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.
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.
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.
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.