UM Wilderness Institute Hosts Free Backpacking Excursions

April 28, 2015

MISSOULA – The Wilderness Institute at the University of Montana invites citizen volunteers to help collect scientific data this summer and fall in several stunning Montana wilderness areas. 

Experienced trip leaders will guide small groups of volunteers on backcountry trips throughout the study areas to gather data on invasive species, recreation impacts and wilderness character. This year’s excursions include trips to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, the Mission Mountain Wilderness and the Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Area in the Missouri River Breaks. 

“We have many options this year for citizens to volunteer for their public lands,” said Lisa Gerloff, director of the Wilderness Institute’s Citizen Science Program. “Wilderness stewardship is a job that is never finished. These trips are a great way to get into the backcountry with a fun group of people while collecting information essential to caring for these landscapes.” 

The trips are free and open to the public, though advanced registration is required. Some backcountry experience is helpful. Dinner is provided daily, and transportation is available from Missoula and select towns in the vicinity of the study areas. Most trips will last six days and will be held July through early October.  

Current dates and excursions include:

Absaroka-Beartooths

  • Tuesday through Sunday, June 30-July 5: Mystic Lake Area 
  • Saturday through Thursday, July 11-16: Lower East Rosebud Area
  • Thursday through Tuesday, July 23-28: Lake Fork/West Fork and Timberline Area
  • Tuesday through Sunday, Aug. 4-9: Hellroaring/Glacier and Beartooth Plateau Area
  • Saturday through Thursday, Aug. 15-20: Box Canyon/Hicks Area
  • Thursday through Tuesday, Aug. 27-Sept. 1: Thompson Lake Area

Mission Mountains

  • Wednesday through Monday, Aug. 12-17 and Aug. 26-31: Piper Lake

The excursions in the Missouri River Breaks Wilderness Study Area, slated for September and early October, will be announced at a later date. 

Agencies are tasked with maintaining the wilderness character of these areas but don’t always have the manpower to assess how the areas are faring, Gerloff said.

“It’s hard for agencies with fairly limited budgets to get a handle on what’s going on across these large landscapes,” she said. “Citizen scientists can help fill in those information gaps by being the eyes and ears on the ground.”

A growing need for citizen participation in wilderness stewardship helped launch the Citizen Science Program in 2005. Since then, UM’s Wilderness Institute has engaged nearly 400 community volunteers to document on-the-ground conditions across many of the region’s congressionally designated Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas.

This year’s projects are held in partnership with the Custer Gallatin National Forest, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation, Flathead National Forest, Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Foundation.

More information about the Citizen Science Program and trip details are online at http://www.cfc.umt.edu/wi/education/citizen-science/default.php. To sign up for a trip, call 406-243-5361 or email citizenscience@cfc.umt.edu

Contact: Rachel James, outreach coordinator, UM Wilderness Institute, 406-243-5361, citizenscience@cfc.umt.edu.