Non-profit Glacier Institute launches ‘restoration’ campaign

Outdoor postgraduates will already understand why the Flathead Valley ranks so high in the geographic canon of Mother Nature’s Most Influential Works, but teachers on a mission to reach a whole new class of freshmen are celebrating after the Glacier Institute announced its first major fundraising initiative last month.

“Big Creek Restoration” is a $1.7 million capital campaign to secure the future of the Glacier Institute and expand its programs by renovating the Big Creek Outdoor Education Center, a ranger station building that houses the institute’s camps and classes for local youth and schools. The institute has already secured $1.1 million in support. An additional $600,000 is needed to complete a long list of projects at Big Creek.

Founded in 1983, the Glacier Institute is a Columbia Falls-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to strengthen connections with the natural world through outdoor education. As the official educational partner of Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest, they offer programs for children, families, and adults, including guided educational day hikes, field courses, camps and excursions.

“Big Creek is legendary in the Flathead Valley,” said Anthony Nelson, executive director of the Glacier Institute. “There are countless stories of children who have never set foot in the woods and who come for a totally immersive camp experience in one of the most beautiful places on earth and leave with a newfound respect for the natural world.”

Each year, more than 1,500 children participate in Glacier Institute classes, ranging from animal tracking and orienteering to fly fishing and snow science. Most of these youth programs take place at the Big Creek Outdoor Education Center, located upstream from the North Fork of the Flathead River.

“Big Creek is central to all of our youth initiatives,” Nelson said. “We are training the next generation of environmental stewards. Without outdoor experiences, children simply won’t understand or care.

To date, more than 35,000 children have participated in Big Creek programs and camps. This off-grid historic site is home to buildings constructed in the early 1920s.

“Big Creek’s history dates back to 1911, when it began as a ranger station,” according to Nelson. “I never tire of hearing the stories of hundreds of people who ate in the dining room every morning.”

However, with this legacy comes decades of wear and tear that have left the buildings and grounds in dire need of repair. After a comprehensive assessment, the Glacier Institute identified a long list of needs, including a new foundation under the mess hall, the removal of asbestos floors and ceilings, the replacement of all windows and doors, and the installation of a new septic tank.

Plans also include reclaiming the back room and preparing it for sustainable carpentry classes, creating ADA accessible bathrooms in guest and staff cabins, increasing solar power capacity for a 90% solar dependency, prepare the site for year-round camps and upgrade all plumbing. and electric.

“We have a lot of plans to meet the growing demand for our camps and classes,” Nelson said. “But first we have to make sure Big Creek can rise to the occasion.”

The total cost of the renovations is $1.7 million, more than the institute can afford on its own.

Join a community of individuals, businesses and funders who believe in the work of the institute. Already, $1.1 million has been donated in gifts, services and supplies by dozens of individuals, businesses and foundations.

Major leadership donations include $200,000 from Benji Griffith, the founder of Georgia-based Southern Pine Plantations, which in 2020 acquired 630,000 acres of former Weyerhaeuser land in northwest Montana, as well as 50,000 $ in donations from Chris and Monica Graff, Bob and Pat Jepsen, Bill Smith and Connie Lane. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc., has also supported the effort, personally donating $100,000 after learning about the need while enjoying a personalized educational tour with Nelson during a recent trip to the park. Glacier National.

“Each gift demonstrates a broad belief in the Glacier Institute, Big Creek, and the life-changing experiences of children,” Nelson said. “Every dollar ensures that we can continue to push towards our mission on an even greater scale.”

Due to the early generosity, several key renovations have already been completed, Nelson said, with more planned for this fall and next spring. Once the renovations are complete, the Glacier Institute plans to expand by welcoming more children and more programs to Big Creek, and offering programs throughout the year.

“This growth and our future are both dependent on the completion of work at Big Creek,” Nelson said. “And the completion of the work depends on the generosity of our community.”

To learn more or to support the Glacier Institute, visit or call (406) 755-1211.

Dino J. Dotson