Inner city youths get up close and personal with a bear

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Inner city youth from The Woods Project pose with a tranquilized black bear at the Glacier Institute's Big Creek Education Center last week. The bear was being transported up the North Fork after it got into trouble in Whitefish.

When you’re an inner-city teenager from Houston, smelling a live black bear has to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It certainly was for the Glacier Institute employees, including executive director Joyce Baltz, who attended a special youth program last month. Bear specialist Erik Wenum, of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, showed the teens how to make measurements of the captured black bear, which FWP planned to release.

Wenum also encouraged the teens and Glacier Institute employees to smell the bear, noting that bears are very clean animals.

“It almost had like a cinnamon spice smell,” Baltz recalled.

For 28 years, the Glacier Institute and Flathead National Forest have invited youths from all over the world — some come from as far as the Middle East — to participate in week-long summer camp programs at Big Creek Outdoor Center. The kids are age 7 and older, and the teenagers who smelled the black bear were 14 to 16 years old.

Wenum and the bear were part of a great “Career Night” opportunity for teens to learn about career paths in wildlife management. Bears aren’t always involved, but the program is a mainstay in the summer camp rotation.

“We teach outdoor education in the field and they stay with us,” Baltz explained, referring to the youth programs as “immersion learning.”

Glacier Institute provides everything to the visitors — housing, meals, transportation, and more. The programs are funded mostly by the Great Fish Challenge, which garners donations for a few weeks out of the year and is going on this month. The Whitefish Community Foundation will match every dollar earned by the Great Fish Challenge.

In addition to the summer camps, the Institute hosts “discovery school” in spring and fall, during which each teacher and his or her students visit and learn for a three-day period.

Baltz has seen youth flourish at Big Creek Outdoor Center since the program’s inception.

“I just love the mission of kids learning in the outdoors,” she said.

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