educational projects in the watershed,” says Clark.

“The Montana Discovery Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the Forest Service, is instrumental in helping us organize the event. We solicit volunteers and sponsors and provide funds and other support, without which we wouldn’t be able to pull this off.”   


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