Education In The Wild

Glacier Institute celebrates 30 years of educational adventures

In preparation for another summer of adventuring in the Crown of the Continent, the Glacier Institute is revamping its historic learning center up the North Fork with a new solar energy system.

On May 13, crews from Sunelco, Inc., a renewable energy company based in Victor, began installing batteries and large solar panels at the institute’s Big Creek Education Center, a former Forest Service ranger station that was converted into a youth learning site 25 years ago.

The new energy system will provide backup for the facility’s current propane generator while contributing solar power around the clock. It will also act as a prime exhibit for education courses on the potential of renewable energy.

“This is the first step in our energy stride,” said Joyce Baltz, executive director of the Glacier Institute. “This is a dream we’ve had for years and of course we can do more and more as time and funds allow.”

The new energy system was made possible by Glacier Institute’s remarkable showing in a nationwide contest last winter. Tom’s of Maine, a natural products company based in Kennebunk, Maine, launched its 50 States for Good initiative, an annual competition that divvies out $150,000 to six community organizations that promote “healthy, human and environmental goodness.” An organization from each state was chosen as a finalist and Glacier Institute rose to the top in Montana. From there it was up to a nationwide online vote to whittle down the list. Despite going up against groups from larger metropolitan areas, Glacier Institute finished near the top and received $20,000.

“To have a $20,000 gift to get this off the ground, we’re just over the moon,” Baltz said.

The widespread support illustrated the level of admiration the Glacier Institute has earned over 30 years.

In 1983, the private nonprofit organization formed in Kalispell as a source for hands-on, educational adventures in Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest. Trained guides and wildlife experts from the institute hold roughly 70 programs a year, ranging from field trips in search of elusive wolverines in Glacier, to hikes through meadows of wild flowers, to snorkeling McDonald Creek. The trips can be single or multi-day excursions into the wild for children and adults. The kids’ summer camps and programs are especially popular, with nearly 1,000 kids every year learning at the Big Creek facility.

“The more you get kids out the more it sticks with them over the years and they relate to that outdoor environment and want to preserve those places for the future,” Baltz said. “We try to get kids out there as much as we can.”

One of the first summer courses for adults or children, “Glacier’s Harlequins,” is May 18. The program, taught by John Ashley, will focus on the Harlequin ducks, which are as rare as grizzly bears and just as secretive. The program will spend the day in Glacier Park learning everything about Harlequins during the peak of their breeding season.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road winds toward Logan Pass as seen from the High Line Trail in Glacier National Park. – File photo by Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

A spring wildflower class is scheduled for June 14. Ellen Horowitz will lead hikers through Glacier Park to learn about the vast floral patterns that color the outdoors during spring and early summer.

The institute is hosting teachers from across the country for the second year in a row for a climate change workshop. From June 24-27, teachers will travel through Glacier and witness the transformation taking place due to climate change, including the shrinking glaciers.

The institute added a new opportunity for private educational programs that allow companies or groups to undergo a field trip or hike together with a guide or educator.

“We want to educate people about the wonderful resources in Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest,” Baltz said.

A complete list of programs and trips is listed on Glacier Institute’s website,

Thanks to donors, scholarships are available for kids who cannot afford program fees. For more information, visit the institute’s website or call 755-1211.

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