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Murrysville native headed to Montana to document Superfund river clean-up

Patrick Varine
| Friday, April 27, 2018, 12:12 p.m.
The Upper Clark Fork River project clean-up effort is one of the largest Environmental Protection Agency Superfund projects in the nation.
Brennan Linsley/AP
The Upper Clark Fork River project clean-up effort is one of the largest Environmental Protection Agency Superfund projects in the nation.
Gracey Evans, 21, of Murrysville.
BP Miller photo
Gracey Evans, 21, of Murrysville.

A Murrysville native will join a group of environmental photography students from Point Park University as they document cleanup efforts at the largest Superfund site in America.

Franklin Regional alum Gracey Evans will travel to the Upper Clark Fork River project in Missoula, Mont., along with fellow Point Park students, thanks to funding from the Heinz Endowments, which specifically earmarks money for student travel to support the university's environmental journalism program.

“We wanted our students to go to Montana, look at the outward beauty, listen to the people's concerns and understand their environmental challenges,” said Chris Rolinson, associate professor of photojournalism.

Rolinson's students will document a cleanup effort that began in 2012, when the 310-mile Clark Fork of the Columbia River was listed as a Superfund site. Superfund is a United States federal government program designed to fund the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants.

Mining operations that began in the 19th century have resulted in heavy creek pollution, primarily from copper mines.

Evans said she is excited to get started.

“As a photojournalist, I am all about telling stories visually rather than writing,” she said. “I am looking forward to capturing the stories of those affected and what is happening with the Upper Clark Fork River Superfund site. For instance, I believe we're going to talk to a native tribe to see how it's affecting them, since it was their land first.”

The students' work will be collected and edited into a documentary that Rolinson expects will be completed in September.

“For our students, it's not about winning a prize for the film but about helping to directly impact a project in a profound way,” he said. “If our film can re-invigorate interest in the clean-up, our efforts will be well worth it.”

Other students making the trip include Megan Bixler, Amanda Chelosky, Lauren Clouser, Hannah Lapiska, Rebecca Lessner, Ashley Murray, Elana Shahen, Zachary Shahen, Briana Walton, Derek Watson, and Morgan Willis.

Evans said the biggest challenge will be the pressure to produce a film worthy of its subject.

“I know there are some students who are attending who know photography but may not know the elements of how to take good video,” she said. “But of course, we'll all be able to put our talents to good use.”

Rolinson said it's important to continue drawing attention to the site, to ensure clean-up efforts continue.

“This river, while strikingly beautiful, is the largest superfund site in the U.S. It's so big, it will take generations to undo the damage from copper mining, so it's easy to forget about,” he said.

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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