Western Montana kids benefit by collaboration between Project ASCENT and Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness

Posted on Tuesday, August 8th, 2017 by »

FSPW staff and volunteers help Thompson Falls teacher Rob Christensen get kids outside.

by Jen Stone Kreiner

FSPW Sanders County Outreach Coordinator

Surrounded by the great outdoors, residents of Sanders County are privy to the abundance of local public lands. Many kids are been raised hunting, camping and fishing, but some have never been on a hike or used a tent. With this in mind, Rob Christensen, Thompson Falls Elementary Guidance Counselor, has created a summer program that addresses outdoor recreation safety, skills and awareness for kids ages 8-16 through Project ASCENT.

This program is designed to introduce participants into the world of the wilderness through education and expedition. Project ASCENT is jam-packed full of basic wilderness and safety information as well as a chance to experience varying levels of wilderness skills and activities in an experiential setting. An appreciation of our environment is coupled with the opportunity to meet outdoor and recreational professionals from our community in a service learning atmosphere to provide students with the ability and motivation to become lifelong stewards of wild places.

Curriculum ranges from core camping skills like using equipment and gear to ethical environmental practices like Leave No Trace principles. The camp arms students with survival essentials in potential situations where shelter, food and clean water are not readily available. The week-long agenda for students in grades 6th-11th includes backpacking, fly fishing, rock climbing and water recreation.

The final July Ascent Camp ventured to western Sanders County in the heart of the Cabinets and found base camp at Bull River Campground, where Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness coordinated Leave No Trace and Bear Aware presentations with Montana FWP and USFS Plains Ranger District for camps. The week-long adventure included day trips into the proposed Scotchman Peaks Wilderness.

The week started with FSPW volunteers Leah Lambert and Carolyn Hidy at Ross Creek Cedars. They shared their enthusiasm about riparian habitat looking at aquatic macroinvertebrates in a controlled setting with the students. After exploring the Cedars the Ascent Camp ventured down Trail #142 into the proposed wilderness on their first hike. Early to rise the next day, the group met Sam Olson, FSPW summer back country ranger intern at Historic Star Peak Trail #999 just west of Big Eddy Campground off of Highway 200. The group achieved perfectly plump huckleberry picking altitude and were rewarded with purple fingers and amazing views! That evening FSPW volunteer Charlotte Milling, PhD shared a mammology lesson as well as information about being a field scientist. Milling shared photos and videos of her career and other colleagues’ work.

On the final day at Bull River Campground, USFS Forestry Technician Joel Sather gave an overview of wilderness safety and first-aid practices. This presentation was followed by Ryan Kreiner, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Fish Biologist who talked about FWP’s work with cold water fisheries species, both native and non-native and different methods to study populations.

It was a jam-packed week and the Friends and their diverse volunteers are excited to have had this opportunity with youth outdoor education through the Ascent Camp!

Project ASCENT was made possible by the Gear Up grant funding through Thompson Falls School. The Gear Up funding sunsets in 2018, but Christensen aims to keep the camps going strong. If you are interested in helping keep these FREE camps in our community, please contact Rob Christensen at rchristensen@blackfoot.net to see how you can get involved and sustain these great opportunities for local students

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