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I’m always impressed with how busy an unstructured day in the woods can turn out to be.  You can start the day with very few definite plans and still somehow not have enough time to finish everything you started.  I suppose that’s something that comes along with being an explorer of the outdoors.DSC03035

On February 28th, we traveled down to MPG Ranch in the Bitterroot Valley not really knowing what to expect.  It was a chilly morning, but the fog was already burning off of the valley floor, revealing endless blue sky.  MPG Ranch Manager, Joshua Lisbon, met us at the gate and led us down to the Bitterroot River floodplain, where we began our hike.

The trail started in an open ponderosa pine forest, but gradually entered the realm of aspens and cottonwoods as we approached the banks of the river.  Our first stop was at what appeared to be a beaver haven, as nearly every cottonwood tree within a half-acre had been taken down by our big-toothed, furry friends.

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The last tree standing (barely)!

We continued along the riverbank until we stopped again on a large exposed sandbar composed of the world’s largest collection of skipping stones (I’m guessing).  We also stumbled upon the tracks of deer, coyotes, and geese along the way.

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Of course, we had to skip a few!

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After our time at the river, we gathered around the campfire for lunch and celebrated the 4th anniversary of the Outdoor Explorers Program!  Steve Archibald brought cupcakes and Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center bandanas for everyone!

We finished up our day with a nature scavenger hunt, where matches scoured the woods in search of a variety of natural treasures.  One match even found a turtle shell!

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Thank you to everyone who contributed to our February trip!  Special thanks to MPG Ranch, Missoula Big Brothers Big Sisters, Montana Wilderness Association, Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, and our volunteers Colin and Danielle!  MPG Ranch is always conducting interesting biological and ecological research: check them out at http://mpgranch.com/.

As always, keep exploring!

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Last Saturday was rainy in Missoula, but it was blue skies up at the Seeley Lake Nordic Ski Trails!  We had 17 matches join us for a beautiful day of cross country skiing, snowball fights, and wilderness immersion.

A full load of skis!

A full load of skis!

We were fortunate enough to have a crew of experienced ski instructors from Missoula and Seeley teach us the basics of nordic skiing.  After learning how to stay upright, we learned how to turn, stop, and even how to fall correctly!  DSCF5316

Despite our initial lack of experience, everyone was cruising by the end of the day!

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It just so happened that the Seeley Lake Trails were hosting a biathlon on the same day we were there.  Nordic skiing’s historic roots were clearly represented in the sport’s combination of skiing and target shooting.  It was also inspiring to see so many talented skiers using trails in our own backyard!

Pizza!

Pizza!

After a lunch of pizza from Seeley Lake Pizza Co., some of us hit the trails again while others couldn’t resist a good ol’ fashion snowball fight!

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A big thanks to everyone that made this trip possible!  Special thanks to our volunteer instructors, Seeley Lake ROCKS!, and Beach Transportation, as well as Montana Wilderness Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center!  Stay tuned for our next Outdoor Explorers trip: on February 28th we’re headed to the Bitterroot Valley to do some snowshoeing and wildlife tracking.

As always, keep exploring!

Lolo Creek

Lolo Creek

Winter was in full swing on Saturday, December 6th, as we headed down to Travelers’ Rest State Park outside of Lolo, MT.  8 matches gathered for a brisk stroll through the beautiful park, as well as some education in winter ecology.

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How do animals (and humans) cope with the cold, snow, and shorter days? Our hike crossed Lolo Creek as we learned about the changes aquatic animals make in response to winter conditions.  IMG_20141206_104109As we moved through the stand of black cottonwood trees, we discussed adaptions made by birds, squirrels, and elk.

Resist, migrate, or hibernate?

Resist, migrate, or hibernate?

After the hike, we gathered inside the Travelers’ Rest interpretive center for a game of “Resist, Migrate, or Hibernate?”.  We learned that animals either adapt themselves (resist), travel to warmer climates (migrate), or sleep through the winter (hibernate).

Finally, Park Manager Loren Flynn enlightened us on the proper clothing to enure safe winter travels.

Thank you to everyone that braved the cold to join us for the December trip!  Special thanks to everyone at Travelers’ Rest State Park, Montana Wilderness Association, Missoula Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center.  Stay tuned for our January trip, when we’ll be cross country skiing at Seeley Lake!

As always, keep exploring!

On Saturday, November 8th we joined the Watershed Education Network (WEN) on a stream ecology field trip to Milltown State Park.  The morning was a bit frosty, but the sun soon came out to shine on the beautiful confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork Rivers.

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Hard to believe this used to be underwater! 

After a brief history lesson on the Milltown Dam and Reservoir, we put on our waders and hopped in the river to collect aquatic organisms. Our specimens included mayflies, stoneflies, snails, beetles, and sculpin.

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Analyzing our findings

Analyzing our findings

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Some up-close investigation!

Next, we all took on the role of members of an aquatic ecosystem (bull trout, grizzly bear, bacteria, etc.) and created our own food web, while learning about how energy flows through an ecosystem.  Who would’ve thought that bacteria and fungi were so important to grizzly bears and osprey!

