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Monday morning, the Missoula Movers hiking group faced leaden skies and temperatures well below freezing. But as she prepared to lead the group on a roughly 2-mile trek, Clara Meinershagen was in high spirits.

“This is my favorite way to start the week,” she said on the way to the trailhead. A recreation specialist for Missoula’s Department of Parks and Recreation, Meinershagen coordinates and leads the Missoula Movers’ weekly outings.

“This group definitely fills a need for adult recreation and adults looking to get outdoors,” she explained as she drove. “We have a very active adult population in Missoula.” As it grows, the city’s seen “a growth in need for more recreation opportunities.”

The Movers’ weekly hikes, offered from September through May, have met that need for Jessica Van Cura, who moved here with her husband Sean from Santa Cruz, California, two years ago. Thanks to the group, “there’s been a lot of trails that we didn’t know how to get to that we now know how to get to on our own.”

She especially enjoyed hiking up Waterworks Hill. “Clara does a good job of picking [trails] and she lets us know the intensity.”

Meinershagen says she looks for hikes that will take about two hours, and be doable for a 55-and-older crowd. Nathan Howard, another hiker, considers these treks well-suited to that age group. He said he’s also tried his hand at softball, but “me working with a bunch of 20-year-olds, I couldn’t keep up.”

Missoula Movers “gets you out of the house in the winter,” and “it gives me a chance to learn the trails," he said.

Howard described some of these group’s hikes — like their climbs up Mount Jumbo and Sentinel — as “physical endurance tests.” But as this week's trail dipped into the woods along Rattlesnake Creek, he predicted that “this is looking like it’s going to be more like a social opportunity.”

At 11 hikers, it was one of the largest turnouts that Meinershagen had seen this season. Despite the frigid air and icy ground, the group kept a steady pace as they walked alongside the PEAS Farm and the not-yet-frozen creek, chatting all the way.

Some kept traction with hiking poles or spikes on their boots. All were invited to coffee afterwards at Bernice’s Bakery. The after-hike coffee shop rotates along with the trail.

That’s a welcome perk to Teresa Gabriel — but far from the only one.

Walking along the edge of the PEAS Farm, the Missoula retiree was quick to list the benefits of exploring the city’s web of trails, even in the depths of winter.

“It’s good exercise, good company, fun. You make new friends.”

“And,” she added, “you get coffee at the end.”

Missoula Movers departs for its hikes from the Currents Aquatics Center each Monday at 9 a.m. For more information, visit https://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/1837/Missoula-Movers, or call the Missoula Department of Parks and Recreation at 406-721-7275.

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