By Robert Lucke
Looking for a mid winter break? Maybe consider studying winter wildlife and people of the North Fork Valley in Glacier National Park.
Participants of the Glacier Institute's upcoming class, "Winter's Window to Wildlife," will be taking a look at more than just wildlife over the weekend of Feb. 25 to 27. The class, which is offered in cooperation with Northwest Connections, will learn about both the animal and human inhabitants of northwest Montana's wild North Fork Valley.
Melanie and Tom Parker, instructors of the class and cofounders of Northwest Connections, are experienced wildlife trackers and researchers who have lived and worked in the Swan Valley for many years. Because of their experiences living in the rural Swan Valley, they both have a profound interest in how small communities, such as the North Fork operate. Besides sharing their tracking and research skills with students, the Parkers will introduce the class to several longtime residents of the North Fork Valley.
"We've invited people who are intimately tied to this place to discuss what they've seen and experienced over the years," Melanie Parker said. She anticipates many good stories from old-timers such as Lee Downes, who has lived in the North Fork since his birth in the early part of the 20th century. Bob Love, a stewardship logger who has called the lower-North Fork home for more than 20 years will share his experiences as someone who works on the land.
"You don't read this stuff in a book," she said.
When the class isn't listening to North Fork stories from the people who know them best, they will be tracking wildlife. "We will learn to i.d. all of the major mammals in the North Fork," said Melanie. The Parkers will stress differences between families and how to identify individual species by track.
"We'll use the eye of a tracker," Melanie said. "We'll be asking questions like Where is the animal going?' What is this animal doing?'
The class convenes on the evening of Friday, Feb. 25, and wraps up Sunday afternoon, Feb. 27. Students will sleep and prepare meals at the North Fork Hotel in Polebride. Cost of the class is $110 per student and includes lodging. For more information, or to register, call the Glacier Institute at (406) 755-1211.