Our field day culminated in a no-holds-barred showdown of “To Spawn or No to Spawn”.  Players assumed the role of bull trout trying to spawn, while navigating an obstacle course of natural and human-caused threats.

Trying to "swim" through a turbine

Trying to “swim” through a turbine

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"Predator Alley"

The dreaded “Predator Alley”

Thanks to everyone who came out for this fun day by the river!  Special thanks to WEN, Missoula Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, and all of our volunteers!  Although the field season is now dwindling, WEN is always doing something to improve the health of our local waterways.  Check them out for volunteer/educational opportunities http://www.montanawatershed.org/.  See all you explorers again soon!

On Tuesday, August 19th a group of ‘bigs’ and ‘littles’ headed to the banks of the Bitterroot River for an evening fly fishing clinic. 

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Learning how to tie a fly to the leader of a fly rod.

We were lucky enough to have Casey Hackathorn, the president of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers teach us the basics of fly fishing within the span of one hour. We learned about native Montana fish and their habitat, the difference between fishing with a fly rod versus a spin rod, the parts of the rod, how to tie a fly onto the leader (or the end of the fishing line), and how to cast. Casey was a great teacher and the ‘bigs’ and ‘littles’ started to get the hang of fly fishing by the end of the clinic. When the formal lesson was complete, Casey hung around to help everyone with their technique while two great volunteers, Bert and Lori, shared their expertise and enthusiasm for fly fishing with the group.

 

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Casey demonstrating how to cast with the fly rod.

Sadly, no one caught any fish during this adventure. At one point in the evening Dustin, of Big Brothers Big Sisters said, “You can’t catch a fish, if you don’t leave the line in the water.” So as long as ‘bigs’ and ‘littles’ get out on the river again, with their lines in the water, the odds are pretty good that at some point they will catch a fish!

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Thank you to everyone who helped to make this event possible, especially Casey, Lori, Bert. And of course, this event wouldn’t be possible without the support of Big Brothers Big Sister of Missoula and their great staff, the Montana Wilderness Association, and the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center.

Rafting the Alberton Gorge

Posted: August 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

On July 29, 2014, eighty people piled into boats on the Alberton Gorge segment of the Clark Fork River to experience good company, the scenery, including beautiful shorelines, large boulders and cliffs, wildlife, and of course the thrill of rapids.

Rafters were led by experienced guides with Zootown Surfers who knew exactly how to make sure that we had a great time. They were enthusiastic and highly prepared to coordinate our large group and make sure that we had an incredible experience.

We floated through a number of large rapids, including the famous rapid named Tumbleweed, which left no rafter dry! During slow stretches of the river, rafters dipped in the water alongside the rafts. Water fights ensued and some floaters even got their hands on water guns, which increased the challenge of drying off in the sun.

During the quieter moments on the river, which were few and far in between, floaters spotted an otter floating down the river, a bald eagle circling the river’s edge, and an osprey feasting on fish. It was a beautiful evening for the float trip and people are already asking about the sign-up for next year’s adventure!

Thank you to Zootown Surfers for ensuring that we had a fun and safe trip and to the partners who made this trip possible; Montana Wilderness Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Arthur Carhat National Wilderness Training Center. photo 4

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On Tuesday, June 24th a group of ‘bigs’ and ‘littles’ hiked up Waterworks Hill on the north side of town in Missoula. The temperature was just right, in the mid 70’s with blue sky and scattered clouds. 

The landscape was beautiful, painted red, yellow, and green by wildflowers such as yarrow, lupine, and arrowleaf balsamroot. Participants, some of whom had never hiked before, were challenged by the steep uphill climb to the hill’s summit. Yet, once at the top, the hikers were rewarded with a spectacular view of Missoula, nestled in amongst the mountains. After reaching the summit, the hikers were able to relax with a downhill descent towards their destination, the Moon-Randolph Homestead.

The 1.6 mile hike ended with a delicious BBQ at the Moon-Randolph Homestead, a beautiful 470 acre farm due south of highway 90. While at the homestead we met Matt (a caretaker of the farm) while he was busy tending to the homestead garden. He was incredibly friendly and showed us how to feed the piglets and a very curious goat! What a treat, for us and them! Near the end of our stay Matt guided the ‘littles’ on a tour of the buildings and orchard at the homestead. The farm, buildings, and antiques within piqued the interest of the ‘littles’ to the point that they couldn’t resist asking Matt question after question. 

Thank you to our partners for making this trip happen and a big thank you to our volunteer Mario Colucci for entertaining hikers and Matt, the Homestead caretaker, for being a welcoming presence and a great tour guide!

Hiking uphill on Waterworks

Hiking uphill on Waterworks

Waterworks Hike

 

 

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Sheep herder herding the sheep on Waterworks

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Matt giving us a tour of the homestead property.

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Feeding the goat!

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Feeding the piglets lettuce.

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Homestead- Starlings in tree

Listening to starlings in an apple tree.

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