September 26, 2014

(COLUMBIA FALLS, MONT.) – This month, the first of many Glacier National Park Conservancy grant funded school buses are arriving in Glacier National Park. Supported by Conservancy donors along with Smith’s Grocery and the National Park Foundation, these funds assure park access for students who would otherwise not be able to have a Glacier experience.

From a small group of Flathead High School international baccalaureate students heading out to become citizen scientist dragonfly experts, to large groups of fourth graders from Peterson Elementary in Kalispell studying fire ecology, each field trip shared one thing in common: all needed travel funding to make their school day at the park possible.

“It is essential that our children, throughout Montana, across our border into Canada, and nationwide have the opportunity to experience Glacier National Park and become the next generation of park caretakers,” said Mark Preiss, Glacier National Park Conservancy president.

“We would not be here without this travel grant,” said Lori Ortley with Flathead High School. Her class incorporates school based scientific study with service and field learning in the park.

Here through the “Youth Exploring Science” program, designed for high school students to test their scientific skills in the park, Ms. Ortley’s group of Flathead High School students was collecting water, sediment, and dragonfly larvae samples to test for mercury levels. Donning chest waders and life jackets donated by community members and the Flathead Conservation District, these students gain real life experience walking through the scientific method from hypothesis to conclusion.

Three Flathead High School classes will contribute to the collecting and mercury testing efforts in Glacier. The work is woven into their International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Meanwhile, Peterson Elementary School students stretched their hiking legs on a two-mile ranger led adventure along the Rocky Point trail, also arriving on a grant funded bus.

These younger students began their Glacier day with an orientation along the shores of Lake McDonald, chanting “fuel, oxygen, heat” to learn about how fires start in the park. As their orientation concluded, a bald eagle drifted overhead, the first wildlife sighting of the day.

The group headed to Fish Creek to hike through a wooded forest. Along the way they learned how to tell the difference between cedar and larch, and took light measurements from the dark forest floor. Hiking out of the forest and into the 2003 Robert Fire burn area, another light measurement led to a discussion about forest regrowth and the role that fire plays in a forest ecosystem.

At the end of the hike, students paused alongside new lodgepole pine, growing thick along the trail. Ranger Becky Dunkelberger asked the students to contemplate how old they thought the trees were and how long it would take them to reach maturity. “About 80 more years,” Ranger Becky said. “When you come back here with your grandchildren these trees will be all grown up.” The comment was met with giggles and also looks of wonder as these fourth graders contemplated their lives and their park 80 years in the future.

Glacier National Park Conservancy supported over $50,000 in K-12 education funding for Glacier National Park in 2014, including a number of education ranger positions to make field trips possible, travel grants, and the citizen science program that engages both students and adults in service and science in the park.

The travel grants were earned in partnership with Smith’s Grocery which hosted its 6th annual Round Up for Glacier campaign this summer, bringing in nearly $10,000 in travel funding for the park. The National Park Foundation’s Ticket to Ride program provided another $5,000 in matching support.

Glacier National Park Conservancy is the official philanthropic and outreach partner of Glacier National Park, and invests in preservation, education and research that enrich the Glacier experience. In 2014, GNPC is supporting 20 projects in Glacier National Park including Glacier Youth Corps, the Apgar Visitor Center rehabilitation, the Many Glacier Bridle Path, and Native America Speaks. Learn more at glacierconservancy.org.