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UM bringing collaboration, eco-research to Big Sky

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

BIG SKY – On Aug. 13, a collaborative group will present more than 100 photos and discuss two of the most visited and alluring ecosystems in Montana: the Greater Yellowstone area and the Crown of the Continent.

The University of Montana, together with Lone Peak High School and the Yellowstone Club Community Foundation, is holding the free program at 7 p.m. in the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center in LPHS to inform students, their parents and the Big Sky community at large about the mountains, rivers, glaciers, geysers, volcanoes and wildlife that form these two wild spaces.

Called, “This is … Yellowstone and the Crown of the Continent Country,” the program will outline UM’s role in both places, but focus primarily on Yellowstone.

The two ecosystems see millions of visitors between them each year, their splendor worthy of this public program, says University of Montana geography professor Rick Graetz.

“There’s 33 million acres only separated by 120 kilometers,” said Graetz, also a publisher, photographer and mountaineer who gives mountain geography, ecosystems and history lectures across Montana. “When I speak to audiences around the state, I emphasize that the University of Montana’s address is Missoula, but our home is every community in the state.”

The program is part of UM’s Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative, which aims to teach, gather and report on research and educational opportunities related to the two ecosystems.

The university has been increasing its footprint in the Greater Yellowstone, and specifically in the Big Sky and the Upper Gallatin area, according to a press release. With help from local private donations from YCCF, among others, UM recently opened an office and teaching center in Big Sky, the goal of which is to bring community-wide higher education to the area.

“The most visible are lectures [where] we take science and research and put it into public speak,” Graetz said. “We also have a capstone program at the high school where kids can take college credits. We want more of that [and] want LPHS to be the school in the state that people want to come to.”

A hallmark of the initiative, according to the release, will be a complete collection of works published on the Greater Yellowstone, the Crown of the Continent and southwest Montana, as well as documents, videos, photography and website listings, all housed at the Big Sky Community Library. With the guidance of LPHS teachers and the assistance of a UM graduate student, the collection will be available to students and the public.

“It’s a really integrated program – something no one else in the state has,” Graetz said.

He believes the support of the local community, including the faculty and staff at the high school, will make the initiative a success.

“The thing about LPHS is they have some all-star teachers there; and also [Supt.] Jerry House,” Graetz said. “You have to have people who believe in it, [and] we have ton of support.”

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