Thursday, September 18, 2014

Missoula Institute of Sustainable Transportation Field Trip

Missoula Institute of Sustainable Transportation Field Trip
Reflection By Michael Banning, Photographs by Matthew Freeman

On Friday September 12th our Wilderness and Civilization class went out on bikes and rode around Missoula with Bob Giordano, the pioneer behind the Free Cycles Community Bike Shop and MIST (Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation). Our goal was to look at the idea of sustainable transportation and how that fits in with the city of Missoula. We started our day with a presentation from Bob Giordano on the bicycle culture in Missoula. He pointed out that over the past fifteen years the city has started to become more of a bike friendly town. They have done this by putting in more bike lanes and paths, creating safer intersections with roundabouts, and adding safer pedestrian crossings over the Clark Fork River. After his presentation we all grabbed our bikes and rode around town looking at examples of the changes.

Our first stop was at the Free Cycles shop. We were given a tour of the warehouse full of donated bike parts that are used to help build bikes to sell or give out. At Free Cycles they offer a place for you to take your bike and fix it for free. They also have a program that allows you to build a free bike, all you need to do is take one of their BikeWell classes and do 4 hours of service at the shop then you can use their parts and build your own bike. All of their services are free but donations are always accepted and a great help to keep the program running.

While riding, we stopped at the roundabout at Beckwith and Higgins Avenue, an intersection that used to be very dangerous. Luckily though, through the support of everyday people and promoters of the bike culture, in 2009 a roundabout was put in. Since the addition of the roundabout there have only been two minor fender benders and no injuries. There are many benefits of having roundabouts, one is that they slow down the traffic making it a safer intersection but at the same time keep traffic moving. We looked at many different roundabouts in town that day, each having the same greater goal of safety but representing it in a different way. This is only the start to the changes that Girodano would like to see in Missoula. In the future he is hoping to see more roundabouts at major intersections, such as Higgins Ave and South 4th Street, making travel safer for bikes, cars, and pedestrians.

Coming from a city in Indiana that is going through many of the same changes with travel safety as Missoula, I have seen the benefits of roundabouts in a community and how they help. Also as an avid bicyclist it is nice to see changes that allow for safer travel on roadways.
During our lunch break at Circle Square in downtown Missoula, Giordano shared with us his dream of using a section of road in the downtown area as a city common area where only bike and foot traffic were allowed. A place that people can sit and relax as well as meet with others and enjoy downtown. This is only one of Girodano’s many ideas that he has for the city. Another one of the big projects that he is promoted through MIST is an idea to redesign the layout of the Higgins Bridge. As of right now it is a 4-lane bridge with a small bike lane and even smaller sidewalk. The hope is that they can get it redesigned to accommodate 2 lanes of car travel with 9-foot bike lanes and sidewalks making a more practical and protected area for pedestrians.
As our field trip came to a close we all felt very inspired to help with the cause of making the city of Missoula a safer and more enjoyable place to ride. Visit to learn more about the Free Cycles community shop or MIST and all of their road projects.

2014 Wildernes and Civilization Fall Trek Across the Badger Two Medicine

Reflections on the Fall Trek Across the Badger Two Medicine
Reflection By Julia Douglas, Photographs by John Harrington

The Rocky Mountain Front, where the great rolling plains are broken vertically into jagged peaks, is referred to by the Blackfeet people as “the backbone of the world”, and it was there they would go to seek wisdom and spiritual guidance. The plains were home to them, but the mountains held something of the sacred. In the final days of August, our Wilderness and Civilization class took to these very mountains for eleven days. 
We walked south along the Two Medicine River, crossing down into the Badger creek drainage, over the pass onto Strawberry Creek, through Gateway Gorge, and along Birch Creek until we broke out onto the plains again near Swift Reservoir. 

To be in the backcountry for such a long uninterrupted period of time is to experience a distinct difference of mentality from shorter trips. There are no complications and external pressures that define life in the civilized world. After a few days of acclimation, the entire sphere of one’s normal life in town seems distant and not influential. You are left to be exactly where you are. The changing landscapes become the pattern of the days- going from one valley to the next through shifting forests and burn areas, high alpine and aspen parkland. 

