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Sustainable Missoula: Outdoor learning inspires lifelong stewardship

Students get a closer look at the Montana Natural History Center. (MNHC)

Montanans love getting outside — we do, after all, have some of the wildest and loveliest landscapes in the country. And those who didn’t spend much time outdoors before 2020 have shifted their habits in the past year. Outdoor meetings, outdoor lessons, outdoor weddings, gatherings, meals: all things outdoors have become common in a time of COVID.

At the Montana Natural History Center (MNHC), getting people outside is what we do, and we’re thrilled that more people have discovered the delights and benefits of the outdoors. But for us, getting outside is just the beginning.

What we’ve learned in 30 years of connecting people with nature is that it’s what we experience in and learn about the natural world that inspires us to appreciate, understand, and, most importantly, steward this world. We not only get people of all ages outside, but we teach them about nature: the flora and fauna around us, the landscapes of which we are a part, and how human actions influence the non-human planet. And that education is both essential and powerful.

Despite COVID’s undeniable challenges, this past year provided unexpected opportunities to reach people both in our community and beyond in new ways. MNHC educators (virtually) taught families how to make sound maps and phenology wheels, identify birds in their backyard, and keep family nature journals. We guided adults in drawing birds and plants and insects, interpreting what they observe in the natural world, and communicating scientific information in a captivating way.

(Our Field Notes program on Montana Public Radio is currently showcasing the work of the curious, thoughtful naturalists from our writing workshops this past year.) We learned that there are many ways to create community and connect people with their place—even if we had to do it from a distance.

Master naturalists learn about insects at the Montana Natural History Center. (MNHC)

We are glad to be able to close that distance this summer. The Montana Natural History Center is once again open to the public, so community members and visitors alike can learn more about this special corner of the world.

Our newest exhibit, to be unveiled later this summer, looks into Montana’s fascinating fossil record, exploring the creatures and climates of the past and what they can teach us about creating a sustainable future.

We’re excited to once again be offering our in-person summer camps, sharing the intricacies of nature and the fun of outdoor exploration with preschoolers through 5th graders. While we truly delight in being able to teach people of all ages, there’s something special about seeing children learn about their world: their enthusiasm and joy inspires ours.

This is, perhaps, the most hopeful reminder we’ve experienced this past year: that even when “normal” is stripped away, we can find joy, connection, and community in nature, whether we’re leading masked, distanced nature walks or teaching nature writing over Zoom. And those connections we make with the natural world, as we come to understand and appreciate it on a deeper level, inspire stewardship, action, love.

Because this is what we really do at MNHC. We help people fall in love with the natural world—so much that they want to do all they can to protect it.

So join us in finding inspiration and connection in nature. Adventure in Montana’s wild places, near and far. Sign up your kids for one of our outdoor discovery summer camps. Come along on a monthly naturalist saunter to observe our local birds and bugs and flowers. Visit our Center and learn more about the place we live. Along the way, you might just find yourself falling (more) in love with Montana’s wild creatures and landscapes.

The Montana Natural History Center is open to the public Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-4pm. Interested in signing your child up for our summer camps? Visit MontanaNaturalist.org/summer-camps/.

Allison De Jong is the Communications Coordinator and editor of Montana Naturalist magazine and Field Notes at the Montana Natural History Center (MNHC).

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Missoula’s Farmers Markets. Eat local now through the early fall! The original Farmers Market at the north end of Higgins runs every Saturday 8am-12:30 – information here. The Clark Fork Market is now located at 101 Carousel Drive near Dragon Hallow, runs every Saturday 8am -1pm – information is here.

Montana Families Climate Summit – June 10, 17 & 18. A family friendly climate action training in June, hosted by Families for a Livable Climate, Moms Clean Air Force Montana, and Montana Mountain Mamas. Two lunch-hour virtual workshops (June 10 and June 17) lead up to an in-person organizing and power building gathering on Friday, June 18, from 12-4 p.m. in Helena. Lunch and childcare provided at the Helena event. Free, open to the public and capped at 25 participants. Register here.

Fixit Clinics – June 19, July 17, & Aug. 21, 11am-3pm. Save the dates for upcoming Fixit Clinics, hosted by Home ReSource! Bring your broken items and work with skilled repair coaches to learn how to fix them. More information and sign-ups will be posted here.

Welcome to Summer Gathering – June 22. Climate Smart Missoula and friends will be at Imagine Nation Brewing Co’s outdoor patio to celebrate summer and visit about what’s ahead. Do stop by, say hi, bring your friends and colleagues. 5- 7pm.

Montana Conservation Voters Summer Road Tour stops in Missoula – July 8. Imagine Nation Brewing. 5-7pm. All welcome. Details here.

Our Climate is Changing: Are we ready? What can we all do? – July 12, 11:30 – 1pm. Virtual City Club presentation by Missoula County and Climate Smart Missoula. Details will be posted here.

Wildfire Smoke Ready Week – July 12-17. Brought to you by Climate Smart Missoula, the Climate Ready Missoula Team, Missoula City-County Health Department and Missoula County. Stay tuned for sponsored events where you can learn more about how we can, together, prepare for and stay healthy when wildfire smoke comes our way.

Spontaneous Construction – Sept 18th. Missoula’s festival of creative reinvention! Reuse. Compete. Create. Enjoy! More info and team registration here.

Missoula’s third annual Climate & Energy Expo – Sept 25. Climate Smart Missoula and partners are back to hosting this premier event at Caras Park. Save the Date!

Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.