Outdoor Education in Glacier National Park: The Most Beautiful Classroom

This summer, I completed my Beyond the Classroom Experience with the Glacier Institute, a nonprofit based in Columbia Falls, MT that focuses on outdoor education in and around Glacier National Park. I was hired as an outdoor educator intern for Big Creek Outdoor Education Center, the Glacier Institute’s location that focuses on youth outdoor education. Big Creek served an important purpose in a lot of kids’ lives this summer. For most of them, it was their first time interacting with kids their own age since schools were shut down. Outdoor education also provides a unique opportunity for them to challenge themselves, learn new skills, and develop a connection with the environment that will hopefully foster positive environmental behavior in the future. Aside from leading team building activities, I got to help teach the campers about land stewardship, navigation, fly fishing, and other wilderness skills.

I got to teach lessons about benthic macroinvertebrates and their importance to the environment as a part of our fly fishing classes. Campers were instructed to find as many macroinvertebrates as they could in Big Creek so we could identify them together. I was surprised at how much fun everyone had looking for all the macroinvertebrates, and campers wanted to spend more of their free time looking for these cool bugs!

The global theme I chose was Global and Public Health, with my specific challenge being that I wanted to improve public health by connecting people to their environment in order to make healthy, sustainable lifestyle choices that support not only individual health and wellness, but also community health. The Glacier Institute allowed me to focus specifically on youth, and I was able to spend an entire summer observing how the environment brought kids together after months of isolation from both their peers and their ‘normal’ lifestyles. I quickly realized that outdoor education was only a small part of what we were doing for our campers. Along with many returning campers, we received numerous grateful emails from parents describing how a week at Big Creek gave their kids a break from all of the stress and uncertainty that the pandemic caused in their families. I learned so much about the pandemic through the campers’ eyes, and I feel like I have a totally different understanding of youth in the age of coronavirus.

As a part of our stewardship lesson, campers learned about invasive species like spotted knapweed and why it was important to give back to the landscape that provided them with so many fun adventures. Campers helped pull tons of knapweed in the Flathead National Forest throughout the summer.

One of my goals for the summer was to explore how youth develop a sense of place attachment because positive environmental behavior is often initiated by feeling a strong connection to the world around you. With the campers, this came in the form of hands-on exploration of the natural world as well as learning about stewardship. However, I also wanted to explore my own feelings of place attachment. I know that history and traditions are things that make me feel stronger connections with the world around me, so I decided to create a small side project I called the 2020 Homestead Hunt where I tried tracing the footsteps of the North Fork Valley homesteaders. I pulled from numerous sources in order to find the original property locations of different homesteaders including the National Registry of Historic Places and previous research by archaeologists Douglas MacDonald (Final Inventory and Evaluation Report: North Fork Homestead Archaeological Project, 2009) and Patricia Bick (Homesteading on the North Fork in Glacier National Park, 1986). When Glacier National Park was established in 1910, there were 44 North Fork homestead sites located in the park. It was a bit of a scavenger hunt because most of these sites were not on any map and I had to use multiple research sources to try and pinpoint locations. Some sites still contained historic structures while others had been burned over and overgrown with new vegetation.

Pictured above is an old basement where Johnnie Walsh established his claim. From 1918 to 1925, his property was the location of the Kintla Post Office until it was moved to Polebridge. I am holding the 1986 paperwork from the National Registry of Historic Places that described the general area and helped lead me to the unmarked location.
This homestead was built by Rudolph Matejka in 1908, a twenty-three year old from Nebraska. While the homestead remains off of Glacier National Park maps, it has been restored by the Glacier National Park Volunteer Associates.

Another thing I loved about the Glacier Institute is that they thought it was important for us to explore the park in order to get to know it as well as feel more connected to the place around us. I feel so grateful to all the Glacier Institute staff for showing me around and giving me opportunities to see such breathtaking places.

I had such a memorable experience with the Glacier Institute, and I left feeling touched by my amazing coworkers, campers, and the landscape that became my stomping grounds.

