By Emily Stifler, Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

Alicia DeGroot moved from Stevens Point, Wisc. to Big Sky in October. A few days later, she and Kristin Gardner were in the middle of a thick patch of willows, taking water samples from the West Fork of the Gallatin River. Some nearby plants were flattened, as if moose had been through several times recently.

“Being in the mountains is kind of new to me,” DeGroot said. “Having to make sure we double check for moose, elk and grizzly bears while we’re out in the field is new. I’ve been out in the wilderness, but I grew up in the city.”

DeGroot, a recent college graduate, grew up in Green Bay, and studied water resources at Stevens Point. She chose to volunteer because “Americorps seemed like the best chance for a job.”

Americorps volunteers are generally recent college graduates who work in community-based programs for minimal pay. The work gives them valuable experience, and also scholarships that go toward paying back college loans.

The Blue Water Task Force is a nonprofit that works to promote public stewardship of aquatic resources in the Gallatin River watershed through community education, citizen involvement in water quality monitoring, and scientific data collection.

In her first few weeks of work, DeGroot took water samples from the Big Sky golf course and from several sections of the West Fork of the Gallatin, and also taught water education classes in fourth and sixth grade classes at Ophir School.

On her plate for the year are projects like installing a rain garden at Ophir, coordinating a septic system outreach campaign with the sixth grade class, helping expand the BWTF’s volunteer water quality monitoring program, and collecting data for a pilot project that is turning wastewater into snow.

Kristin Gardner, the BWTF’s Executive Director, says she’s “blessed” to have DeGroot here. Gardner has been with the organization since 2007, and while she’s had many community members volunteer for a day or two, she’s never had consistent help in the office.

With many new projects this year, the extra help is needed. Plus, the task force is in a transitional stage. Previously, they were largely funded by big state contracts for water quality assessments, and now they’re doing more restoration projects. Having DeGroot around will give Gardner time to do the necessary grant writing and planning to stay afloat.

For DeGroot, who is considering a position like Gardner’s, this is an opportunity to test out the proverbial waters:

“It’s nice to get a chance to see if that’s really want to do before I actually commit to a contract,” she said. “I’m very excited about it.”