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Organizers, volunteers plan Earth Day river cleanup

Hundreds expected to volunteer at this year's Clark Fork Coalition River Cleanup.
Hundreds expected to volunteer at this year's Clark Fork Coalition River Cleanup.
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MISSOULA, Mont. - In a city where a river runs through it, it's no wonder every April hundreds of volunteers turn out to clean up. Hundreds of volunteers are expected for Saturday's 14th annual Clark Fork Coalition River Cleanup in Missoula, and executive director Karen Knudsen says it will be one for the books.

"We're on a mission! We're on a mission to clean up trash and pollution from the riverbanks of the Clark Fork River as it flows through downtown Missoula," says Knudsen.

Cleanup reaches beyond Missoula city limits, and volunteers can expect to pick up litter in Bonner, Turah and Deep Creek.

The Clark Fork Coalition's mission is to heal and protect the waters of the Clark Fork Basin. For the last 30 years the organization has worked with landowners, managers, community members and educational programs to guide that mission and protect the 14-million-acre basin.

When Earth Day and Clark Fork River Day fall on the same Saturday, it's bound to be a good time. In the early 2000s, the Missoula County passed an ordinance naming April 22 Clark Fork River Day.

"This is an incredible ecological asset, which also importantly drives local economy. We've got some businesses that are really dependent on a clean and healthy Clark Fork River," says Knudsen.

Volunteers can expect to meet at Caras Park around 9 a.m. The cleanup starts at 10 a.m. and will take about three hours.

While this year's cleanup is focused around trash pickup, one Missoula business owner tells NBC Montana it's about something much more than just that.

"I try to spend all of my time on the rivers. It's the reason I live in Montana -- it's the reason I live in Missoula. It's a river community. We have the Blackfoot, the Bitterroot and the Clark Fork that all converge right here, and you just don't have that in a lot of other places," says Andrew Gonzalez, owner of the Love Boat Paddle Co.

Last year over 700 volunteers cleaned up 4,000 pounds of trash and more than 650 pounds of recyclables over a 15-mile stretch of river. This year Knudsen is hoping for around 900 volunteers. She says their work will be rewarded with a free barbecue and raffle giveaway with products donated by local Missoula businesses.

For community members like Gonzalez the cleanup is a time to bring people together.

"It's rewarding. It feels really good, at the end of the day, to know that you gave back to the community that has given you so much," says Gonzalez.

Perfect for a city where a river runs through it.

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