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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Townsend, Montana, USA

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Townsend, Montana, USA
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Registered: August 2015
City/Town/Province: Townsend
Posts: 1
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This past winter in New England was one of the coldest and snowiest that I have ever experienced, so I was amazed at the forecast updates I received from my Mom back in our Montana hometown. As Massachusetts shivered through two freezing months my family enjoyed very little local snowfall and moderate temperatures ranging between 20-40 degrees. This lack of snow was made apparent to me when I arrived home for Easter Break and overheard the predictions for a blisteringly dry summer and exhausting fire season. Back at school, motivated by what I had heard, I looked into techniques on water conservation and applied for a Global Citizenship and Sustainability Grant from my school. In early May I receive the $1400 grant to develop three Xeriscaped gardens and a system to raise public awareness on drought tolerant landscaping in my mountain desert hometown.

Townsend, Montana is a rural town at 3,800 feet elevation where farming and ranching is the lifeblood of the two thousand residents who live here. The town itself has only one water tower, and one water treatment plant, and currently does not tax residential water usage. (I soon discovered that this is the MAIN reason so many of my neighbors can continue to cultivate enormous green lawns and non-native gardens).

To prepare for my project, I conducted an online search, looking for other students who had also worked on summer projects. It was through this search I found the Apprentice Ecologist Program. With these other teen ventures in mind I drew up a plan of attack. I had three goals: connect with the public, find gardens to Xeriscape, and learn about Xeriscaping and sustainability for my own knowledge and use in future fields.

Work began in early June. My first venture was my very own front yard. With our half-acre of lawn my family was t guilty of running our sprinklers night and day to maintain our emerald lawn. To begin I removed over five hundred feet of sod from the front and side lawns around our house and filled the empty land with gravel. From there I planted succulents, cacti, and native grasses, all irrigated with underground drip hoses. The lack of sod cut our water usage by a third and the drip hoses totally eliminated evaporation. I built my second garden on Main Street, in front of my mother’s Family Practice office. This public forum worked two-fold, giving me the chance to provide a living example of a Xeriscape and also creating the perfect audience for my Xeriscaping brochures. The third and final plot was also on Main Street…the garden of our local bakery, the Mountie Moose. A prime spot to catch EVERYBODY coming by for their daily donut. Here again I distributed my pamphlets and posted signs.

Before beginning on any of my gardens however, I first got in contact with Pat Plantenberg, Head of the Local Tree Board and an active Townsend resident, who has turned out to be a great mentor. Under his tutelage I learned the basics of gardening and Xeriscaping. With his help I designed the first garden giving close attention to water distribution and the use of native plants. It took me three weeks to finish that first garden. We removed the sod and ordered pea gravel from the gravel stockyard of our next-door neighbor. Next was finding the right plants, and for this we went into Helena--an hour drive each way. Finally came the planting and making sure the drip hoses ran underneath every flower, bush, and cacti.

At the end of June I turned to Mom’s garden boxes on Main Street. I first went to the city hall to enquire about the regulations regarding flower boxes on the sidewalk, and found that as long as my boxes were no wider than twenty inches I could build any type of box I wished. I went back to Helena to purchase two fifteen-gallon flower barrels and the plants to go with them. Because the barrels were so deep and I didn’t want to waste money on excess potting soil I turned to Pinterest, looking for an easy way to fill space and irrigate in restricted areas. What I found was an genius idea to use the plastic from our family recycling to fill the bottom. For the irrigation I took old Coke-Cola bottles, made a few small holes in the base, stood them upright with the tops poking through the soil, and filled them with water. The holes allowed the water to drain to the plants over the course of a few days and eliminated the need for constant care.

For my brochures I took pictures from both my project and my online sources, found the Seven Principles of Xeriscaping, and explained the basic practice and values of a Xeriscaped garden. I went to our local library to have the leaflets printed out and to get some advice on where to distribute them. From the Librarian I got a list of businesses to visit, including the Pharmacy, Senior citizens’ center, the Bakery, the Mint Diner, and, of course, my mother’s office. A week after finishing my second garden I was approached by one of my Mom’s patients, having seen my brochure, she asked me to enter my two gardens in the annual Townsend Heritage Garden walk so that others in the community could also gain insight from my efforts.

I set to work on my final garden in late July. I followed the same routine of plants and underground irrigation for the bakery as I had for the two others, but what I enjoyed most about this site was the number of people who stopped to talk. I choose the bakeries busiest times to work for just this reason, and by word of mouth I was again able to spread awareness about water conservation and sustainable gardening practices.

By a lucky turn of events it was just as my third garden was drawing to a close that Pat Plantenberg was asked to speak about the benefits of Xeriscaping at a Garden Club in Deer Lodge Montana. Pat invited me to accompany him for the Powerpoint presentation so that I too could speak about conservation and my own project initiative. I spent the day with thirty women explaining the different between water conservation and ZERO-SCAPING… not gardening at all, providing example pictures taken of my gardens, and answering questions.

It is ironic that this year has been the worst for fires since the catastrophic events of the 1910 Big Blowout Fires. This in part is tied to our High desert climate, and a century’s old policy of fire containment (leading to the build up of debris), but in my project, it also made the issue of water shortages, and water usage even more prominent in the minds of other Townsend residents. While researching other Montana town policies discovered that most communities DO charge for water, and that down the line, Townsend also will do so as water conservation becomes an even greater issue. It was great fun teaching the local community, and being part of what I believe is the wave of the future.

With both these gardening and public communications experiences under my belt, I plan to go back to Deerfield and join in organizing the pilot year for our student-run greenhouse. It is exciting to know that in 10 weeks I was able to make a significant difference RIGHT ON MAIN STREET. I am now more savvy about public relations, and the variety of ways that are needed to motivate people. Having experience conservation work I am planning to study Environmental Studies and am looking into working for the Conservation District come next summer.
Date: August 31, 2015 Views: 7588 File size: 17.7kb, 2090.0kb : 2592 x 1936
Hours Volunteered: 30
Volunteers: 3
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 9 to 14
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 0.00836
Trash Removed/Recycled from Environment (kg): 4.53
Native Trees Planted: 4
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