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Weed Rodeo helps restore native landscapes along Flathead River

by JULIE ENGLER
Whitefish Pilot | June 29, 2022 1:00 AM

When one knapweed plant has 30,000 seeds that will remain viable for up to 25 years, ridding the shoreline of them and other noxious weeds is a daunting task.

But Brenda Guzman, a Whitefish resident and founder of the River Weed Rodeo, has been tackling it for nearly 20 years.

The Weed Rodeo is an annual noxious weed pulling event on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River that Guzman started in 2003 when she was working as the operations manager of Wild River Adventures, a rafting company in West Glacier.

Guzman said she got the idea for the Weed Rodeo after reading about a similar program in Colorado, as well as seeing knapweed at the Moccasin Creek river access that was as tall as she. Her passion for the natural world, especially the local river systems, spurred her to try to solve the problem.

She started with a simple idea.

“I’ll just get a hundred bucks from each rafting company and we’ll get some food and some beer and everybody will want to come and pull weeds with me for an afternoon and it’ll be great,” she recalled.

Her idea grew throughout the years. Now, volunteers sign up for a full day of rafting with one of the four commercial raft companies or with a group of private boaters. After a full day of rafting and pulling weeds, participants enjoy a barbecue with prize giveaways at Wild River Adventures in West Glacier.

Wild River Adventures, Glacier Raft Company, Great Northern Resort and Glacier Guides Montana Raft Company each donate at least two boats and two guides to the event.

At a point along the float, the boats stop and a local weed expert gives a short educational talk on noxious weeds and helps people identify the ones that need to be pulled.

“Right away, I talked with Dawn LeFleur at Glacier Park… she told me that we’re not actually going to be able to get rid of all the weeds on the river but that it is an excellent idea to be able to educate people,” said Guzman when discussing the early days of the event.

LeFleur suggested that a better goal for the Weed Rodeo participants would be to go back to the same area each year and pull weeds to make a difference there; Guzman said that is what has happened every year since.

“Initially I’d just bring people to Moccasin Creek River Access and we’ve made a huge impact there. Native plants have come back and weeds that are there are small, first-generation weeds rather than the big ol’ mother plants,” Guzman said.

In order to give the raft companies more ownership in the project and to take heed of LeFleur’s suggestion, Guzman organizes five separate launches and each company goes back to the same section of river bank year after year and makes an impact on the weeds there. Years ago, as operations manager, Guzman directed Wild River crews to pull weeds at Moccasin Creek before every launch and they still do to this day.

LEFLEUR, THE vegetation program manager for Glacier Park, has been working with Guzman to educate volunteers about noxious weeds. She explained it is mandated by law that there is some kind of management plan in place for noxious weeds. They displace native plants and agriculture.

During the Weed Rodeo this month, she identified spotted knapweed, oxeye daisy and St. John’s Wort as the top three weeds participants would be seeking and pulling.

“Our biggest, baddest guy in northwest Montana is spotted knapweed… We have the most acreage of this, both in the park and in northwest Montana,” LeFleur told the crowd. “It’s an opportunist. It came in without its native predators and went crazy.”

IN ITS FIRST year, the Weed Rodeo attracted about 30 volunteers. This year, Guzman said over 150 people signed up. Due to the high water conditions this June, the format changed to keep people at a safe distance from the river. She expected to lose more volunteers but 100 still showed up to pull weeds near the Old River Bridge.

“At the event itself I'm always blown away by the massive positive energy from all those participants involved,” she said. “How super excited everyone is to be doing something to care for our river system.”

Guzman credits cooperation with environmental organizations for the rising number of volunteers interested in caring for the Middle Fork of the Flathead and for the river system that earned the National Wild and Scenic designation in 1968.

“Really what has made it grow so much is getting the word out through various organizations, like Flathead Rivers Alliance, that have been promoting this,” she said. “It’s really been gaining momentum in the last few years as a wider variety of people learn about the event and our volunteer base grows.”

What started as an idea grew over the course of two decades into a community event that is making a difference to help protect valuable natural resources.

“We are so fortunate to have a clean, free-flowing river right in our backyard and if people involved in the Weed Rodeo didn’t know that and appreciate that coming in, then they know and appreciate that going away,” Guzman said. “Knowing what a special gem that we have with our river systems - the forks of the Flathead.”

See the River Weed Rodeo website for more information and the organizations involved here: https://riverweedrodeo.blogspot.com


In case you missed the Weed Rodeo but would like to help out and learn more about noxious weeds, the Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center (CCRLC) and Glacier National Park invite volunteers for a day of hands-on learning during the Annual Noxious Weed Blitz on July 19, 2022. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in West Glacier.

For more information about the Weed Blitz visit: https://www.nps.gov/rlc/crown/events.htm

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Carlos Guzman makes sure to bag all the noxious weeds he could find at the Weed Rodeo. (Julie Engler/Whitefish Pilot)

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Brenda Guzman, founder of the Weed Rodeo, greets volunteers and prepares to pull weeds along the Flathead River. (Julie Engler/Whitefish Pilot)

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Dawn LeFleur, vegetation manager for Glacier National Park, presents an example of spotted knapweed to the crowd of participants at the Weed Rodeo. (Julie Engler/Whitefish Pilot)

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Dawn LeFleur, vegetation manager for Glacier National Park, shows participants examples of noxious weeds so they can find them and pull them during the Weed Rodeo. (Julie Engler/Whitefish Pilot)

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Josie Faulder collects a giant bundle of weeds during the Weed Rodeo. (Julie Engler/Whitefish Pilot)

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Volunteers pull weeds along the banks of the middle fork of the Flathead River during the Weed Rodeo. (Julie Engler/Whitefish Pilot)

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Dawn LeFleur and her son, Nico, pulling weeds along the Flathead River during the Weed Rodeo. (Julie Engler/Whitefish Pilot)

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