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Pocatello opens lower Portneuf for floating

Just a few years ago, people were saying things like “I for sure wouldn’t swim in it” and “maintenance is a big issue,” in reference to the Portneuf, but now people are taking advantage of the resource.

Over the past several years the effort to clean up the Portneuf has gained some steam and recently numerous spots along the river have been open to floating, something that was celebrated with an unusual ribbon cutting (swapping a ribbon and scissors for a log and chainsaw) this evening at the Abraszewski Trailhead.

“It was just mountains of debris taken out and a lot of hours by hand, with chainsaws, and now you can just float,” Hannah Sanger, the science and environmental administrator for the City of Pocatello, explained.

For years, the Portneuf river has been a problem. According to a 2017 Utah State University report, the Portneuf was “not in any state for recreation.”

Sanger has been working for nearly a dozen years on cleaning up the river and can’t believe how much has been done.

“Even three years ago, the river was impassable,” she said. “And so I really have to thank those folks who said ‘let’s clean it up, lets clean it up, lets clean it up,’ and they made the calls and they got us working on this.”

The cleanup efforts took hundreds of man-hours and lots of money, but have made a significant difference in both debris and toxin levels.

“Yeah, without all that trash in there, that’s cleaning up the river and we’re testing it so this fall, right now, the bacteria levels are low right here on the Portneuf River, so it’s a great time to get in the river and float,” Sanger said.

And many came to the ceremony to do just that, including Graham and Lauren Meese.

“You know, we just moved here and we just, we really love this river,” Lauren said. “It’s great, a beautiful place to get out on.”

Graham was involved in the cleanup effort, cutting logs and hauling them out.

“Now that we’ve cleared those jams, we can actually float down and have fun on our free time,” he explained.

Sanger said that they’ve has noticed more river traffic above the city with the recent work they’ve done there. She now expects to see the same on the lower parts.

The next step is to increase access points along the river and the city is already working with landowners to develop them.

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