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Scuba diver cleans trash from hot spring at risk of closing

Reagan Weber, second from left, Hanson Wallace, center, and Sally Greiwe, right, swim in the pools at Nimrod Hot Springs, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Nimrod, Mont. Broken glass, beer bottles and various other items left by those abusing the hot springs have been cleaned from the bottom. (Ben Allan Smith/The Missoulian via AP)

MISSOULA, Mont. — A treasured local hot spring and swimming hole near Missoula has been increasingly trashed and abused lately, leading the longtime local owner to finally contemplate the unthinkable. However, a scuba diver volunteered his time to clean the place up and help keep it open to the public.

Nimrod Hot Springs, located next to Interstate 90 about a half-hour east of Missoula, has been owned by Andrew Czorny’s family for four decades.

“It’s kind of a special place,” explained Czorny, Missoula County’s chief financial officer. “The water comes out of the ground with some force and cascades into a waterfall with a temperature of 82 degrees year-round. It’s a place where families go. I would meet people out there that swam in the hot springs for three generations and most recently the fourth generation, teaching the next generation to swim.”

They’ve always kept the place unfenced without “no trespassing” signs and have allowed people to come and go as they please.

“My family believes we own a precious natural resource and just because we own it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share it,” Czorny told the Missoulian newspaper. “In Montana, too many beautiful places like Nimrod Hot Springs have been purchased, fenced in, and public access has been taken away. We want to share this natural resource with generations of Montanans who have enjoyed it as much as we have and pack out what they pack in. As long as we’re able to safely share this Montana gem, we will.”

Seth Liston, who has been volunteering his time to retrieve trash left behind at Nimrod Hot Springs, poses Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, in Nimrod, Mont. Using his scuba diving gear, Liston has found broken glass, beer bottles and various other items left by those abusing the hot springs. (Ben Allan Smith/The Missoulian via AP)

But the last two years, Czorny and others have noticed an uptick in people abusing the place.

“The trash has been just, it’s unbelievable what’s gone on there,” Czorny said. “It’s turned into a party zone. People kept throwing underwater diving lights into the lagoon. We find broken bottles, cans, all sorts of trash and we’ve overloaded trucks taking it to the dump. I got really fed up this year and considered fencing it off and enforcing no trespassing.”

Czorny said his daughter Elizabeth and son Andrew Jr. discussed the situation with him. It was Elizabeth’s idea to post about the family’s frustration with the garbage on Facebook.

“My family and I spent six hours cleaning the place up and diving into the water trying to get trash out,” the post read. “We just went up there a day ago and people have littered all over again. It’s really sad considering we are in Montana where usually people are more consciously aware about the environment and littering.”

That post was shared on the Montana Hot Springs page, run by an administrator who wants to share useful discussion about all of the state’s pools.

“It got like 500 comments almost overnight and 3,400 shares,” Czorny said. “People were really supportive. Then the diver, Seth, went out there and out of the goodness of his heart started diving and brought up broken glass out of the lagoon and got some help from local kids.”

The diver is Seth Liston of Missoula. He got into scuba diving when he was 12 years old in Helena, learning how dams had flooded old communities and wanted to explore lost worlds.

He saw the post about the garbage, and said it was heartbreaking to know such a beautiful place was getting trashed.

“So I just took the initiative and went out there,” he said.

Liston put on his air tanks and suited up, diving for many weekends in a row. He documented all kinds of nasty things, including broken beer bottles that pose a safety hazard for the many young kids who use the place in the daytime.

“It’s a beautiful place,” Liston said.

On Aug. 13, several families were swimming at Nimrod and the place looked pristine, except for tiny shards of broken glass.

Elizabeth Wallace and her young children were having a picnic. She said her mother used to take her as a kid and now she’s letting her young ones splash around the the emerald-green pool.

“This place is like a fairyland,” she said. “I’m so glad they let people use it.”

Czorny said he couldn’t be more thankful for people like Liston.

“Like I say, when I see a parents with grandma and grandpa teaching the kids to swim, it just tugs at my heartstrings,” he said. “Seth really cleaned it up nicely.”

The pool — “it’s kind of a special place,” Czorny said — has been in the family for 42 years.

“”My father purchased it in 1978,” Czorny said. “He was an anesthesiologist here in town and immigrated from the old country, Czechoslovakia, and married my mom after medical school in Germany. They have big bath houses in Europe and he believed in the healing powers of hot water and was always fascinated with hot springs.”

There used to be a general store at the pool in the 1930s, according to Montanahotsprings.net, but everything was demolished after the freeway went in.

Czorny said he hopes people will just respect the place in the future.

“Now people are posting photos of the garbage they take out,” he said. “True Montanans, we take out what we take in. It’s just common sense. Don’t be a slob. I’m sure it’s just a minority of people but it’s just irritating. It really got to me this year.”

But after being thanked by a family who has been using the place for generations, Czorny said he’s optimistic.

“It makes me feel so good and makes me think that we’re continuing to do the right thing by sharing our hot springs.”

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