Brian Connely and Brett Governanti bagged a mighty fine 100-or-so point/branch Russian Olive sapling while hunting for invasive species at Morad Park along the North Platte River on Saturday.

They had joined hundreds of others who hunted invasive species, picked up trash in and along the river, wrapped native trees taking hold so the beavers don't fell them, and did other activities for the 13th annual Platte River Revival Volunteer Day in the long process to rehabilitate one of Casper's premier natural assets.

Connely is the director of the Natrona County Weed and Pest District and has conducted a protracted war against invasive species.

Governanti is a Global Information System specialist for the city who tracked and marked the locations of Russian Olives on a data location app.

While they have impressive backgrounds on their subjects, they wielded shovels and hauled trash bags like the other volunteers who fanned out from the registration area at the Crossroads Park before the rain stopped in the morning.

Jolene Martinez, an assistant city manager, said the volunteer day is one of the rehabilitation efforts along the 13 miles of the river that runs through the city, with a focus on between Morad Park and the Beverly Street bridge.

"It's the citizens' opportunity to give their time to the hands-on rehabilitation and restoration to some degree of the cottonwood galleries," Martinez said. A gallery forest is a stand of trees along a riparian zone -- or riverbank -- habitat. Cottonwoods are native, but had been crowded out by the invasive Russian Olives until volunteers tore out thousands of them; and volunteers like Governanti still monitor the banks for new growth.

Megan Lockwood, Dan Sinning wrap wire around a tree. Tom Morton, Townsquare Media
Megan Lockwood, Dan Sinning wrap wire around a tree. Tom Morton, Townsquare Media

The project has had two major reconstruction efforts at Morad Park and by the water treatment plant, and its next phase will be immediately downstream from the First Street Bridge to the BNSF bridge starting next week, Martinez said.

The city is still hoping that the State Land and Investment Board on Thursday will approve a $500,000 grant request for part of that project. The Wyoming Business Council, which has approved previous river rehabilitation grants, denied the latest request earlier this month.

Besides the rehabilitation, the Casper Police Department has a vested interest in the volunteer day, department spokeswoman Rebekah Ladd said.

Scores of officers and staff from the department participated in Saturday's event, from registering volunteers to picking up trash, Ladd said.

"Any time you have a major environmental attraction in a town, most of it's a public space," she said.

First responders want a place that's safe, and they also want to know better an area like the river that can be both an attraction and dangerous, Ladd said.

"Any effort that we can make in support to clean it up, to encourage people to come out and use it in such a way that improves the traction in physical fitness and spending time with families -- we want that," Ladd said.

While people still toss their trash in and near the river, she said the time appears over when volunteers would haul out refrigerators, engines, and other debris including a safe, stolen goods, bicycles and other big junk.

Martinez added people still throw tires in the river.

Ladd said the city and its residents are reaping the benefits of the river rehabilitation.

"We've go more people utilizing the river in a safe and healthy way," she said.

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