Montana Holds Outdoor School to Remember

December 15, 2017 | Jared Meharry

“Montana outdoor school at the end of October?” This was a question asked by many as plans and preparations were being made for the annual Montana Conference fifth- and sixth-grade Outdoor School, Oct. 23–26, 2017.

Students arrived at the conference office Monday evening full of excitement in anticipation of this year’s outdoor school list of activities. After registration and a delicious supper, students and staff made their way over to the Mount Ellis Elementary gymnasium for team building activities and initiative games. With full stomachs and tired muscles, it was now time to set up camp in the academy lodge at Bear Canyon Ski Hill.

After building a warm fire in the fireplace and laying out our sleeping bags we gathered around the blazing warmth for worship and praise. Academy students from Mount Ellis led praise time, and an inspiring message was provided by Pastor Barry Curtis. Following worship, students were given some time to journal, reflecting on the pastor’s message and the evening’s events.

Tuesday morning dawned clear and crisp. The lodge lights were turned on, wood added to the fire, and slumbering students awakened to the call of “rise and shine.” Personal devotions were followed by breakfast and worship. Principal Jared Meharry, from Libby, led out in our morning praise time and worships.

With sack lunches packed and coats donned we loaded the conference school bus. Our morning agenda was a round robin of activities at the Montana Outdoor Science School. But wait! The bus would not start. A quick prayer and a pair of jumper cables sent us on our way. We arrived just in time to stay on schedule. The students enjoyed courses in orienteering, predators and prey, scat and tracks, and fish technology.

While the students enjoyed the morning agenda the bus driver went to fuel the bus. Once again, the bus would not start, and this time the jumper cables were no help. After much assessment and deliberation, it was pronounced out of commission and efforts were made to secure another bus. God is good, our prayers were answered, and our driver arrived with an operating bus just as the students finished their sack lunches.

The afternoon was filled with a hike to the top of Drinking Horse Mountain and lessons in plant identification, survival skills and shelter-building. After another delicious supper provided by the cook, Bette Wheeling, they found themselves back in the gym for more team-building challenges. The students learned the importance of communicating, listening and working together to complete a task.

Back at the lodge the Mount Ellis group was waiting for us with a welcoming fire. We were all educated on the importance of the Reformation with an intriguing message by Pastor Barry Taylor. Following a full day of activities and only a few complaints of cold toes the students quickly fell asleep as the flickering light from the fire began to fade.

The creaking of the lodge door announced it was time to crawl out of our warm sleeping bags. We began our Wednesday with personal devotions, a short hike up Bear Canyon, and a much-appreciated hot breakfast. Following morning worship, the students were treated to an interactive lesson on Fire Ecology and wildfire behavior presented by a representative from the Forest Service. Students then enjoyed the challenge of building their own one-match fires while learning about fire safety.

Our afternoon was packed with educational presentations by Gallatin County Search and Rescue, Montana Raptor Conservation Center, and a personalized tour of Central Helicopters. The students were given the opportunity to help train search and rescue dogs while learning to stay put when lost. We then learned about Montana raptors with guest appearances from the center’s resident red-tailed hawk, great horned owl, peregrine falcon, and Pilgrim, the turkey vulture. Our afternoon was topped off with a helicopter landing right in front of us to surprise the kids!

Our fun-filled day ended with a fantastic meal, games in the gym, and worship at the lodge. Mount Ellis Academy principal, Michael Lee, shared lessons from scripture as our tired group relaxed around the fire. Exhausted, the students found their way to bed with very little persuading from the staff.

We awoke Thursday morning to a white blanket of freshly fallen snow. After our morning routine, students packed their bags and cleaned the lodge. Our final worship was a highly anticipated conclusion to a three-part story on answers to prayer. Our outdoor school concluded with the regular favorite visit to Bozeman Hot Springs.

Yes, our outdoor school was scheduled for the end of October and God blessed us with sunshine, blue skies, and highs near 60 degrees. With warm temperatures for our daily activities, beautiful fall colors, God helping us acquire a bus, and a fresh dusting of snow on our final morning, this outdoor school will be remembered by many for years to come.