Liz Heneghan leading an activity on the elements of snow. Photo: GNPC

Have you ever thought about what it takes to run a National Park? Supporting public lands takes a village. That is why the National Park Service relies on partners to help fill in the gaps. For Glacier National Park, that’s the Glacier National Park Volunteer Associates, the Glacier Institute, and the Glacier Conservancy. Each organization plays an important role in filling critical gaps both in funding and capacity to inspire future park stewards and preserve the natural and cultural resources of Glacier National Park.

As the park’s official philanthropic partner, the Glacier Conservancy provides funding for critical park projects and programs like ranger-led education. Each year, the education team connects with thousands of students and teachers through field trips, classroom visits, and distance learning programs. Whether joining in-person or virtually, students around the world have the opportunity to engage directly with Glacier National Park. 

During the school year, rangers offer programming that fits in with students’ school curriculum, and in the summer they provide additional family-friendly interpretive programs with assistance from the Glacier National Park Volunteer Associates. Programming changes throughout the year, adapting to the learning opportunities that each season brings. The same elementary class who learns about bats during a classroom visit in the fall may learn about snow on a winter field trip to the park, with the goal of keeping students interested in learning and continuing to spark wonder over time.

Ranger Joseph presents a puppet show.

Ranger Joseph presents a puppet show featuring the animals of Glacier.
Photo: GNPC

It is no small feat that the education team consistently offers dynamic, curriculum-based learning experiences for K-12 students year after year. Glacier’s staff of dedicated educators lies at the heart of the program, and it’s their passion that makes these experiences so special and memorable for the students. That is why the Glacier Institute and the Glacier Conservancy have collaborated with Glacier National Park to expand staff capacity for ranger-led programs through the Winter Education Specialist position. 

Every winter, a Glacier Institute educator joins the park’s education team to help promote collaboration, stewardship, and understanding across organizations. This year that is Liz Heneghan, Glacier Institute’s all-star naturalist and Outdoor Education Specialist. Liz’s experience as an Institute educator made her a natural addition to the park’s team, helping Glacier to meet demand for field trips, classroom visits, and distance learning programs.

Liz shows students how to make snowshoe hare ears.

Liz and students make their best snowshoe hare ears. Photo: GNPC

“The Glacier Institute is thrilled to be partnering with GNPC to provide well-trained and highly-passionate educators to join Glacier’s education team in the winter”, says Glacier Institute Executive Director Anthony Nelson. “This is a perfect example of the type of good that can come when three partners with complementing missions collaborate.”

As the official education partner of Glacier National Park, the Glacier Institute offers educational experiences for visitors to strengthen their connections to the natural world. Their staff are trained in Glacier-focused educational programming, making the Institute especially suited to support Glacier National Park’s educational and interpretive programs. 

Funding for Liz’s position comes from the Glacier National Park Conservancy. In addition to supporting paid education staff positions, Conservancy funding allows for the purchase of equipment and supplies to continuously improve upon and develop programming on subjects like climate change and glaciology. Thanks to donor support, Glacier has become a national leader in in-person and distance learning education programming, and provides resources for teachers across the country. 

On a typical day, Liz and her fellow educators might prepare to welcome two classes of 2nd graders from a local school (with chaperones and teachers) to Glacier National Park. The children and adults alike are eager for a day of playing and learning in the snow. As the kids pile in to the Apgar Education Center, some of the children recognize ‘Miss Lizzie’ from a classroom visit she made earlier in the school year.

Students and chaperones on a snowshoe hike.

Students and chaperones on a snowshoe hike in Glacier National Park. Photo: GNPC

“I learn so much from the kids”, says Liz. “Everything we do is really fun! To engage your curiosity with nature and see everyone else’s curiosity come together is rewarding as well.”

The rangers cover a variety of topics including a safety talk and Leave No Trace principles. The big themes for the day are snow and animals, subjects explored through a variety of hands-on activities and games and a lively puppet show punctuated with lots of giggles, all of which culminates with a snowshoe march through the park.

“It’s a very special feeling to know that kids remember this for a really long time”, says Liz. “We have adult chaperones that came here as kids. It’s really cool to have that impact.”

The wonder of Glacier National Park lies in the connections to people and place that are fostered through experiences like ranger-led field trips. Liz represents the impact that partner organizations can have when we can work together and combine our resources for the benefit of Glacier, our community, and the next generation of park stewards. As Glacier Institute Executive Director Anthony Nelson puts it, “the smiles of the kids easily display our success.”

How can you help ranger-led education in Glacier?

This project and many other critical projects and programs would not be possible without your donations to the Glacier Conservancy.

Donate now to support important work like this in Glacier National Park!

Smiling rangers hold a sign that says "Thank You".

Liz (left) with Glacier education staff in front of the Apgar Education Center. Photo: GNPC