Huddled around the sad little ponderosa pine, the four sixth-grade girls from Hamilton Christian Academy were working like a team.
They had been tasked to try to save the tree from the elk and deer that stop on their travels along Bear Creek in this nice protected spot on Middle Bear Farm.
With a swatch of chicken wire and a pretty pink piece of bailing twine, the four went to work to create a barrier between the tree and the antlers and teeth that would destroy it.
Using rocks and sticks that they hammered into the ground, the girls built a cage around the suffering pine tree.
When they were done, Ayanna Triplett happily announced: “We’re learning how to protect the environment.”
For a project hosted by the Bitter Root Land Trust, the words couldn’t have rung truer.
Last fall, all the different classes at the Hamilton Christian Academy selected a local nonprofit to which they pledged a day of service.
Debbie Smith’s sixth graders were assigned the Bitter Root Land Trust.
“We couldn’t have been happier about that,” Smith said, as she followed her class back to the pond where lunch was about to be eaten Friday. “This just felt like we were doing a real thing. It also feels like a real adventure.”
Only two of her 13 students live on a farm or ranch. For many, spending time at a place that produces food is a new experience.
Last fall, the class came out to Cindy Jimmerson’s Middle Bear Farm to learn a little about life on the farm. They explored the apple orchard, petted the lambs and learned about bees.
“It gave them a chance to see what it takes to keep a place like this going,” said Bitter Root Land Trust’s Program Administrator Emy Royce. “And now they are back on their service day. They will work to protect the aspen and baby pine trees from wildlife.”
Julia Barlow of Stevensville is Jimmerson’s daughter. On this day, she was taking the lead in lining out the crew of willing youngsters.
“We have a lot of deer and elk down here,” Barlow said. “Bear Creek is just over there and they travel back and forth along it all the time. They scrape their antlers against the trees. It can kill the trees eventually.”
Barlow said her family really appreciated the young people’s efforts.
Jimmerson’s farm is protected from development forever through a conservation easement through the Bitter Root Land Trust.
The land trust is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Royce said.
“That’s part of what this day is about,” Royce said. “As we look back on our first 20 years, we’re also looking for ways to celebrate where we are now.”
Standing alongside the pond that overlooks nearly 160 acres of prime wildlife habitat that will never be developed while surrounded by the laughter of a group of young people who had just spent time protecting it, Royce looks up with a smile.
“This is really a good way to do that,” she said.