Giving Back on Earth Day

Flathead Earth Day Celebration to feature grand opening of Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship in Whitefish

By Tristan Scott
Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship in Whitefish. Beacon File Photo

The debut of Whitefish’s $2.65 million Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship will anchor this year’s fourth annual Flathead Earth Day Celebration on April 21 at Whitefish High School, where the public will have a chance to explore the state-of-the-art educational center.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening will take place at noon at the two-story building, which is the state’s first net-zero facility, and coincides with an Earth Day celebration sponsored by the Citizens for a Better Flathead.

The free community festival features 50 booths manned by local conservation groups, nonprofits and businesses. Each booth has a hands-on activity or craft based on one of the Earth Day themes: Grow It, Fix It, Save It, and Live It.

The celebration will also feature live music, food trucks and vendors, and a host of family-friendly activities and crafts.

The centerpiece of the event is the ambitious Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship (CSE), which is managed by the Whitefish School District in order to offer K-12 students learning experiences in energy, agriculture, forestry, natural resources, and entrepreneurship. The fundamental objective of the program is to prepare Whitefish students for college and beyond by immersing them in interdependent, real-world programs.

The CSE began with the vision of ambitious students in the Free Flow Club, and was supported by the club leader’s science teacher and English teacher. The idea evolved from an existing “Farm to School” garden and the need for a greenhouse to the $2.65 million project, funded mostly through community philanthropy along with some local, regional and national grants.

Originally, the Whitefish Lions Club, in collaboration with school district’s food services director, established a garden to teach students how to grow food to serve in the school cafeteria. Free Flow Club students worked with local philanthropist Richard Atkinson to raise the initial $70,000 for the greenhouse.

“The evolution of the Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship is unique,” Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said. “Members of the community saw a need to partner with the school district to expand experiential education, providing this amazing opportunity through the Whitefish Community Foundation Donor Advised Fund. Because of their generous support, the efforts of students to build a greenhouse has grown into the state’s first net-zero facility, including classrooms, laboratories, a greenhouse, energy systems, production gardens, orchards, and an experimental forest.”

Curriculum for the CSE includes hands-on projects that teach students about healthy food systems, sustainable farming practices, agriculture production and research, soil science, and how to plant, grow, and harvest vegetables that will be served in the school cafeteria.

“The net-zero facility will be the living model for all the work that is done inside the facility,” Davis Schmidt said. “It’s such an incredible opportunity for our students to learn about our land, water, soil, plants and animals and how the management of our natural resources affects the quality of life for present and future generations.”

The Whitefish Climate Action Plan, a partnership between the City of Whitefish and the Whitefish School District, will also be officially launched at the grand opening.

Other Earth Day Events

Earth Day Park Clean Up at Flathead Lake State Park

Montana State Parks invites you to help clean up public land for Earth Day at the first “Earth Day Park Clean Up” at Flathead Lake State Park — Wayfarers Unit on Sunday, April 22 at 10 a.m.

Celebrate the 48th annual Earth Day to help clean up Wayfarers and prepare it for summer.

Bring a water bottle, sturdy shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. Meet at the Birch Grove picnic shelter (down by the water) to sign in and break into groups.

Call (406) 837-3041 to register for this free event.

What: Earth Day – Park Clean Up Volunteer Event

When: Sunday, April 22, at 10 a.m.

Where: Flathead Lake State Park — Wayfarers, 8600 Montana Highway 35, Bigfork. Meet at the Birch Grove Picnic Shelter by the  water.

Wild Rivers Film Tour

In its third year, the Wild Rivers Film Tour celebrates clean water and free-flowing streams, showcasing six films that celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

American Rivers and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition will host the film tour to draw recognition to the national river protection program, designed a half-century ago to keep rivers clean and free flowing.

For $10 a ticket, bring the whole family and enjoy a fun-filled night of films, food and beverage and raffle prizes.

What: Wild Rivers Film Tour

When: 6 p.m.

Where: LaSalle Grange Theatre, 5095 U.S. Highway 2 West, Columbia Falls

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.