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John Hansen and his daughter Lucy were biking across town Sunday when they stopped for a special afternoon treat, free ice cream.

The two joined more than a hundred others at the University Community Ice Cream Social, a block party that welcomed University of Montana students back to town, and encouraged them to come out and meet their area neighbors.

Hansen chose Big Dipper’s huckleberry, his daughter had a cone with a mix of huckleberry and white-mint Oreo.

The 13th annual event is put together by a group called the Thoughtful Neighbors and was established in 2002, when Don and Pat Simmons saw the need for improving the relationship between students and area residents, said Jean Woessner, one of the ice cream social’s organizers.

“They wanted people to have a place where they can get together and just talk. And eat ice cream,” she said.

While there are still the sporadic issues between long-time residents and college students, Woessner said the relationship has improved because of open dialogue.

“Nothing you can’t solve by going over and having face to face talks,” she said.

Hansen said he’s lived in the Lewis and Clark neighborhood for years, and said that he’s had college students who have been tough to live near, saying that ones who have late and loud parties especially can be bothersome. In those cases though, Hansen said it’s nothing that talking to them about hasn’t been able to solve.

“Kids will be kids. I was in college once myself,” he said.

Jane Kelly, a neighborhood coordinator with the city, said she looks to programs like the University of Montana’s student-led Neighborhood Ambassador Program as a positive change for the local residents.

“The ambassadors talk with the neighborhood council, and come to all the meetings,” she said.

The student group in part acts to bridge the gap between University District residents and student renters. Sometimes, it’s easier to have another college student talk with them about how holding loud parties, for example, has a negative effect on neighbors, said Katherine Brady, the ambassador program’s coordinator.

“We can talk about being more respectful if their neighbors, say, have a young child,” she said.

The group also has a program that recruits other student groups to help pick up trash on the streets in the district after every home Grizzly football game.

Children drew on the street of University Avenue with chalk while Grizzly mascot Monte posed for photos with members of the neighborhood.

Missoula mayor John Engen and UM President Royce Engstrom stopped by enjoy a free cone, and make a few remarks to the crowd. Engen called ice cream “nature’s perfect food,” and Engstrom praised the city’s relationship with campus, saying Missoula is a powerful recruitment tool that draws students and faculty to UM.

“We have the best relationship with our host community of any university, I think, in the country,” he said.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.