Fall 2012 - Summertime along the banks of the Clark Fork River in Deer Lodge finds children enjoying the cool water in the sunshine. This area is called “Bum Bridge” by local folks as it was once home to railroad vagabonds who would enjoy the park-like setting of the area where the railroad crossed the river. I remember a time decades ago when a group of us kids debated jumping off the bridge we called Bum Bridge. There were maybe a dozen of us who had never done it but had heard it could be done. We were on the bridge looking down. The drop might be twenty feet to the water but it seemed much higher.
There were some in our group that had some knowledge. “I don’t know where you jump from but you don’t want to jump from the wrong place or you’ll break your legs and drown.” I remember somebody saying.
The bravest (or dumbest) of us peered down and thought about the right way to do it. The sun beat down on that hot, dry summer day. Someone had to jump, reputations were at stake, but still the thought of breaking a leg, drowning and flowing downstream towards Missoula didn’t appeal to any of us.
Then out of nowhere came a true expert. “I’ll show ya how to jump off that thing,” a proud and loud voice came from behind. We were surprised and shocked as he walked through our group without hesitation and jumped into the cool water below. He splashed into the only hole deep enough to complete the stunt without injury and we stood there in awe. I don’t remember who was next but I do remember taking the plunge. It was frightening and exhilarating, the water felt great but I swear it felt as if my knees reached my ears as my feet hit the river bed and I was submersed in the Clark Fork River before walking and swimming to shore. Others went, nobody was hurt and we felt like we had passed the test (although I never felt it necessary to go more than once; there are better places to jump into the water).
Deer Lodge’s Trestle Area with remnants of the original “Bum Bridge” in the river
Bum Bridge is usually a peaceful place. The occasional train passes. Trees and bushes are found along the river’s banks. For over one hundred years there has also been mining contamination found along the river’s banks.
Fall of 2011 saw cleanup of the Bum Bridge area by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to remove the mining contamination that has remained on the site since the great flood of 1908. DEQ has dubbed it the “Trestle Area” because of the railroad trestle bridge that is found here. DEQ removed mining waste laden with toxic substances like arsenic, cadmium, copper, zinc and lead. Another large part of the Trestle Area cleanup was improving stream banks that had been eroded by the river as a result of lack of vegetation along its banks. The cleanup included removal of approximately 10,000 cubic yards of contaminates and reconstruction and re-vegetation of about 1000 feet of stream bank. The funding of the remediation came from a lawsuit that the state won against Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO). The cleanup was efficient and within the time schedule with the majority of the remediation done within a couple months. More planting and site work was done in the spring of 2012 to complete DEQ’s cleanup of the site. The work signifies the beginning of the cleanup of the Upper Clark Fork River.