The Glacier Institute, a public educational leader in the Crown of the Continent, will kick off 2016 with a course Jan. 9 in animal tracking and sign interpretation. A longtime favorite, the course will return to the North Fork region for the second year after some 20 seasons of exploring in West Glacier.
“There’s awesome tracking along the North Fork — aquatic, riparian, and terrestrial species,” said Director of Education Justin Barth. “There’s a lot of action. If they’re really lucky, they could see rare carnivore tracks, maybe wolves or wolverines. Or [tracks from] a grizzly bear out taking a break from his nap.”
Brian Baxter, a wildlife researcher with years of experience tracking and trapping, will lead the field course, as he has for many years. He’ll lead participants along four or so miles of eastern shore of the North Fork, teaching them to observe the evidence of nature.
Over the course of the daylong field trip, students will learn how to recognize the optimal habitat for different species Glacier National Park wildlife, use observation and measurement methods to categorize tracks and gaits, and generally improve their ability to interpret signs of animals.
“Most of all, we’re trying to get people to read the landscape in front of them,” Barth said. “With a good tracker, you can read the story of what happened. Maybe there was some courtship behavior, or a fierce battle.”
Barth says the course is suited to a full range of skill and experience levels.
“Beginning trackers are going to get a ton out of this course, they’ll come out of the day with information spilling out of their ears,” he said, and noted that the course would also be helpful for hunters, or for people who have done tracking in the past and want to hone their skills. Participants will meet at the Polebridge Mercantile for a short introductory session before heading outside to implement and practice tracking techniques.
The Jan. 9 course is the first of five winter offerings from the institute, which has educated locals and visitors since 1983. The course subjects and dates are as follows:
—Cattail, pine needle, and willow basket weaving with Patricia Fialcowitz: Jan. 22-24. Students will spend the weekend harvesting basketry materials, learning about sustainable harvesting, and practicing basket-weaving technique.
—Winter nature photography with Rick Sheremeta: Feb. 27. Beginning and experienced photographers are invited to challenge themselves and learn how to photograph a snow-covered Glacier National Park during this workshop.
—Winter birds of prey with Brain Baxter: March 19. Participants will practice identifying birds of prey and learn about migratory movements and hunting techniques. The course will include classroom and field sessions.
—Owls of the Mission Valley with Matt Larson: April 9. This course will provide students with the tools needed to identify Montana’s owls, as well as a brief education of their adaptations, history, and overall ecology.
The Glacier Institute will also offer a suite of National Park Service Centennial-themes courses that honor the history of the park service and look forward to the next 100 years. For more information on these or the winter courses, or to register, visit their website.