An Extraordinary Classroom


September brings crisper air, yellowing foliage and nine new Landscape and Livelihood students to the Swan Valley. We kick off our fall semester with a week long backpacking trip into the Swan Mountains. This year our staff and students celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, providing us with the ideal context to think about what wilderness designation means as a land management tool.

In this extraordinary classroom we focused on our biogeography course, which includes map and compass literacy, geology, field journaling, plant identification, and animal track and sign. We also took the opportunity to discuss the present threats to white bark pine while in their habitat.   


L&L students practicing their map and compass field skills at Necklace lake

Halfway through the trip we were greeted one morning with a dusting of snow. Temperatures were low, but spirits were high as the group was in awe of the frosted landscape before us. Not only does the snow add a touch of magic to the surroundings, but also creates the ideal substrate for tracking wildlife.  In just one day we discovered the tracks of a pine marten and a wolverine, two rare forest carnivores.

Wildflowers in the snow. Left: Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)  Right: Explorer’s Gentian (Gentiana calycosa)


Sophie Hainline takes the opportunity to sketch in her field journal

The end of our trip was bittersweet, as we waved the alpine lakes and mountains goodbye, and returned to the barn where showers and beds welcomed us home.


Instructors Adam Lieberg and Andrea Stephens keep an eye out for migrating birds