Bringing Classrooms into the Wilderness

National Geographic Emerging Explorer Gregg Treinish founded Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, a nonprofit organization connecting outdoor adventurers with scientists in need of data from the field. He also organizes his own expeditions, contributing to research on wildlife-human interaction, fragmented habitats, and threatened species. 


A huge part of my organization’s mission is to promote conservation around the world. This primarily means collecting data for researchers around the world, but it also involves educating others, particularly adventurers on the importance of conservation and the ease in which they can help. All they have to do is commit to 3 seconds of courage.

But it is even more valuable when we can instill these values into young people — school children who will one day be our leaders, our adventurers, our scientists, and our conservationists. That is a huge reason why Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation offers guided adventure science outings for school groups. We’ve taken students from all walks of life, from the inner city of Oakland to the rural Paradise Valley in Montana and each time it is just as rewarding as the last.

Winter camping in the Gallatin National Forest. Photo by Julia Johannesen.

During the first week of 2014 a group of students and teachers from Arrowhead Middle School in Pray, Montana joined ASC in the Gallatin National Forest just outside our headquarters in Bozeman, Montana.

During the trip we taught students how to find and identify plants and wildlife including recognizing tracks and scat. They also helped set up a non-invasive camera trap to help biologists understand what wildlife is utilizing the forest in the winter. I was joined by ASC’s intern Julia Johannesen who has a long history of both adventure and conservation. Julia recounts the trip below:

It’s one thing to take a group of 8th graders camping; it’s another thing to take them camping in the middle of winter in Montana. Likewise, it’s challenging to carry a heavy backpack containing everything you need to survive for a few days in the wilderness. It’s beyond tough when the backpack you have on that is bigger than you! Now combine the “me-size” backpack with the Montana winter camping, add a pair snowshoes and generous portions of deep, unconsolidated snow, and you have an unforgettable citizen-science adventure.

Snowshoeing through winter’s calm. Photo by Gregg Treinish.

Last week Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) led students from Arrowhead Middle School on an adventure science outing for 3 days and 2 nights in the Northern Gallatin Range. Though some may believe there is little activity when nature is covered in winters white blanket, Arrowhead students quickly found the opposite to be true. What winter lacks in colorful flora and fauna, it makes up for in the relentlessly hardy evergreen trees.

While there is little daylight to speak of, each unique snowflake can provide hours of entertainment. And while it oftens feels as though nature is on vacation, opting to hibernate through the winter, distinct animal tracks left in the snow tell a different story.

Team meeting. Photo by Gregg Treinish.

Our mission was completed: we identified plants, documented wildlife observations, and installed noninvasive  camera traps to monitor wildlife in our absence; simultaneously learning important skills for safely living and traveling in the backcountry with minimal impact. We explored the seemingly quiet corners of our surroundings and found signs of life: scratches left on trees, tracks tempting us to further explore their story.

Growing up in the rural area of Paradise Valley, these students were no strangers to being outdoors in Montana. However, watching their faces light up as we traveled far off trail following the tracks of a mysterious animal, it was apparent that exploring their surroundings in this manner was a new adventure for them. Their curiosity was increased as we saw the world from the eyes of our mystery animal: following their tracks down through the thick coniferous forest, over downed trees, always hugging the edge of the forest and avoiding the dangerous exposure of an open meadow.

We continued tracking, taking notes on stride and straddle, document depth and shape, and gathering GPS coordinates along the way, until we were clearly able to identify the tracks as belonging to a coyote. Such a successful, hard earned discovery mandated a much anticipated celebration: lunch break!

Successful trip! Photo by Julia Johannesen.

While we found exciting signs of snowshoe hare, pine marten, and coyote, we did not catch the presence of the rare and clearly elusive carnivores we had our eyes peeled for: the wolverine (Gulo gulo) or Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis). However, the adventure isn’t over. We will go back in a few weeks to retrieve the camera-traps we installed and see what we discover. Stay tuned…

Interested in sending your group on an adventure science expedition? Learn more about ASC’s guided outings. You can provide this opportunity of a lifetime to more students by giving to ASC’s campaign to raise $30,000 to send students on adventure-science expeditions. Keep up with ASC by subscribing to ASC’s blog, liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter (@AdventurScience)Instagram (@AdventureScience) and Google+.

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Meet the Author
Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration. National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008 when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor's 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine "hero", in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men's Journal's "50 Most Adventurous Men." In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow and in 2018 one of the Grist 50 "Fixers." Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004. Read more updates from Gregg and others on the Adventure Scientists team at Follow Adventure Scientists on Instagram @adventurescientists, on Facebook @adventurescientists, and on Twitter @AdvScientists.