Like many high school students, Abe Malley doesn’t see the point of copying math problems out of a textbook.
Using state-of-the-art technology to help the US Forest Service document campsite inventory, however, is a completely different story.
“With math, it’s like, when are you ever going to use this in life, but with this you already are,” said Malley, who is a junior at Bigfork.
Malley was one of 10 Bigfork students who participated in the inventory project. Over the course of about 24 hours, the students visited 72 different sites in the Jewel Basin area.
“When people go out and camp in the woods, they leave various impacts,” said Bigfork High School science teacher Hans Bodenhamer, who organized the project and accompanied the students during their fieldwork. “This is a way to keep track of the impacts people have on different areas in Jewel Basin.”
After splitting up into small groups, the students set out for various sites, where they recorded information such as the size of the campsite, its proximity to water, the number of fire rings and other visible evidence of human disturbance.
Each group was outfitted with a Trimble Juno — a handheld electronic data collector with built-in GPS technology. Bodenhamer was able to purchase seven of the devices through a grant from Plum Creek. The students entered their data directly into the Junos.
“What’s kind of exciting for us educationally is that the kids get to use this technology to do something useful,” Bodenhamer said.
When the students returned from their trip, they entered all of the information into a database and used GIS (geographic information system) software to create an informational map of the sites they visited.
The students will hand over the completed maps to the forest service, which will use the campsite data to formulate a land management plan for the area.
“We are interested in gathering inventory information of locations where people camp, but that aren’t necessarily designated as campsites,” said Colter Pence, the forest service wilderness, rivers and trails manager. “The next phase in recreational management is getting a handle on where these sites are so that in the future we can do a better job of managing those sites.”
Bodenhamer approached Pence with the idea of utilizing his students’ GIS mapping skills for the project after the students completed a cave inventory project on forest service land last year.
“On one of those trips, we started talking about other things the kids could do,” Pence said. “We had an employee working on this project, but we needed more help, so it just made a ton of sense.”
Pence said she was inspired by the students’ eagerness to embrace the technology they used for the project.
“It’s so impressive,” Pence said. “The kids are so cool and so on top of the technology, not only with using the equipment, but also understanding how the database works and how all the pieces fit together.”
Having a solid foundation of experience with the technology will also give students a leg-up in the working world.
“There are so many careers that tie into this,” Bodenhamer said. “A lot of fields use this kind of technology. It’s one of the few areas that is actually growing.”
Senior Braden Davis is already thinking about going in that direction.
“I want to pursue it in college,” Davis said.
He is thankful to have a teacher who is enthusiastic about providing students with plenty of hands-on learning opportunities.
“He (Bodenhamer) is really fun,” Davis said. “He is better than most teachers. He understands that people of our generation like to go out and actually do things.”
Pence is equally impressed with Bodenhamer’s teaching approach.
“Mr. B. is a great teacher,” Pence said. “The students are lucky to have him. I’m thankful to him and the students for helping us. It was a pleasure to work with them.”