Students practice their photography at Logan Pass.

We’re all familiar with the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”, but this past summer eleven middle school students got to learn what it means firsthand. This experience came from Glacier in Focus, a five day program hosted by The Glacier Institute. The participants, aged 10 to 12, were connected to the program through the Boys and Girls Club of The Flathead Reservation and Lake County.

For many of the kids attending Glacier In Focus, this was not only their first visit to Glacier but also their first time camping. The course is part of a larger program, Parks in Focus, whose mission is to connect middle school youth from underserved communities to nature through photography, environmental education, and creative expression. Educators from The Glacier Institute teach them basic outdoor skills, the principles of Leave No Trace, geology, biodiversity, the history of Glacier National Park, bear safety and most importantly, photography. 

Day one kicked off with setting up camp and receiving Junior Ranger workbooks before the group came together for their first photography lesson–an exercise on subject and focus as well as perspective and composition. The students are challenged to explore the world around them and take things in from different perspectives such as a bug on the ground or a squirrel in a tree and to immerse themselves in storytelling. 

A student shares her photo.

A Glacier in Focus participant shows off her picture.

Armed with point-and-shoot style cameras, the students spent day two practicing the skills from day one, with an emphasis on macro photography. The kids are encouraged to get up close to the subject and not rely on the zoom–to really observe the nature around them while planning the composition. 

On the drizzly drive to Firebrand Pass, with a stop at Marias Pass, there was a quick lesson on the formation of the mountains, the Continental Divide and the watersheds, the historical significance of how Marias Pass how it was used as a trade route by indigenous people. The overcast sky and wet weather provided a perfect segue into talking about vegetation and the difference between the plants on the east side of the Continental Divide and the west side, which are due to geology and weather and the factors they each play in the ecosystems around the park.

A student taking a close up photo of a flower.

Photographing flowers at Logan Pass.

The workshop set off for a short hike towards Firebrand Pass, but Mother Nature had other plans (delivering some much needed rain). The hike was cut short, allowing time for a visit to Lake McDonald Lodge. Here the participants took some time to explore photographing structures and water.

On the return drive to camp, the group was asked if sun and clouds change their photo. Dustin, a participant in the course, answered with a resounding “Yes!” and when asked why he candidly stated that “It changes the emotion. Sunny days make your photos bright and full of love. Photos make you feel emotions.”

The next two days included a trip to Logan Pass to practice landscape photography, a continuation of the lesson on storytelling with photographs, sunset pics at Lake McDonald, a classroom lesson on native trout and ecosystems, a fire ecology hike to Rocky Point and a walk through the Trail of the Cedars. The nature walks throughout the week are a time for the kids to explore and take in the scenery around them in ways they might not have before their lessons on perspective, composition and photography in general.

Students gather around an instructor.

The Glacier Institute instructor gives a lesson in photography.

The week wraps up with the group earning their Junior Ranger badges and one last chance to share their photos and what they learned during their time in Glacier. Every student has a different eye and style. On a round of popcorn sharing, some of their favorite subjects to photograph are bugs, paths and roads, trees, flowers, plants and their friends. 

When asked what “a picture is worth a thousand words” means to them, McKenzie shared that “a single photo can tell an entire story.” Glacier in Focus opens up a new way for kids from the Boys and Girls Club to take in their surroundings and to really slow down to see what nature has to offer while providing them with new ways to tell stories, an array of new skills and for some, maybe even a new hobby!

How can you help youth outreach 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!