Flathead Rivers Alliance Expands Volunteer Programs

The river group is seeking 20 to 30 volunteers to help boost education and safety for the river ambassador and citizen science river recreation monitoring programs

By Maggie Dresser
A paddler navigates the North Fork near Polebridge on the boundary of Glacier National Park on July 31, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As the three forks of the Flathead River continue to see increasing waterway traffic on the 219-mile Wild and Scenic River system every summer, the Flathead Rivers Alliance (FRA) is expanding its volunteer programs to educate the public about responsible river use and to collect user and wildlife data.

In 2021, FRA Executive Director Sheena Pate launched the river ambassador program to educate recreationists about proper etiquette at river access sites and offer loaner life jackets. A year later, the nonprofit launched the citizen science river recreation monitoring program.

This year, those programs are expanding, and Pate is working to recruit 20 to 30 volunteers to help fill education and data collection gaps in anticipation of another record year for river use.

In the river ambassador program’s pilot year in 2021, six volunteers set up information booths at popular river access sites on the North and Middle forks of the Flathead River, with maps and information about rules, ethics and etiquette. Loaner life jackets were also available at the stations and permanent stations were established at the West Glacier River Access Site on the Middle Fork and the Glacier Rim River Access Site on the North Fork from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

The program doubled the number of volunteers last year, and Pate hopes to grow those numbers again in its third season.

Last year, Pate helped launch the citizen science river recreation monitoring program where volunteers help collect data while they are recreating on the river. Volunteers document the number of recreationists they observe on the three forks and submit data into a Survey 123 mobile data collection app. They also capture wildlife and invasive species information as they float the river.

The river monitoring program is a collaboration with the Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park and data is shared with partnering agencies that are working to update the river management plan, which hasn’t been updated since 1980. The plan will likely limit group sizes and institute a permit system and other restrictions on certain portions of the three forks during peak summer months to manage its increased use.

To volunteer as a river ambassador, training will be offered April 18 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Glacier Outdoor Center in West Glacier.

To volunteer as a river recreation and citizen scientist, training will be offered April 27 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. At the Glacier Outdoor Center in West Glacier.

Trainings are conducted in a partnership with FRA, Glacier National Park, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and Flathead National Forest.

For more information about the FRA, visit www.flatheadrivers.org. To join the FRA, contact Pate at [email protected].

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