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South Fork Wallace River cleanup needs volunteers

by MOLLY ROBERTS
Staff Reporter | August 26, 2022 5:05 AM

WALLACE — Elmer Mattila has a vision. The Wallace City Councilman has the vision to clean up the Wallace stretch of the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River that is currently riddled with large chunks of industrial debris. This has been on Mattila’s mind for many years and is finally coming to fruition next month. In early September, the water levels and temperatures are much lower than in the sweltering summer months, making the working conditions more enjoyable for the volunteers.

Last February, Mattila formed a six-man committee consisting of Steve Turley, Charlie Mooney, Tyson Clyne, Todd Hoffman, Brandon Kramer, and Mike Branstetter. They have completed a lot of the groundwork that needed to be done, but still, need volunteers to help with the cleanup.

The project has been divided into four zones to help manage, from east to west. Sections one and two are up by the grocery store by the east end, where the water is pretty deep.

“The cleanup will go from the east side of Wallace, by the grocery store, and then follow the river that runs underneath and end near the Chamber of Commerce,” explained Mattila.

Local businesses have chipped in to help with the more significant aspects of the cleanup, like Zanetti Brothers Inc., a general contractor out of Osburn.

“Zanetti Bros. have volunteered to bring some equipment and their employees to bring a crane that will be able to lift some of the larger debris out of the deep water,” Elmer explained.

The committee will work with the Department of Parks and Recreation and Trail of the Coeur d’Alene’s employee Will Niska, as the river runs past the trail. This also helps with the safety of volunteers, as signing up as a volunteer under this agency provides insurance.

The volunteers will be used in zones 3 and 4, by the sixth street bridge to the chamber. This is where volunteers will be needed the most.

“Some people are going to have to wade in the stream. The stream will be low, but if volunteers want to get into the stream they should make a concerted effort to wear long pants, long sleeve shirt, gloves, and water shoes with felt soles. We don’t want a bunch of slipping, we want safety,” said Mattila.

The cleanup is vital to Mattila as he has lived and worked in Wallace and loves the historic town, wanting to make sure tourists and locals can enjoy and love it.

“One reason this is so important is that we are an official tourist town. People can walk down both sides of the river, and when you look in there all you see is all that junk metal down there. We should have a nice looking piece of water in our town. That’s our water feature.”

Mattila also has a personal reason for the clean-up, going back to his time at Wallace High School,

“Charlie Mooney (another committee member) and I graduated from High School together. The high school was next to the old gym, and there was a shop class back there. In the shop class, one of the kids had taken a car, and they had taken the car body off it, and they had a frame that they could drive around, but no seats.” Mattila explained that the shop teacher said he was tired of looking at the car body and eventually left the classroom.

“After he left, all the kids in the class picked up the car body, took it across the old highway 10 and threw it in the water. It was springtime, and the water was really high. Every now and then you can see it roll over. I think it’s in Kellogg now. But Charlie and I have a little guilt over that, and we want to see if we can do a little better in our old age.”

Any volunteer that signs up will get water, chips, and sandwiches provided by Blackboard Cafe’ and the deli at Harvest Foods. After the debris is cleaned up, it will be taken to Smelterville for recycling, with McGillvray Environmental's help.

The South Fork Cleanup is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10. Volunteers can sign up the day of the cleanup in the Wallace High School parking lot, beginning at 9 a.m. and going no later than 3 p.m.

For more information or to sign up to volunteer before Sept. 10, please email Elmer Mattila at emattila48@gmail.com

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