The Rocky Mountain Front Gathering — an event organized by the University of Montana and local partners — will celebrate the history, landscapes, communities and surrounding wilderness of the local area on Sept. 13 and 14.
“The purpose is to identify areas with natural and historical assets that we can use to boost the economy,” said Rick Graetz, UM geography professor and a leader of the UM Community Vitality Program. “We want to encourage journalists to take advantage of all the stories these small communities have to offer, and encourage people to enjoy Choteau for a couple days.”
The Community Vitality Program started in Lincoln, where it focused on advertising the city as the “basecamp on the crown of the continent.” UM students and professors then spread out to partner with other small communities — and Choteau is next.
“We’ve always been interested in the Choteau area,” said Graetz. “We used to hold courses every year there. What Choteau has at its front door is unparalleled anywhere else.”
On Sept. 13, the gathering will kick off with a writing workshop from 9 a.m. to noon for area high school students interested in journalism, yearbook or other forms of narrative nonfiction. Nadia White, the director of UM’s master’s program in environmental science and natural resource journalism, will lead the workshop. Emily Olsen of Augusta is the local coordinator for the workshop.
“Good journalism helps the community understand itself and the people who live there, and it helps other communities learn from the challenges and solutions that similar places are facing,” said White.
The lesson will open with the basics: what journalism is, how it’s done and why it is essential to democracy and community life. Students will then practice conducting interviews, brainstorming story ideas that would be important to their community and identifying images that could add interest to the story.
When asked what she hopes students take away from the workshop, White said, “there are stories that matter all around them. They just need to take out their ear buds and listen to the people telling them.”
White also looks forward to meeting local English teachers and seeing how they teach. “I know there are some great young storytellers out there, and I’m excited to give them some skills,” she said.
After the writing workshop, at 1 p.m., folks will meet at the Fish, Wildlife and Parks game checking station on the east end of Augusta to tour the Sun River Game Range. The evening will close with a dinner and a narrated photography presentation by Rick and Suzie Graetz at Choteau’s Stage Stop Inn.
Saturday will host a series of speakers on the wildlife, history and communities of the Rocky Mountain Front. The lineup is as follows:
•8:30 a.m., Mary Sexton, chairwoman of the Choteau Area Port Authority board, “Introducing the Rocky Mountain Front.”
•8:45 a.m., FWP wildlife biologist Brent Lonner on local wildlife.
•10 a.m., U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Mike Munoz, “The Bob and the Front — Management, Opportunities and Challenges.”
•11a.m., historian and conservationist Bill Cunningham on the Rocky Mountain Front history.
•11:50 a.m., farmer and businessman Doug Weist on ranching and farming.
•12:40 p.m., Acantha reporter Courtney Graves, “Covering News in Choteau.”
After the speaking presentations, at 1:45 p.m., attendees will have the opportunity to tour the Pine Butte Swamp Preserve with Nathan Birkeland of The Nature Conservancy and (if they wish) hike to the top of Pine Butte. Attendees are also encouraged to take part in the Shadows of the Past Art Auction benefit for Benefis Teton Medical Center in the Choteau Pavilion beginning at 4 p.m.