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the wen Story

In 1996, Watershed Education Network (WEN) co-founders Wendy (Sturgis) Berthold, Deb Fassnacht, and Erik Ringelberg first met at Montana Watercourse in Bozeman, a statewide water education program that supports water resource decision-making and stewardship. They decided to bring a volunteer monitoring program to western Montana that had been demonstrated at the Montana Watercourse training. They brought back their new knowledge and held the first volunteer water monitoring training in Missoula in 1996, with the help of UM professor Vicki Watson.

 

Several teachers were among the volunteers who came to learn about watershed health and how to monitor backyard rivers and streams, determined to take the ideas back to their classrooms. As the teachers planned for river excursions with 25+ students, the need for materials, extra hands, and expertise at the rivers’ edge was obvious. Leading those first four classes on water monitoring field trips was the beginning of Watershed Education Network’s water stewardship work. This put the combination of citizen science and youth education at the core of WEN from the very beginning. With the help of new board members, WEN became an official 501c3 nonprofit organization in 2004.

 

Since then, WEN has expanded the scope of our educational programs to embrace Citizen Science. This guiding force has led us to pursue opportunities such as Backyard Citizen Science, our Citizen Science Stream Team, our Backcountry Stream Corps Program, our continuation of Montana Groundwater Academy, and more. WEN also now conducts regular water monitoring projects on Rattlesnake and Grant Creek where we partner with community and agency partners. Over the years WEN has become a community leader for engaging outdoor science education and watershed stewardship. We couldn’t do this work without dedicated staff and remarkable volunteers! 

 

Our school programs are aligned with current state and national standards, and we reach rural and under-served schools throughout Western Montana. We take broad science concepts and connect them to places students know, often within walking distance of their classrooms. Thousands of students have now discovered the natural laboratories right in their own backyards through the efforts of our committed staff and volunteers.

 

Early citizen science efforts developed into our Stream Team program, which collects stream data in the summer and fall to keep a pulse on local watershed health. WEN has shifted from monitoring various streams around Missoula to conducting data collection for specific watershed projects. In partnership with Trout Unlimited, MT FWP, and Missoula Parks & Recreation, our Stream Team has updated protocols for improved accuracy and rigor through a new Level 2 Stream Team. Stream Team is supported through the Open Rivers Fund, a program of Resources Legacy Fund supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. This program is open to all interested community members and we continue to provide free water monitoring training and volunteer opportunities just as the co-founders did in 1996.

Since 2020, WEN has been partnered with Brightways Learning on a FEMA funded Program: RISE Challenge Big Sky. This Program tasks 6th-12th grade students with identifying and addressing Natural Hazards in their communities. In a multiple month process this program creates a generation of citizens with the knowledge, skills, and motivation to improve community resilience to natural disasters. Each year, we help to facilitate a RISE Summit, in which winning proposals receive funding to implement their resiliency ideas. 

 

Last year, we were able to expand our monitoring efforts into the Grant Creek watershed. Through the guidance of many, including the Friends of Grant Creek and Seamus Land, we were able to establish four Stream Team Sites, as well as several miles of sampled creek with the effort of our Backcountry Stream Corps Team. Through surveying and data collection we hope to support the efforts of landowners, organizations, and agencies who are members of the Grant Creek Working Group. 

Simultaneously, we have been investing in novel opportunities for the WEN community to engage in Citizen Science. This has led to the development of our Backyard Citizen Science Program. This program allows for "Watershed Teams" to enter into their watersheds around Western Montana. Participants explore, observe, and record meaningful data while establishing a relationship to place. These Teams are equipped with sampling kits and a Leader's Guide that provides everything they might need in order to facilitate these outings. These kits are available now and we encourage you to reach out if your interested in joining this program. 

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