Corvallis seventh grade students built a model of the Bitterroot watershed to observe how water moves from the mountains to the river as part of the Bitter Root Water Forum’s Earth Stewardship Program Wednesday.

Students at Lone Rock, Victor, Corvallis, and Darby have interactive lessons each month with presentations by local partnering organizations and resource professionals.

Corvallis science teacher David Chimo said his students learn about their natural and local world through hands-on experience.

“Students learn about soil, erosion, fire, snowpack, precipitation, air quality and all the things that affect them in the Bitterroot Valley,” he said. “It’s a solid program from October through May and we culminate with a multi-station field trip at Bass Creek. Students enjoy it because they get a respite from their normal learning in the classroom.”

Chimo said over the years his students have heard presentations from great organizations including the Bitter Root Land Trust and the Ravalli County Extension Office.

This year presentation topics include: Irrigation – Jay Meyer, FFA; Snowpack – Marilyn Wildey/Ed Snook, Forest Service; Water Filtration – Val Areni, B.E.A.R.; Native Montana Fish – Leslie Nyce, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks; Watershed Model – Bitter Root Water Forum; Noxious Weeds – Christy Schram, Ravalli County Weed District; Off Highway Vehicle Ethics and Etiquette – Monte Monroe, Forest Service; and the Water Quality Monitoring field trip in May.

“We don’t just talk about the resources in the valley but how to be safe when they are recreating as well,” Chimo said. “I think that is a key component for the youth living here.”

Aissa Wise, Big Sky Watershed Corps member with the Water Forum, introduced the topic of watershed to the students and explained its impact. She led students in defining topography as ‘the shape of the land’ and helped them practice pronouncing the word.

“A watershed is an area of land where all the water that falls in that area flows to the same place,” Wise said. “Our main watershed is the Bitterroot Watershed.”

Wise had students draw a watershed then complete a map of the Bitterroot Valley adding names of features.

They began by completing a compass rose establishing north on the map and in the classroom.

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Most students said they remembered the four cardinal directions of north, south, east and west by a mnemonic device - “Never Eat Soggy Waffles.”

Teams of students placed flower pots representing key mountains in the valley and covered them with a tarp. Next they added labels to name the features like Trapper Peak, Kent Peak, Bitterroot Range and Sapphire Range – building a model of the Bitterroot watershed. Other groups added town names; strings representing creeks, Lake Como and the Bitterroot River; and arrows showing the direction of water flow.

The final group used spray bottles to show their peers how water flows over the watershed.

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“When snow melts it goes down because water takes the fastest route down due to gravity,” Wise said. “Water from St. Mary’s Peak flows east into the Bitterroot River, then north to the Columbia River and west to the Pacific Ocean.”

The Bitter Root Water Forum is a non-profit organization working to protect, enhance, and restore the Bitter Root watershed by bring the community together and offering education. Since 2012, BRWF, with support from the Bitterroot Conservation District, has hosted a Big Sky Watershed Corps member who works to enhance local conservation efforts throughout Montana.

Wise started in January and will continue through October to contribute through watershed research, education, and outreach; planning and project implementation; and community engagement.

Wise said she enjoys presenting watershed information to students.

“I've learned so much already while serving with the Water Forum, especially about this beautiful valley and its precious resources like water,” she said. “It's exciting and important to share that knowledge with local youth."

The Big Sky Watershed Corps program is offered through a partnership of Montana Conservation Corps, the Montana Watershed Coordination Council, and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana. It has 28 Corps members throughout Montana this year.

Heather Barber, executive director of Bitter Root Water Forum, said they have been fortunate to host many dedicated and hard-working Big Sky Watershed Corps members.

“It’s wonderful to bring passionate and intelligent people to the valley to do conservation work,” Barber said. “The additional capacity has allowed us to build and expand our education programs, complete restoration projects, and recruit volunteer teams.”