Term of Service Reflection

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2018 BSWC Members

2018 was the Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument’s first year hosting Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC) members. BSWC is an AmeriCorps program that assists Montana’s watershed communities. The program is offered through a partnership of Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Montana, the Montana Watershed Coordination Council, and Montana Conservation Corps. Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument was lucky to have had two outstanding members, Samantha Strable and Taylor Mudford, serve their term with us. Read below for their individual reflections on the year.

Samantha Strable

As November marks the end of my Big Sky Watershed Corps service year with the Friends of the Missouri Breaks Monument, I have begun to reflect back on the successes, challenges, and milestones this past year has brought. Additionally, this past year has afforded me many opportunities to grow in both personal and professional senses through experiencing a wide array of conservation work.

Beginning in January, Taylor and I set out with a goal to reach individuals across the state and spread awareness of the Missouri Breaks Monument to Montanans. With such a broad goal, I was left wondering who would be best to contact and present to first. Should we focus on youth? Or should we focus on reaching communities already closely interlinked with the Missouri Breaks? However, I soon came to realize that it was essential to educate as many Montanans as possible and worry less about where those individuals were located.

As I began reaching out to schools, colleges, environmental groups, and communities of all sizes, I found a welcoming and exciting atmosphere around every corner. Many times Taylor and I found ourselves presenting to groups that had never before heard about the Missouri Breaks Monument. Our audiences were frequently impressed with the rich biological, historical, and recreational significance of the area, as well as the incredible scenery found there. Through completing this educational work we were able to inspire many of these individuals to experience the beauty of the Missouri Breaks Monument for themselves.

With these presentations coming to a close we have been able to see some incredible successes. These successes include presenting to over 800 individuals, generating several new FMB members, and interesting dozens of people in our volunteer stewardship events. Additionally, several individuals have been able to participate in our volunteer events and experience the Missouri Breaks Monument through joining us in the field at cottonwood plantings.

In the warmer months our focus shifted and Taylor and I began doing extensive conservation work in the Missouri Breaks Monument. This conservation work included participating in a 300-mile invasive weed survey on the riverbanks of the Monument. We utilized ArcPad and Trimble software to map the size and location of 21 different invasive weeds we encountered. Additionally, Taylor and I spent a great deal of time floating the river during the week and stopping at cottonwood planting sites to water newly-planted cottonwood and aspen saplings. At one point in the summer we even got some hands-on experience with stream monitoring work through assisting a BLM hydrologist in setting up several Multiple Indicator Monitoring (MIM), sites. This conservation work was difficult at times as the Missouri Breaks is notorious for its unpredictable weather. Nonetheless, the work we completed  gave me an opportunity to play a role in preserving one of the most beautiful and important parts of the state.

In future years I hope that I am able to travel back to the Missouri Breaks Monument and float the same stretch of river that I aided in protecting. Perhaps the cottonwoods I planted and cared for will be large and thriving; providing habitat, shade, and clean water for future generations of many species. In the meantime, I am deeply grateful knowing that I was able to experience and share with others the incredible public land, diverse species, and rich history the Missouri Breaks has to offer.

Taylor Mudford

When I first moved to Helena in January, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had just graduated from the University of Hartford in May and had been searching for a professional opportunity in the environmental field. The first such opportunity I capitalized on was a ten-month term of service with the Big Sky Watershed Corps, which seemed exciting, but required moving to the other end of the country. During the move from New York to the West, I was excited but unsure what the future would hold. I was relatively inexperienced, had never travelled in the US outside of the Eastern seaboard, and had never even gone camping. At times, I wondered if I was a little out of my depth. Luckily, the future panned out better than I could have imagined.

Serving with FMB has been an incredible opportunity from which I have gained more than I previously thought possible. The winter, spring, and fall kept me busy travelling across the state with fellow BSWC member Samantha Strable; the relentless pace of travelling and hosting educational presentations about the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument enabled us to reach 740 beneficiaries. The majority of these folks had never heard of the Breaks before, making each presentation incredibly rewarding. The presentations gave me the chance to hone my public speaking skills while also passing knowledge to others, which is one of the more fulfilling opportunities I’ve ever had.

Reaching out to Montanans and delivering presentations was exciting and rewarding, but it was work I had had some prior experience in while I was at university. The truly wild part of the year began in June with the start of our field season. Up until this year, I had never been camping. Getting thrown into a nearly four month long field season, complete with extended camping and floating trips each week in remote areas of the monument, required me to get used to it real quick. I managed to do so, which was quite the confidence boost. The field season was hard and long, but the work was vitally important and an incredible learning experience. I had the chance to work closely with BLM botanists and hydrologists, survey for invasive weeds, plant and water cottonwood trees, and paddle a canoe for miles each day. I learned so much about myself and what I want out of life, enough that it has motivated me to pursue a master’s degree in resource conservation. Hopefully, I’ll be able to begin study at the University of Montana or the University of Washington in the fall 2019 to advance my career in this incredibly fascinating and rewarding field.

My time with FMB has been one of the best years of my life. While it ranged from relaxing and fun to aggravating and challenging at times, I was never anything but thankful for the opportunity to be serving and learning. With my service year ending on November 16th, I’m eager to move on to new opportunities and put my new skills and abilities to work. Where ever the future takes me, I hope that I get to cross paths with FMB again.