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Many hands make light work: Clean Your Fork event helps tidy town

by MACKENZIE REISS
Bigfork Eagle | April 7, 2021 2:25 AM

Car wheels.

Tourism pamphlets.

Entire boxes of tools.

These are just a few of the more eccentric items that volunteers have pulled off the roadside in recent years during the annual highway beautification Clean Your Fork event. On the last Saturday of April, dozens of locals descended on Bigfork thoroughfares to tidy up the street sides in honor of Earth Day, April 22. Teams of between four and six volunteers are assigned to each of the 12 one-mile sections of highway in and around Bigfork.

“It takes a couple of hours and it makes a huge impact on the community, especially with all the extra travel we’ve had this year,” said Rebekah King, executive director of the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce which hosts the event. “Highway 209 and Highway 83 -- they are in desperate need of attention.”

This year, attendees should also keep their eyes peeled for goodies amongst the garbage in the form of gift cards to area businesses, which have been offered up as participation incentives. Any business that brings three or more volunteers to the event will also receive a public thank you in the chamber newsletter and in newspaper advertisements.

Clean Your Fork will kick off at 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 24 with a free breakfast for volunteers in front of First Interstate Bank. The chamber does have garbage bags, safety vests and gloves, but participants are encouraged to bring their own work gloves. Anyone over the age of five can join in the cleanup, which usually takes a couple of hours to complete, King noted.

Clean Your Fork territories includes Montana 35 from the horse crossing north to Bigfork Liquor Barn; Montana 83 to Echo Lake Cafe and on Montana 209 to the Swan River Bridge. The downtown corridor is typically covered by Bigfork Youth Baseball, but some regular participants also have favorite areas that they return to year after year. For example, King said one gentleman cleans the section leading up to Echo Lake Cafe so he can reward himself with breakfast at the end of the morning.

The event was originally started about 25 years ago “to make Bigfork sparkle” before inviting the rest of the Flathead Valley to town for the culinary showcase, Taste of Bigfork, which will take place Sunday, April 25.

Collectively, the 80-100 volunteers bring in up to 130 bags of trash each year, King said. Among the oddities uncovered was a brochure for Flathead Lake Lodge written in Chinese, car wheels and a toolbox that volunteers were able to reunite with its owner.

“It’s crazy the stuff you find you find on the side of the road,” King said.

The cleanup was rescheduled last year from its original date in late April to the end of June and saw a significant drop off in participation, likely due to the coronavirus pandemic. King is hopeful that attendance will rebound this year -- and the local roadways could certainly use the extra sets of hands.

“This is an event where you can really show that you love Bigfork,” King said, “This is a great year to challenge your friends and your neighbors to take part in this event and really make an impact.”

Those interested in participating are encouraged to sign up in advance so King can disperse participants amongst the 12 sections of road. However, sign-ups on the day of the event will be accepted. To register ahead of time, go to www.bigfork.org/news or call the chamber office at 837-5888.