December 2, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
by Mike Thompson,
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
"Game Range Ramblings" column Seeley Swan Pathfinder
The parents of 4th-graders from Condon, Seeley Lake and Lincoln have an unusually compelling reason to go Christmas shopping in Missoula on Saturday, December 4th.
That's because their children's artwork is on display at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) Wildlife Visitor Center at 2291 West Broadway. December 4th will be the last day for parents, friends and frustrated art critics to stuff the ballot boxes at the Visitor Center for their favorite entries in this art contest.
I'll give you three guesses what your kids are drawing, and the first two don't count.
Yes, it's the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area, now more famous than Glacier National Park and Disneyland since RMEF, FiveValleys Land Trust, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and other project partners adopted the cause of bringing 7,800 acres of corporate inholdings into state or other public ownership.
Based on the artwork I previewed in Mary Meyer's classroom at DeSmet School in Missoula, you'll recognize the Game Range right away. Mary's students covered every detail from rough fescue on Blanchard Flats to snowfields atop the Mission Mountains. They also included elk, deer, coyote, weasel, bald eagle and porcupine, among other wildlife. And, each student was eager to describe his or her motivation for every artistic brush stroke.
I soon learned they were also very interested in winning first prize.
That would be a winter sleigh ride across the Game Range, given by Jack Rich and the Rich Ranch. Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it? The DeSmet 4th-graders thought so, too. One girl asked if she could bring her new snowboard and tie it to the back of the sleigh. But, I had visions of she and her snowboard catching up to the horses' hooves on a downhill run, so I discouraged her gently. Of course, all this presumes that DeSmet can garner more votes than Condon, Seeley or Lincoln this week.
And, the voting is up to you.
If you need more incentive to cast your vote, we can offer that, too. Each person who votes at the RMEF Visitor Center will be entered in a drawing for a grand prize. The prize is an opportunity to cut your family Christmas tree on the Game Range, accompanied by Ali Duvall from Five Valleys Land Trust and Jamie Jonkel from FWP.
No, the Game Range is not open to the public, now that the annual winter closure has begun. But, it will be opened to one lucky family on Saturday, December 11.
The Christmas tree harvest was the brainchild of FWP's Bill Thomas, who let a little Christmas spirit sneak up on him while he first described his vision of the "Norman Rockwell" family hiking out across a winter wonderland, in the presence of a few hundred elk. He elaborated as much as he could until his voice began to crack and his eyes started to water.
It sounded pretty nice to the rest of us, too.
There will be winners, but no losers among children, teachers, parents and public who participate in the art contest and voting. Mary Meyer had asked her students to write answers to questions, such as, "What is the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range," and "Why is the Game Range important?" Then, when I arrived, Mary asked me to call on students for their replies. I was amazed at how much these 4th-graders had learned, and as the students' questions led us into more detailed discussions, I was excited to hear how well they grasped the concepts of wildlife habitat and habitat management.
They even seemed to follow the gist of the 50th Anniversary Project, which is more than I can say for myself from time to time as the project evolves through the twists and turns of ongoing negotiations and brainstorming.
What we have here is a real world example in our children's backyards that illustrates basic principles they will carry with them throughout their lives. Jodie Bishop at RMEF tells me that the 10-15 teachers she spoke with were really pleased to have this exercise made available as a teaching tool. And, an expanded opportunity, involving more students in local schools, is expected later this winter when the Blackfoot-Clearwater Chapter of RMEF once again offers its wildlife coloring contest, which was so popular and successful last year.
I hope I'll see you supporting your kids at the RMEF Wildlife Visitor Center on December 4th. The Center will be open from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.