Earlier this fall, the Blackfoot Challenge worked with a host of partners to bring Blackfoot elementary students outdoors to learn about the world around them.

On a sunny fall day in late September, the Challenge hosted a Bear Education Day for the Ovando and Helmville schools at the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s H2-O Waterfowl Production Area near Helmville.

Alyssa Daniels, a teacher at Helmville School, reached out to the Blackfoot Challenge for assistance in organizing a bear education program for her elementary students because of the increase in grizzly sightings and encounters within her community.

“Our students were surveyed about grizzly bears prior to the Bear Education Day, and a common theme among responses was a feeling of living in fear. The Bear Education Day presenters gave us a better understanding of bear behavior. They showed us the tools we need, as well as the behaviors we should practice, to live safely in bear country,” said Alyssa.  

Presenters and stations included: “Bear Biology” with Jamie Jonkel of Fish, Wildlife & Parks; “Tools for Keeping Bears Away” with Jamie Stitt and her dog Moose of Cooper Creek Ranch, and Eric Graham of the Blackfoot Challenge; “Staying Safe Around Grizzly Bears” with Danielle Oyler of Fish, Wildlife & Parks; and “Range Riding and Wildlife in the Blackfoot” with Jordan Mannix of Mannix Brothers Ranch and the Blackfoot Challenge.

Learning to identify grizzly bear tracks.
Learning about bear hibernation.
Wildlife Coordinator Eric Graham talks students through how and why he traps grizzly bears.

The following week, 90 students attended the Challenge’s annual hallmark education event Youth Field Day at Garnet Ghost Town, the popular historic mining town managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Throughout the day, educators from the BLM, the Clark Fork Watershed Education Program, and the Blackfoot Challenge led students through five learning stations to learn about forestry, water quality, the history of mining, and what it was like to live and work in a mining town more than 100 years ago.

Maria Craig, Outdoor Recreation Planner for the BLM, worked alongside Elaine Caton, Blackfoot Challenge Education Coordinator, to organize the day. “Youth Field Day went great!  It’s exciting to be able to share Garnet with the kids who are growing up in the valley and are part of the history. Being able to give back to the community by giving tours and hosting the Youth Field Day is important to us,” said Maria.

Learning about forestry.
Creative writing inside the old schoolhouse.
Placer mining tour.
Using technology to measure water quality.

“Providing great education programs is easy because we have such outstanding teachers in our watershed schools, and such wonderful partners like the BLM, Clark Fork Watershed Education Program, Montana FWP, and many others who never hesitate to jump in when asked and offer engaging presentations to our students.  I’m not sure if the students or I had more fun on those days!” said Elaine.