More than 30 years ago, a coalition of unlikely allies invited the public to a weeklong workshop in the woods to have a chat about one of the most polarizing issues of the time — land management.
Surrounded by stakeholders whose interests ran deep and diverse — almost as diverse as the nearby stands of grand and alpine fir, spruce, larch and cedar — the folks in attendance were finally able to see the forest for the trees, hashing out their differences by focusing on shared objectives, and the Flathead Family Forestry Expo was born.
The inaugural expo was just one day and was attended by more than 200 local students. By 1992, it had been stretched to five days and was attended annually by more than 1,300 students.
Now in its 31st year, the premise of the Family Forestry Expo remains the same — to convey the common ground of sustainable forest management, and strike a balance of responsible natural resource development, conservation and recreation.
For decades, forest management has been riddled with clashing views over public land use, pitting wilderness against timber production, non-motorized against motorized, commercial interests against wildlife.
The so-called “Timber Wars” gave birth to hard-liners accustomed to digging in their heels, entrenched in their ideologies and not given to making concessions.
The Expo helped change that.
Today, fisheries biologists and loggers, hikers and horsemen, mountain bikers and silviculturists, and nearly everyone else with a stake in the management of public lands on the Flathead National Forest comes together every year. They convene at the Trumbull Creek Experimental Forest, located on F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. property near Columbia Falls, and a grand forestry fair unfolds.
According to Deb Mucklow, the former Spotted Bear District Ranger who helped organize the first expo in 1989, the event draws together land managers from the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, as well as organizations like the Audubon Society, Back Country Horsemen and the Montana Native Plant society.
“It’s not one agenda against another agenda, it’s a common goal of education, and having good information for people to be informed and educated about the special places and the forest that surrounds the places that we live and work in,” Mucklow said.
After the cancellation of last year’s event due to COVID-19, the Family Forestry Expo is back this year, offering hands-on exposure to the role forests play in the community. This year, however, in place of the traditional all-day, in-person event, organizers have planned a self-guided experience for the weekends of May 7-8 and May 15-16.
Families are invited to visit the Expo site at the Trumbull Creek Educational Forest and take part in a short, self-guided forest walk to explore and learn about our area forests. The site is located about two miles north of the junction of U.S. Highway 2 and Montana Highway 40, just west of Columbia Falls. At the trail entrance, visitors can pick up a trail map with forest scavenger-hunt activities and follow the marked stops along the half-mile wood-chipped trail that follows Trumbull Creek.
Visitors should bring their smartphones and take advantage of the posted QR codes for a deeper dive into learning about the nuances of the forest, including videos about local fisheries, wildlife, forest management, wildfire, backcountry camping ethics, archeology, riparian areas, plant identification, and logging operations. The videos can also be viewed on the Forestry Expo website or its YouTube channel.
During their walk, families can discover the names of common forest plants, investigate the updated forestry and forest practices signs, do some in-depth exploring on how to camp in a low-impact way, get a unique view of Trumbull Creek, find and learn about forest birds, and walk the “riparian path” along the creek.
Forestry Expo organizers ask that visitors “leave what they find” and make sure to “pack-it-in, pack-it-out.” Organizers also ask that you leave your dog at home.
The Family Forestry Expo event takes place through the dedicated involvement of over 30 diverse organizations such as local service clubs, forest industry, government natural resource agencies, conservation groups, professional societies, local businesses, many interested individuals and numerous local donations.
For more information visit www.forestryexpo.org and www.facebook.com/familyforestryexpo.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.