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Look, Listen, & Learn in Glacier National Park
Montana Senior News, April/May 2014

While a gift shop certainly qualifies as an unusual educational setting, one small business in Glacier National Park’s Apgar Village has proven that unusual can be effective when it comes to selling environmental education alongside buckskin vests.


Through its “Look, Listen, & Learn” series co-hosted with the non-profit Glacier National Park Conservancy, the Montana House Regional Craft Shop provides an informal venue for sharing current research about the Crown of the Continent. In the shop’s cozy upstairs gallery surrounded by paintings and photography of Glacier Park landscapes and wildlife, participants gain a better understanding of topics ranging from climate change and trophic cascades to citizen-science projects and mountain lions in winter. So far, the response to this free series has been so enthusiastic, people drive from as far away as Great Falls and Missoula to attend and reserve seats ahead of time to avoid being wait-listed.


“When each presentation ends, people usually say something like, ‘I’m so glad you’re doing this; we’ll see you again,’” states shop-owner Monica Jungster. “Then they sign up on the spot for what’s next, even if it’s months’ away and they don’t know who the speaker is.”


Regulars refer to the series as, “the Salon of Apgar” and “a light in the wilderness” among other affectionate soubriquets. By whatever name it is known, “Look, Listen, & Learn” fills many niches. It offers a forum for authors, historians, scientists, and photographers—all of whom donate their time—to relate their discoveries and insights to a receptive audience. It meets the need people have to be informed about park-related issues such as vanishing glaciers. And it has proven that teaching through old-fashioned storytelling still holds a valued place in our techno-world.


When Doug Chadwick, a book author and writer for National Geographic, spoke about his book, The Wolverine Way, Monica recalls:


“We filled the 50 seats upstairs and all the additional 45 seats downstairs and still had to turn down folks. I never thought I’d have to do that over a big weasel. Speakers are dealing with serious subjects and often entertaining audiences through their stories and photos. At the same time, we’re building a sense of community as listeners and presenters mingle afterwards in an informal setting talking with each other.”


Among the many “Look, Listen, & Learn” presenters who have spoken are names familiar to lovers of wildlife photography—Tom Ulrich, Chris Peterson, and Sumio Harada. While showing their award-winning images, these photographers recount their experiences from the field of how and why they were able to obtain those captivating shots, both delighting and teaching their audience at the same time.

Scientists, such as Dan Fagre, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist stationed in Glacier Park, and wildlife biologists Lisa Bate and Cristina Eisenberg have discussed the latest findings in their respective fields. Dan runs the Climate Change in Mountain Ecosystems project and hiked with former vice-president Al Gore when he visited the park to witness first-hand its shrinking glaciers and learn more about Dan’s research. Lisa, who works for the National Park Service, has given presentations on her bat and harlequin duck studies. Everyone expected those colorfully clad ducks to attract an attentive audience but it was the oft-maligned winged mammals that brought the biggest surprise with a full house attending and hosts of questions from a curious audience. Cristina authored The Wolf’s Tooth, which describes the relationship between big predators, prey, and plants. In her talks, she has explored the reasons why predators are vital to regulate ecosystems—be they oceans, prairies, or rain forests. Her work has been documented on CBS, in the LA Times, and in The Denver Post.


Other noted presenters include Chip Davis, Carol Guthrie, and Deirdre Shaw. Chip Davis, the founder of Mannheim Steamroller, has helped raise funds for the park through sales of his CD True Wilderness, which was inspired in part by his visit to Glacier Park. Missoula author Carol Guthrie has penned five books. She spoke during the park’s centennial celebration about her latest volume, Glacier National Park, The First 100 Years. And Deirdre Shaw, Glacier Park’s museum curator, has shared her research on the historic mark women have made on Glacier.


“I’m sitting in the right place at the right time to offer information and education in a non-political way,” says Monica, who lives year-round in West Glacier with her husband, Chuck, the video-taper of all the “Look, Listen, & Learn” presentations. “It’s more fun than learning in a classroom, though you are in the middle of one of the biggest classrooms of all—Glacier National Park.”


Aside from furnishing a welcoming venue and scheduling the speakers, the Montana House also follows each event with a reception. Free coffee and hot cider plus sweet and savory treats are served, providing an opportunity to ask more questions or just chat one-on-one. The store’s staff and other locals who appreciate having such a wonderful program in their backyard contribute as well by baking cookies and quick breads.


A longtime champion of native American and Big Sky artists and craftsmen, the Montana House was established in 1960 by Monica’s parents, Hans and Toni Jungster. Since it opened, over 500 artists and craftsmen have sold their creations here. Pottery, beadwork, and jewelry merely begin the list of quality handmade items showcased here. Additionally, the work of several inductees into the Montana Circle of American Masters in the Visual Fold and Traditional Arts is found throughout the store along with an array of books for adults and kids.


So far, the Montana House has sponsored over 40 presentations with more to come. The Glacier National Park Conservancy, which is an official Glacier National Park partner, has promoted each talk through email blasts to its extensive membership roster. Considering the conservancy’s mission is to provide “support for preservation, education, and research through philanthropy and outreach” it is a great match. This congenial collaboration between a 53-year-old private business and a non-profit organization has shown just how successful such partnerships can be in preserving the beauty and heritage of a national park. 


“Part of our goal is to fund research that helps park managers make informed decisions,” says Jane Ratzlaff, executive director of philanthropy and outreach. “We wanted to find ways for researchers to be able to disseminate information to the public and not have it linger on the shelf. This series allows the public to be engaged and play a role in what we do. It’s just an amazing program. ”

 

For more information, call 406-888-5393 or visit www.montanahouse.info, 406-892-3250 or visit www.glaciernationalparkconservancy.org