Putting a new set of eyes on a challenge can often yield new ideas to old problems.
The Teller Trail that winds down along the edge of the Bitterroot River just west of Corvallis has faced its own set of challenges in the past in trying to balance something that’s good for the public on a private refuge that’s been set aside to protect vital wildlife habitat.
Since opening the trail to the public, managers of the 1,200-acre Teller Wildlife Refuge have struggled with people wandering past no trespassing signs, poaching, leaving trash behind and refusing to keep their dogs on a leash.
This year, students with Corvallis High School’s Classroom Without Walls are hoping that their new partnership with Teller and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in managing the 1.5-mile long trail can help begin addressing some of those issues.
That partnership began about two years ago when Corvallis High School teacher Jeff Kaiser’s class began a session on learning about the human impacts on wilderness. Kaiser’s students were already familiar with the refuge through other class projects.
After hearing that The Teller Trail had its own struggles with human impacts, the school and refuge officials decided it would be a perfect place for students to learn about the challenges that come with allowing folks into a pristine landscape.
The first thing the high school students did was use their eyes to identify issues and look for opportunities. They created a map that included potential projects that would help educate the public and steer them around problem spots.
Last week, on a sunny but cold morning, the students gathered with refuge volunteers to put their first idea to work.
They had decided the fence at the trailhead, with its sign that listed everything that people aren’t supposed to do, wasn’t very welcoming to the public. They also noticed that folks appeared to be going around the fence and eroding the river bank.
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So their first project was to re-engineer what people see first when they go for a walk on The Teller Trail.
They removed the end of the fence, relocated the big sign and moved in some large rocks to ensure that visitors wouldn’t be tempted to drive their vehicles onto the refuge. They installed a kiosk that will provide folks with some important information about the refuge and the unique opportunity the trail offers. In the future, they hope to acquire a bear-proof garbage can where people can deposit their dog droppings as well as anything else that might otherwise end up littering the area.
This spring, they plan to come back to plant native wild rose and snowberry bushes along the stream bank where there’s been some obvious erosion created by overuse from trail users.
“We know that this trail on Teller goes through private land,” said Corvallis student Brianna Williams. “We want to do what we can to keep it open to the public so everyone can enjoy it.”
Teller’s education coordinator Karen Zumwalt said the students have been working with experts to learn about the changes in language that can result in better results with the public. Instead of using the words “no trespassing,” the students will consider language that’s more positive in hopes that people will react differently.
“This new partnership with the school is starting to build momentum,” Zumwalt said. “The students want to put up kiosks along the trail that would provide more education for visitors of flora and fauna that they will find here.”
“This trail is very popular,” she said. “Hopefully we can find some ways to mitigate some of the issues that we face.”
The refuge’s executive director, Sam Lawry, said adding the school as a partner will hopefully make people appreciate the trail’s significance as an educational tool.
“These students want to take this trail and see what they can do to improve it,” Lawry said. “We hope the community will come alongside them and do the same.”