Learning gets wild in Glacier National Park

glacier institute


Montana Master Naturalist Course

June 17-21 2016

Instructors:  Brian Williams and Greg Peters

The core of this week-long course will be developing skills to read the landscape.  We’ll use big themes of biogeography, succession, and habitat to frame our knowledge.  Through this five day intensive course, participants will cultivate an ability to accurately interpret and understand the plants and animals whose presence tells the story of the landscape.

Note: The course fee includes four nights of lodging and all meals from Friday breakfast through Tuesday lunch.

Meeting Time:  Friday, June 17th at 8:00 AM

Meeting Place:  Glacier Park Field Camp Meeting Hall (see campus map)

Food:  All meals are provided.  Participants over 21 are welcome to bring their own alcohol.  Please bring a water bottle that can hold at least 1 liter of water. 

Lodging:  Four nights of lodging at the Glacier Institute Field Camp is included in the course fee.  If you do not require lodging, lodging fees ($32/night) can be subtracted from your total course fee.  The Glacier Institute Field Camp provides comfortable and rustic cabin accommodations on a bluff overlooking the beautiful Middle Fork River.  Facilities include bunkhouses, a community bathhouse, a classroom, a library and a kitchen.  Please call the registrar at 406-755-1211 to book additional lodging before or after the course. 

Equipment:  Please see basic gear list. Be prepared for any kind of weather, especially rain and strong winds. Bring a magnifying glass if you have one, or we will provide small field lenses. Wildflower field guides, field journals, birding guides, and binoculars are also helpful.

Physical Requirements:  Easy-Moderate. Hiking distance covers less than two miles with less than 500 feet elevation gain.

Transportation during course:  We will be traveling in a Glacier Institute vehicle each day.

Weather: This course will not be canceled due to weather.

Tentative Itinerary (subject to change based on road/trail closures, blooming cycles, and bird activity)

Friday  June 17th:  Arrival: Field Day: Biogeography, Habitats and Conifer Identification

Participants should arrive at the Glacier Institute Field Camp at 8:00am.  After breakfast and coffee, we’ll provide a brief orientation to the class then head out on the Going-to-the-Sun road to capture a broad-scale perspective of Park habitats.

Morning: We’ll begin the day with an overview of Glacier NP geography and its influence on the spectacular habitat level diversity found here.  Then, on the way up to Logan Pass, we’ll take two short hikes – at John’s Lake and Avalanche Creek – that showcase the rich, wet temperate rainforest habitat.

Afternoon: We’ll continue up to Logan Pass (if conditions permit) and spend the afternoon exploring the vastly different alpine habitats (and soaking in the beauty of the park too!).  If the GTTS Road is still closed due to snow cover, we will choose a lower elevation destination. 

Evening Program:  Open

Saturday June 18th:  The Roberts Fire of 2003: succession; shrub Identification; intro to flowers

Morning: We’ll spend the morning walking the 2003 Roberts burn, where we can read the story of succession on the landscape.  We’ll focus on three main goals: 1) continuing to build our habitat scale knowledge of the park; 2) understanding the process of succession; and 3) indentifying shrubs.  We’ll also round out our knowledge of the conifers of Glacier NP with a few species not discussed Sunday.

Afternoon: After a field lunch, we’ll head back to the Institute to begin our in-depth study of flowers.  Our focus will be on learning important floral parts and beginning to recognize major plant families.

Evening Program:  Bird Basics: A primer on bird anatomy and physiology and a lab to practice bird identification on specimens from the University of Montana zoological museum.

Sunday June 19th:  The East Side: Bird, Flowers, and a look at drier habitats (plus a study of mammals)

We’ll drive to the east side of the park this morning, to spend time in a dramatically drier habitat on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. 

Morning: We’ll begin at Lubec Lake, practicing the delicate art of bird identification on the most cooperative avian group, the waterfowl.  We’ll then drive a bit down the road to the Firebrand pass trail, where we’ll work on both the birds and plants of these dry country habitats.

Afternoon: We’ll reserve a bit of time in the heat of the afternoon to study mammal skulls (and tracks, if available) back at the Institute campus.

Evening Program:  Insect classification: learning to recognize common insect orders by wing characteristics.

Monday June 20th:  Birds and Insects 

Now that we’ve built a solid foundation of habitat understanding through tree/shrub/flower knowledge, our focus today will be on rounding out the picture with more bird and insect identification

Morning: In the morning, while the birds are most vocal and active, we’ll make a series of focused stops (location TBD) identifying birds by sight and voice.

Afternoon: In the afternoon, when the heat draws out the butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects, we’ll turn our attention to identifying them.

Evening Program:  Graduation and Celebration!

Tuesday June 21st:  Citizen Science Opportunities and more for Master Naturalists

Morning:  The Glacier National Park citizen science coordinator, will speak to us about volunteer opportunities in the park.  We’ll also highlight some other ways you can put your 

Master Naturalist skills to use and how you can log your volunteer hours to keep your certification active.  We’ll wrap up this the class by 11:00 am.

Academic Credit: Please see our ‘2016 Academic Credit’ Link on our website to learn about OPI credit and FVCC and UM credit for our courses.


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