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COVID prompts changes to Bob Marshall Wilderness projects

by Kianna Gardner
Daily Inter Lake | May 22, 2020 1:00 AM

Officials with the nonprofit organization that spearheads trail maintenance in the sprawling Bob Marshall Wilderness have made several adjustments to its upcoming summer projects and usual volunteer workforce as concerns linger surrounding the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Every summer, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation leads volunteer work projects in an effort to not only maintain hundreds of miles of trails, but also to connect people with their wilderness heritage. The groups improve trail conditions, clear brush and downed trees and improve native habitat by removing non-native and invasive weeds.

Normally, volunteers come from far and wide to assist with these projects. However, according to the foundation, this year’s volunteers must be Montana residents due to the current directive from Gov. Steve Bullock that requires out-of-state visitors to quarantine for two weeks.

“We invite Montanans to join us out there to explore the incredible place that is the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex” said the organization’s Executive Director, Bill Hodges. “The Bob is the perfect distillation of Montana — it’s big, it’s wild, it’s beautiful. Let’s roll up our sleeves this summer and give back to the public lands that we’re so fortunate to have in our backyards.”

According to a recent newsletter from the foundation, there is a possibility the foundation’s Montana resident-only restriction lifts “when it is appropriate for our neighbors and communities.” However, a time-line for when that might be was not provided.

Aside from a shift in who can volunteer this summer, foundation leaders also made the decision to move project start dates to June at the earliest with most starting later in July and August. According to the newsletter, this adjustment was made in order to “give ample time to train staff and assess the pandemic situation further as Montana opens up.”

But as it stands, there are 19 different volunteer opportunities available for Montanans to participate in.

The projects range from as few as three days to more than 10 and are located across several ranger districts. The foundation’s website includes a brief description of each of the projects and offers difficulty ratings so volunteers can know how strenuous the projects are comparatively.

The undertakings are determined in partnership with the Forest Service. Every winter, the foundation’s Program Director Rebecca Powell, works with staff from five districts to compile the project list: Hungry Horse, Spotted Bear, Rocky Mountain, Lincoln and Seeley Lake.

“They know where the work needs to be done, and we’re here to fill in the gaps where they need us,” Powell said.

Those looking to volunteer should also review the foundation’s new hygiene and safety policies surrounding the coronavirus. For example, potential volunteers must complete a pre-trip survey to determine their COVID risks, they are expected to bring their own personal hand sanitizer and other products and anyone with a temperature over 100 degrees fahrenheit will not be allowed to join on the trip.

“Our goal is to still provide unique hands-on Wilderness experiences while keeping our staff, volunteers, and neighbors safe,” Powell said. “While the 2020 season is not quite the one we had planned, we’re looking forward to getting as much work done for The Bob as we can.”

A full list of volunteer opportunities and expectations can be found on the foundation’s website at www.bmwf.org

Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4407 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com