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Blake Owen and his daughter Claire spent the early part of the afternoon playing a game of cornhole.

Spaced about 15 feet apart, the pair took turns tossing bean bags toward the board at the other’s feet, trying to sink it into the hole.

It would have been a typical Sunday family activity except for one thing: the game was being played in the middle of Higgins Avenue, which was shut down throughout the day for the annual Sunday Streets event.

“Claire played this at a friend’s house a while back and we’ve been talking about getting a set of our own since,” Owen said, pushing the boards slightly closer together so his 5-year-old daughter had an easier time making a toss. “When she saw it out here she was really excited to teach me how to play.”

While Sunday Streets was previously held in July, this is the second year of the event after it was moved to September to coincide with Walk & Roll and One Less Car Day, two of the other sustainable transportation events put together by Missoula in Motion.

The closure of Higgins to vehicles draws about 8,000 people a year to wander in the middle of the road from Fifth Street to the XXXXs at the north end of downtown. Each year, more than 50 activity stations are set up along the route, featuring everything from skateboarding and martial arts to free group fitness courses and live music.

Emily Levels and a group of her friends from Bozeman came to Missoula over the weekend to go to the Jason Isbell concert at Kettlehouse Amphitheater, and didn’t know that Sunday Streets was even a thing until they tried to come downtown for breakfast.

“We just came up on signs saying road closed and said ‘Well, I guess we just have to walk the rest of the way,’” she said.

As her group crossed the Higgins bridge, one of the friends pointed out the Missoula Fencing Association table, challenging Levels to put on a mask and cross swords with her.

But this year’s Sunday Streets wasn’t just fun and games, as a group of more than 100 Missoulians piggybacked on the event for a rally about the dangers of climate change.

The protest came a day after similar rallies occurred around the world on Saturday. Before the Missoula People’s Climate March came down Higgins to meet up with Salish drum group Snyelmn on the north end of the bridge, participants met in Anderson Park where a series of speakers talked about the importance of taking action.

John Woodland from 350 Montana, told the crowd he questioned whether politicians were even paying attention to rallies like this one anymore, and urged them to find other ways to get involved more directly. That could be through groups like his own, members of which have gone as far as to be arrested while protesting politicians’ offices or while sitting on the train tracks to block loads of coal coming through Missoula, Woodland said.

His group’s primary focus now is on NorthWestern Energy and the power plant in Colstrip it partially owns — which Woodland referred to as “One of the largest and dirtiest” in the country.

“We’re going to keep putting pressure on them from a variety of different angles,” he said.

Julie Sirrs of Montanans for National Security used her time to urge people to vote in the November elections, calling them not just the most important in a generation but “perhaps the entire history of the country.”

Josh Slotnick, essentially the de facto next Missoula County commissioner after defeating sitting commissioner Jean Curtiss in the Democrat Party primary in June, said he was optimistic at the size of the crowd that came out on Sunday, but that more needed to be done now before the effects of climate change become worse.

“If we don’t do this, the next chapter of climate change will be about resilience,” Slotnick said, citing examples like the evacuations of suburban neighborhoods from wildfires in California last summer and the flooding in Houston.

Slotnick said communities like Missoula have always been there for each other when the problems are clear and active, but it was time to start thinking about the future and how to avert disasters to begin with.

“When the Clark Fork river is in your front yard, everybody throws out sandbags. We don’t seem to be nearly as good at forethought,” he said.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.