ASC guide and intern Julia Johannesen grew up in the “Natural State” of Arkansas and holds a B.S. in Human & Environmental Sciences and a Masters degree in Sustainable Communities. However, Julia found her true passions are climbing up rocks, skiing down mountains and using adventure to conserve her beloved outdoor playgrounds. Before coming to ASC Julia worked Aspen Center for Environmental Studies as a Naturalist and Certified Interpretive Guide and guided the sandstone canyons of southern Utah for Zion Mountain School. Last week she took a group of 6-8th grade student from the rural Arrowhead Middle School in Montana’s Paradise Valley on an adventure science expedition in the mountains near ASC’s home in Bozeman.
It’s one thing to take a group of 8th graders camping; it’s another thing to take them camping in the middle of winter in Montana. Likewise, it’s challenging to carry a heavy backpack containing everything you need to survive for a few days in the wilderness; it’s beyond tough when the backpack you have on that is bigger than you! Now combine the “me-size” backpack with the Montana winter camping, add a pair snowshoes and generous portion of deep, unconsolidated snow, and you have an unforgettable citizen-science adventure.
Last week Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) led students from Arrowhead Middle School on an adventure science outing for 3 days and 2 nights in the Northern Gallatin Range. Though some may believe there is little activity when nature is covered in winters white blanket, Arrowhead students quickly found the opposite to be true. What winter lacks in colorful flora and fauna, it makes up for in the relentlessly hardy evergreen trees. While there is little daylight to speak of, each unique snowflake can provide hours of entertainment. And while it oftens feels as though nature is on vacation, opting to hibernate through the winter, distinct animal tracks left in the snow tell a different story.
Our mission was completed: we identified plants, documented wildlife observations, and installed noninvasive camera traps to monitor wildlife in our absence; simultaneously learning important skills for safely living and traveling in the backcountry with minimal impact. We explored the seemingly quiet corners of our surroundings and found signs of life: scratches left on trees, tracks tempting us to further explore their story. Growing up in the rural area of Paradise Valley, these students were no strangers to being outdoors in Montana. However, watching their faces light up as we traveled far off trail following the tracks of a mysterious animal, it was apparent that exploring their surroundings in this manner was a new adventure for them. Their curiosity was increased as we saw the world from the eyes of our mystery animal: following their tracks down through the thick coniferous forest, over downed trees, always hugging the edge of the forest and avoiding the dangerous exposure of an open meadow. We continued tracking, taking notes on stride and straddle, document depth and shape, and gathering GPS coordinates along the way, until we were clearly able to identify the tracks as belonging to a coyote. Such a successful, hard earned discovery mandated a much anticipated celebration: lunch break!
While we found exciting signs of snowshoe hare, pine marten, and coyote, we did not catch the presence of the rare and clearly elusive carnivores we had our eyes peeled for: the wolverine (Gulo gulo) or Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis). However, the adventure isn’t over. We will go back in a few weeks to retrieve the camera-traps we installed and see what we discover. Stay tuned…
Interested in sending your group on an adventure science expedition? Learn more about our guided outings. You can provide this opportunity of a lifetime to more students by giving to our campaign to raise $30,000 to send students on adventure-science expeditions. Keep up with ASC by subscribing to ASC’s blog, liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter (@AdventurScience), Instagram (@AdventureScience) and Google+.