By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Senior Editor

BIG SKY – The Jack Creek Preserve recently filled its annual AmeriCorps position.

Matthew Piper, from Morrisville, Vt., was selected as the preserve’s Big Sky Watershed Corps. member, and arrived in Big Sky on Jan. 1. He will assist JCP with its water quality management program through November, as well as help plan construction of a new loop trail on the 4,600-acre preserve.

JCP, located between Big Sky and Ennis, each year brings on a position through the Big Sky Watershed Corps., an AmeriCorps program that aims to provide experience to young professionals while making a positive impact on Montana watersheds.

For Piper, 24, the opportunity means more than a position in scenic southwest Montana, though he’s looking forward to exploring Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding area in the summer months.

“In general, conservation is a pretty competitive job field these days,” he said. “[This program] gives you hands-on experience to get you a full-time job in the future, and allows you to make connections.”

Piper earned a natural resource management degree from Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York in 2012, and hopes to bring his experience to Big Sky, while further educating the public about the preserve.

The BSWC position is competitive, but Piper’s work after college tipped the scales in his favor, according to Sara Stephens, executive director for the JCP Foundation.

“Matthew has lived in a rural, off-the-grid setting at the Lake George Land Conservancy as a preserve steward, [and] knows a lot about land conservation easements and building trails,” said Stephens, who headed up the final selection process. “I don’t have that experience, and it’s important to the preserve.”

During his tenure here, Piper will live on location at the preserve’s education center, which was completed last June. One of his projects will be to help plan a new 12-mile loop trail at the preserve.

Stephens is currently writing grants for the project, and a trail completion date depends on funding, she said.

“We want to build a trail that provides access from Spanish Peaks over to Fan Mountain,” Stephens said. “With Matthew, I feel excited about the opportunity to do more and to expand what Jack Creek can offer to the community.”

The privately held preserve functions as a wildlife corridor connecting the northern and southern portions of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, and exists on a road owned and maintained by representatives of the area formerly known as Moonlight Basin. JCP pays user fees for road access.