A week ago, the floodplain outside of Milltown was bare. Now, it's home to around 1000 baby trees. Students and Milltown State Park staff and volunteers spent the week planting willow and cottonwood on the formerly toxic floodplain in celebration of National Public Lands day. Toxic waste was deposited in the area after a flood over a hundred years ago. 

Volunteers planted the trees in a fenced off area below the Milltown State Park overlook on Sunday, Oct. 6, near Highway 200. 

Volunteer Gwen Keller said National Public Lands Day seems especially important to Montanans because of how involved with the outdoors most people are. 

“In Montana, it’s a little bit easier for people to see ‘Oh this is a beautiful landscape,’” Keller said. “They’re a little bit less removed from kind of intact ecosystems.”

In 1908, a flood carried toxic water that contaminated the groundwater in the area, and created 3 million tons of toxic sediment which was finally cleared out in 2009. After the sediment was cleared, invasive plants, including reed canary grass, moved in. The new trees replace the canary grass.

Freshman Carly Dahms helped plant trees as part of her nature and society course in the environmental studies program. Dahms said sometimes she feels frustrated about not being able to do a lot to help the environment, but she knows that even planting one tree can make a small difference.

“I like giving back because I just feel so bad for being horrible to the Earth,” Dahms said. “If it weren’t for the assignment I probably wouldn’t have come out here, but I’m glad I did.”