This ancient lone ponderosa pine officially earned a waypoint in my GPS. I found it while on a bushwhacking expedition for three different homestead sites. Along with it’s very tiny ponderosa offspring, it was the only ponderosa left in the area. It’s so old that it would have been around when the homesteaders were first building their homes.

Went Down Under for a Bit

My name is Liam Hauck, I am a marketing major and my global theme is Natural Resources and Sustainability.  For my beyond the classroom experience I chose to study abroad at La Trobe University in Melbourne Australia.  I was looking forward to learning more about the theme of Natural resources and Sustainability while I was in Australia.  Climate change has had a significant impact on Australia. The Great Barrier Reef is continuously being negatively impacted by climate change and I arrived in Melbourne just as the last of the severe bush fires were being put out.  So, it seemed like there was a lot to learn from Australia in terms of natural resources and sustainability and how the natural world can challenge a nation’s sustainable practices.  

            However, it was only about two weeks into my semester abroad that I had to return back home to Seattle to finish my studies online due to COVID shutdowns.  Fortunately, I had arrived in Melbourne about a month before my program started and I got to stay with my Uncle who lives in Melbourne.  During this time I was able to explore Melbourne, see Elton John perform, and even took a week-long trip down to Queenstown, New Zealand (where I got to skydive)

            The majority of the times where I found myself growing as a leader and simply as a person were when I had to continue my studies online back in Seattle.  I left Australia on March 26th and finished my semester on June 15th.  All of my classes had to be attended live via Zoom, in Australia time.  Which meant that most of my classes were at night, with the latest class starting at 9 pm and ending at 11 pm.  It was very hard to find the motivation and fortitude to attend these classes and do all the work at late hours.  Yet I persevered and worked as hard as I could through those 2 ½ months of late nights and I certainly developed skills that I will take with me into my professional career.  While this experience of course was not the one I wanted, it was the crazy one that I got. I am definitely thankful for the time that I had down under.

The Division of the Island of Ireland

My name is Noelle Annonen and my Beyond the Classroom Experience was interning in Dublin, Ireland, with a content production company called Maxmedia. This dry description doesn’t do any justice to the experience that I had when I lived in Dublin. Yes, I did gain skills in writing, social media content creation, and even website development. But more than that, I learned about a surprisingly completely different culture from my own. My global theme and challenge is Inequality and Human Rights. While I lived in Ireland, I learned about a country that is still dealing with prolonged historic oppression and religious segregation and violence from the perspective of Irish people.


My experience taught me that even western cultures that I assumed could be similar to my own are actually incredibly different. Superficially, the island of Ireland is more socialistic than the United States. The people I met seemed more connected with each other and their communities than with career and individualistic goals. This difference seemed extraordinary to me, and prompted me to analyse my values and the values of my country. The experience and questions that were raised weighed heavily on my mind as I continued to learn and grow in Ireland. More importantly, I learned that the island of Ireland is divided, by religious differences and a past of violence between the two countries on it; the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The time period that best illustrates the extent of this conflict is known as the Troubles, and while it occurred in the 1970s and 80s, the unresolved issues are still at play. Within the discussions of the people I encountered, I learned about the love and pain that stems from this division in the lives of people on the island today. The interconnectedness of the culture, as I witnessed it, gives conflict and division an impact that stands the test of time.

The Troubles were ended by what was essentially a call for a cease fire. But while I lived in Dublin, I learned how the religious discrimination and oppression is still felt throughout a society that, only recently, threw off their British overlords and began creating their own country. This experience gave me a fresh drive to better understand conflicts like the one on the island of Ireland and to fight for the rights of people who are discriminated against and oppressed. My end goal is to lead in advocating for and helping create a more equal world and society.

Thanks to COVID-19, my 6 month experience was shaved down to only a 3 month experience. I am left with a strong desire to learn more about the culture and all the intricate details and impacts that the Troubles have and continue to have there. I would like to know how the Good Friday Agreement fell short and what moves are being made to amend past mistakes. More importantly, I keep asking myself, ‘When can I go back to Ireland?’