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Casey Cassidy started off Saturday morning with a run around Gallatin County Regional Park. She hadn’t been jogging on a regular basis this winter, and walkers in her wave quickly overtook her.

Cassidy kept going. She’d entered Saturday’s Earth Day “Run for the Sun” to enjoy a beautiful day. It didn’t make a difference whether she came in first or last.

“I’ve done about 30 years of jogging,” she said. “It’s just about being outside, and by the time you come back, your mood has lightened and the day is better.”

Big Sky Wind Drinkers’ Run for the Sun kicked off local events celebrating Earth Day this weekend. Proceeds from the 5K went toward Bozeman High School’s Solar Schools Club, which is raising money to install solar panels on the school.

The project is a few years in the making. The goal is to install a 50 kilowatt solar panel array on the roof of the high school’s new building, which is still under construction.

Students want to lower the school’s carbon footprint and, ultimately, the town’s footprint, said Miles McGeehan, the club’s adviser. McGeehan teaches science at Bozeman High School.

The Solar Schools Club has around $17,000 saved up, but students want to reach at least $25,000 before seeking out matching funds from the state and other sources, according to McGeehan.

So far, students have grown marigolds, sold holiday wreaths and hosted online auctions to raise money. An online auction for the project wraps up Monday night, McGeehan said.

“It’s been a neat adventure as a club advisor,” he said. “The kids get to learn about the science and engineering principles of solar panels and what it takes to put them on rooftops. But also there’s also a lot of entrepreneurial skills. They’re making websites and marketing posters. And they’re communicating.”

Last year’s Gallatin Valley Earth Day Festival was going to be held at the Emerson Center for the Arts and Culture, but it went virtual due to the coronavirus shutdown. The festival’s theme was about climate change, so the organizers backed the club’s cause.

This year, Big Sky Wind Drinkers agreed to direct proceeds from the Earth Day race toward the club’s project. The race preceded an Earth Day in the Parks event organized by the Gallatin Valley Earth Day committee.

On Saturday, people could take bird walks led by Sacajawea Audubon Society at Story Mill Park. A series of Earth Day exhibits were also set up along trails in Gallatin County Regional Park. The committee has more events scheduled throughout April and into May.

Anne Ready, chair of Gallatin Valley Earth Day, said next year’s festival will be at the Emerson on April 22 and 23.

Gary Hellenga, president of Big Sky Wind Drinkers, said the running club started organizing Saturday’s race around three weeks ago. It’s the group’s first in-person event since the 50 mile Devil’s Backbone relay in Hyalite Canyon last July.

Throughout the pandemic, members have put on semi-virtual runs where racers can mark their times with code scanners.

On Saturday, racers stretched before setting off in three waves on the sidewalk along Oak Street. Neon flags separated people for social distancing. One by one, runners descended the park’s sledding hill and crossed the finish line.

Big Sky Wind Drinkers set the cap of racers at around 125 people, and approximately half ended up participating, according to Hellenga. Winners could take home gift certificates to Uphill Pursuits, he said.

After Saturday’s race, Cassidy helped run a booth for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby at the regional park. Volunteers stamped kids’ Earth Day passports and ran a coloring station, she said.

For Cassidy, It was exciting to find out that local high school kids were raising money for solar panels. She thinks it’s important for young people to bring awareness to their communities, whether it’s through volunteering or contributing to organizations.

“We’re growing so fast that it can be easy to not try to get to know your neighbors,” Cassidy said. “These sorts of community events help bring people together. And it’s important for all of us to participate and reach out to one another.”

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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