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 opportunities to include more subjects for students, such as aquatic invasive species, fish habitat, groundwater, and more. WEN also now conducts official water monitoring projects, notably with Lolo Watershed Group in 2014-16, and currently in Rattlesnake Creek. 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.