We received reports a popular outdoor recreation area outside of Bozeman was feeling the effects of the government shutdown. Folks said dumpsters at Hyalite Canyon were overflowing and trash was blowing around with no Forest Service workers there to keep an eye on things. We wanted to see if the reports we were hearing are true so, we went to Hyalite to check it out.
"This time of year when the bears are looking for every calorie they can get, this will draw bears into the area," says Friends of Hyalite Executive Director Joe Josephson.
Josephson showed us trash he found on a side road in Hyalite Canyon. He says he got emails and saw posts on Facebook from people worried no federal employees here meant people were being careless.
"There were some bad ruts in some areas around the reservoir where people were out mudding, getting stuck and pulling each other out and they tore some stuff up pretty bad. I think it might not have happened if the law enforcement folks were up here as they normally are on the weekends," says Josephson.
Josephson explains he believes folks target shooting too close to the road has also been an issue. Target shooting is not allowed within a half mile of the main road in Hyalite Canyon.
"I think last weekend there was a lot of it. It was sort of a lot at once so, people were really concerned," says Josephson.
But he says trash and target shooting closer than a half-mile from the road aren't new problems for Hyalite. Close to 70,000 people visit the area each year and each year volunteers with the Friends of Hyalite haul out almost 6,000 pounds of trash.
"People end up shooting things and leaving a lot behind, which is really unfortunate. I wish people would just, whatever they're doing, just clean up after themselves," Josephson says.
This is Anderson School's second Ecothon but it's their first time cleaning up in Hyalite Canyon. Organizers say it's a way for students to get involved in community service activities while raising money for their school. Students get pledges for each hour they work.
"It really surprised me because I never noticed how much trash there really was until I did this up here," says Anderson School Class Body Vice President Andrew Houser.
Anderson School students say it's disgusting to see what some people leave behind.
"I just don't know how anyone would leave a gate or an iPad over here," exclaims Anderson School Class Body President Kyle Wills.
Students tell us they're glad they had the opportunity to make a difference in Hyalite and say they hope others will follow suit.
"If no one's here coming up, maybe some other schools could participate to keep this place clean for as long as the government is shut down," suggests Wills.
Dubbed an essential employee, Josephson tells us the Forest Service law enforcement officer is back on duty. She has a lot to cover but he says she was in Hyalite recently and will be patrolling more regularly from now on.
"Before we get back to full speed, I think people need to do what they should always do, clean up after themselves, maybe exert a little peer pressure. If someone's being a bonehead, maybe ask them to stop," explains Josephson.
If you find yourself in a dangerous situation, however, Josephson recommends you contact the Gallatin County Sheriff's Office.