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Student Presentations Focus on Community

 

November 9, 2017

Swan Valley Connections

Anna Rees presented on "The Future of Condon."

SWAN VALLEY - The students in the Landscapes & Livelihoods course at Swan Valley Connections wrapped up their semester by giving presentations on their research projects to the Condon community on Tuesday, October 31 at the community hall. Refreshments were served, but the real treat was hearing from these enthusiastic young people from around the country, and what they focused on during their time in Condon. Each student chose a topic and researched a question through experiences with community members, in-person interviews and online surveys.

Education Director Jonathan Bowler introduced the Landscapes & Livelihoods course and the six students enrolled. Bowler explained that the students learn the biogeography of Northwest Montana including the geology, plants, wildlife, people and everything it takes to live together in a forested community.

The students spend time both in the classroom and in the field visiting businesses, places and people all around the region to develop a sense of place and an understanding of this part of rural Montana. The students then pull together a research project in about one week on a topic that is important to them with the help of community members.

First up was Ellen Young. Young is majoring in Biology at Boise State University and has lived in Idaho all her life. She chose "Feeding the Swan; Alternative Food Systems in Rural Montana."

She reported that while the USDA officially classifies Condon as a food desert, the numbers of people who hunt, fish, gather or garden impressed her. Most people interviewed did more than one of those activities and all of the respondents did at least one.

Young learned from the respondents to her online survey that there was a deep sense of gratitude, stewardship and respect for the land and that people found the activities rewarding and fulfilling a true need for food.

Bryn Willingham is a junior at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, studying Natural Resource Conservation with a concentration in Forest Ecology. She is originally from Newburyport, Mass. and this was her first time visiting Montana.

Willingham's project was called "Humans of the Swan Valley: Putting a Face to Rural Opinions and Challenges." She wanted to learn more about the "rural-urban divide" and gain an understanding of rural voices. She did a photo essay that correlated the length of time a community member lived here and issues they identified.

Willingham found that there were no correlations between the length of time someone lived here and the issues encountered. The issues were generally the same, including: lack of employment opportunities, wildfire management, shrinking youth populations, importance of public lands and tourism and especially solutions need to come from diverse collaborative efforts. She posted her photo essay at https://humansoftheswanvalley.tumblr.com/

Anna Rees skipped the college ordeal and went to work at a summer camp. She became known as Anna from Indiana who skipped college and came here for knowledge. Her project quest for knowledge was titled "The Future of Condon."

Rees is from a rural community and learned that rural issues are similar across the country. Specifically here, she found that despite a wide age range of interviewees, that the cornerstone to the future is the foundation of independent people, rural lifestyle, wildlife and public lands... and the respondents wanted more. More opportunity, young families, learning opportunities and economic viability.

Sam Grinstead is a sophomore at Iowa State University and is majoring in Animal Ecology with a specialization in fisheries and wildlife. Sam has lived in Des Moines, Iowa for most of his life.

Grinstead presented on "Log Cabin Building: Making a Home out of a House." He was fascinated by the log homes all around the area, as it is uncommon in his hometown and wondered if living in a log home contributed to a sense of place in the Swan. He researched homesteaders, the style of building brought from early immigrants and then studied five individuals and two businesses.

Grinstead concluded that the log home did indeed bring a sense of place because the homes were built with local wood, often from the property it was built upon; local friends and family often helped build the structures; it brought the outdoors inside and reflected the homesteading heritage.

Olivia Daniels is an incoming sophomore at the University of California - Santa Cruz and is majoring in environmental studies. Daniels was influenced by her spirited mother and grandmother to value the strength and resiliency of women. She decided to name her project "Badass Women of the Swan" because the women here were a whole different level of strong and resilient.

Daniels studied women homesteaders of the area and interviewed a number of mother-daughter combinations from the Valley. She concluded that the same fierce independence and desire for freedom and being outdoors drove the homesteaders as the women in the Swan today, with the reoccurring quote, "I do whatever I want to do."

Swan Valley Connections

Amanda Craft spoke about wildfire management in the Swan community.

Amanda Craft is attending the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse and is studying biology with a concentration in environmental science and a minor in environmental studies. Craft's hometown is Coon Rapids, Minn. Craft wrapped up the presentations with her project, "Wildfire Management in the Swan Community." She put herself in a landowner's shoes and learned about firewise recommendations and the cost share programs available to help landowners make their property more fire resilient. She learned about fire behavior.

Through her interviews, Craft learned that no one was happy with the way their neighbors were managing their property, regardless of if the neighbors were private property owners or public land agencies. She shared that most people felt well informed, but under prepared for fire.

The students all felt very connected to the land and people of the Swan Valley after their research projects, their time with "home stay" families and their time on the land. They all agreed that the best part about the valley was the people.

 

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