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Cleaning up the Blackfoot — a good day at work

I’m not gonna lie. I love to recreate on the clock. Years ago, when I was a reporter at the Missoulian, I took every opportunity. Once I managed to score a seat alongside Montana’s governor on the first (legal) raft to pass through Milltown after the dam was removed. I also got paid to go on a turkey hunt, hang out at a Rolling Stones concert and travel to China with a group of ballet dancers.

Here at PartnersCreative, the opportunities have been fewer and farther between. Few of our clients have yet come to recognize the powerful value they can receive when I spend a day fishing on their behalf. (I’m working on that.)

We do get a pretty sweet perk here at the agency: one paid day a year away from the office to perform community service. I’ve discovered that it’s a great opportunity to do some local good, maybe help the environment … and improve my tan.

Joey drives while Tony and Joe scoop up junk.

This past weekend I did a bit of all three when I joined our digital director, Tony Ferrini, and his parenting director, Joey, to participate in the Blackfoot River Cleanup. (In the photo above, Joey is the cute one, then Tony in the green and me in the beard.) Now in its 14th year, this annual event has had a measurable and noticeable impact on the willowy banks and cobbled bottom of the Blackfoot. Back in 2009, I covered the cleanup for the Missoulian. That year volunteers pulled 1,539 aluminum cans out of the river (an average of 11 per volunteer), plus a vast assortment of other items that included 178 plastic bottles, 89 shoes and one jock strap.

This year, Tony, Joey and I floated from Wisherd Bridge to the Weigh Station takeout. We took our time, snorkeling and wading around. All told, we found three beer cans between us, along with some other random junk. When we returned to the cleanup basecamp at Johnsrud Park, we were greeted by other volunteers who told a similar story: the Blackfoot today is a lot less junked up than it used to be.

That shift is arguably due, at least in part, to local cultural changes. These days, Missoula’s famous “innertube hatch” has largely shifted to the Clark Fork River; in places that river bottom glistens with aluminum and glass.

But the Blackfoot River Cleanup is still a testament to what one day a year — and some volunteer work that feels like play — can change.