As we hiked along our route, observing and identifying the flora around us was of particular importance. To fully identify and come to terms with a plant takes time. In a trip of such long duration, we had the ability to truly understand the flora in context of its environment, distribution, and varieties of appearance. We didn’t just learn to identify the lodgepole pine from a guidebook- we saw the gradient of lodgepoles throughout burn areas and recovering areas, we made dinner on its fallen needles, and we felt the way it shaded out the sun to create moist understory habitat. It was in this way we became familiar with the landscapes throughout the days. 

There is a difference between theoretical knowledge and the true holistic understanding that comes from experience. Our trip along the Rocky Mountain Front was defined by experiential learning of the place that we were moving through. Care for a place isn’t engendered from external formal education. It is difficult to feel care for something you have no memory based experience of. But I know for myself and every person in my group, that we all now have a great care for the landscapes of the Badger Two Medicine area. The place was not the backdrop for our backpacking trip, but an active and alive part of the experience. For a while, our human lives ran parallel to the life of the Rocky Mountain Front ecosystem. This connection will endure throughout the semester as we now embark on the academic side of learning about the wilderness. Hopefully we will ultimately combine our experiential care with intellectual backing to help in the efforts to protect, conserve, and manage this special place. 

Fall Trek 2014 Reflection by Sanders Smith, Photos By Kaitlyn Kriz

It was quarter after seven on August 27th and the sun was creeping over the eastern edge of Missoula. We, this year’s students in the Wilderness and Civilization program, met up in a parking lot before departing on our fall trek to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Badger Two Medicine area.
While we waited for our transportation to arrive, all twenty of us sat around in a big circle munching on some pre-trip snacks. Our backpacks were comically large – stuffed to the brim with eleven days food and gear. Despite the heavy load and the early hour, everyone looked eager.
We were divided into two groups – ten students and two facilitators in each. The first group was headed to Mariahs Pass, hiking generally southeast through the Badger Two Medicine and the Bob, ultimately ending up at Swift Reservoir. The other group, my group, was essentially taking the same route but in reverse, heading in at Swift and out at Mariahs Pass. We hopped into our respective cars and took off.

Before hiking, my group stopped in Augusta and met with Hal Herring to learn some background of the area. Hal is an accomplished journalist with articles on conservation, energy development, and wildlife politics published in big time journals (Field & Stream, High Country News, etc.). He talked about the history of the Rocky Mountain Front, oil and gas development, the Bob Marshall and wolves. The topics all felt so interconnected that it was hard to tell where one ended and the next began. He spoke passionately throughout his talk but was especially emphatic about the role of politics and policy in shaping the landscape we were about to enter. He wished us a good trip and, with that, we left for Swift Resevoir.
It was a quintessential late summer afternoon in Montana: 80something with a slight breeze, the sun glinting off the wind-rippled surface of the water. Lumplets of cottage cheese cloud drifting lazily in the deep blue sky. Pine scent clinging to the mountain air. We hiked around the picturesque reservoir and found an ideal campsite near its southwestern end. We discussed Leave No Trace Principles before setting up our tents. We cooked dinner, ate, made a campfire, and prepared to call it a day.
The sky had darkened. Overhead, an unfathomable number of stars pinpricked the night. To the east, over the reservoir, the horizon glowed. Nobody knew what it was. There was no city, no streetlights, no reason for a glow in that direction. The glow ascended and grew more intense. The light shifted color and shape. A green then yellow band of luminescence, the aurora borealis, was jutting streaks of itself high into the firmament. We watched as the phenomenon painted the sky and the mirror topped water.

We woke up, broke camp, and hiked. We hiked every day but one, about 5-7 miles per day. All told, around 65 miles or so. Every one of those miles was noteworthy, but for the sake of brevity (this would be a pretty long blog post if I treated every day as descriptively as the first one), I will focus on some highlights:
-We saw grizzly bear, black bear and wolf tracks! Whoa!!
-  We each prepared a lesson for the group and taught it! We had topics ranging from traditional Blackfeet storytelling to arachnids; wolves to geology! Cool!
-  We had field guides to rocky mountain flora and learned to identify some plants! Achnillaea millifolium (yarrow)!!
-  We ate the most delicious meals every night! Yum!!
-  We all got cool trail nicknames! Crampbark!
-  We learned a lot about the landscape, each other, and ousrelves! Neat!

In our 11 days out, we amassed a considerable amount of both knowledge and stank. Just as the smell of campfire and body odor took more than the wash a few showers to fade from skin, I am sure that these memories and lessons will take more than the wash of a few years to fade from mind.