Glacier Institute Nears End of ‘Restoration Big Creek’ Campaign

Capital campaign receives boost with $250,000 grant from the Murdock Charitable Trust; project will restore historic North Fork outdoor education center

By Micah Drew
Glacier Institute's spring wildflower class. Beacon file photo

The fundraising effort to renovate the nonprofit Glacier Institute’s flagship outdoor education center along the North Fork Flathead River continues to gather steam with a recent grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.  

The $250,000 grant has pushed the capital campaign to $1.45 million, within striking distance of the $1.7 million needed to finish restoration work at the Big Creek Education Center.

“We are so grateful to the Murdock Trust for the support and the belief in our work here at the Glacier Institute,” the organization’s executive director, Anthony Nelson, said in a press release.

Anthony Nelson, executive director of the Glacier Institute, is pictured on a 140 acre parcel east of the Flathead River and north of U.S. Highway 2 the institute hopes to purchase in Columbia Falls on June 29, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Glacier Institute is the educational partner of Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest and offers programs for youth, families and adults including guided hikes, field courses, camps and field trips. Since programs began in 1983, more than 32,000 youth have taken part in the institute’s courses ranging from wolf tracking and naturalist sessions to winter ecology and orienteering.

“As a Flathead Valley native, I was lucky enough to attend a field trip at Big Creek and can personally attest to the impact exposure to the natural world and STEAM careers as a child had on me,” said Madyson Rigg, Glacier Institute’s development director and reigning Miss Montana. “This project will ensure the Glacier Institute is able to continue operations at Big Creek Outdoor Education Center for generations to come, in safe, efficient, and historically preserved buildings.”

While the Institute is headquartered in Columbia Falls, it utilizes a historic Forest Service ranger station established in 1911 along the North Fork Flathead River, known as the Big Creek Outdoor Education Center, as a home base for naturalist camps and educational courses. The Center comprises five student cabins, a staff cabin, community kitchen and dining hall, classroom, library, and bathhouse. The total renovation cost of $1.7 million, far exceeding the nonprofit’s budget, led to the launch of the “Restoration Big Creek” campaign in 2022.  

Glacier Institute shuttles parked at the Glacier Institute offices in downtown Columbia Falls on July 8, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Early fundraising support has allowed the institute to begin construction on key projects including renovations on the staff cabin and the camp dining hall and kitchen. The remaining funds, including the Murdock Trust grant, will cover renovation costs to winterize the camper cabins, allowing Glacier Institute to expand its programs and offer onsite courses during the winter.

Key leadership gifts include $200,000 from Benji Griffith, the founder of Georgia-based Southern Pine Plantations, as well as $50,000 in gifts from Chris and Monica Graff, Bob and Pat Jepsen, Connie Lane and the Whitefish Community Foundation, one of the largest major gifts the local philanthropic organization has given. Tim Cook, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., has also supported the effort, personally donating $100,000 after learning about the need while enjoying a personalized educational tour with Nelson during a trip to Glacier National Park a couple years ago.

“Every gift is a testament to a broad-based belief in the Glacier Institute, and the life-changing experiences we are creating for kids at Big Creek,” Nelson said. “We’re honored to have the support of so many individuals and organizations that recognize the importance of our work.”

According to Rigg, the Institute expects to reach its fundraising goal by the end of this year.

“At Glacier Institute, we are committed to getting kids outside exploring, and learning about this incredible place we get to call home,” Rigg said. “We are inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards and we are grateful that this focus is inspiring others to support our work.”

To learn more or to support the Glacier Institute, visit https://glacierinstitute.org or call (406) 755-1211.

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