A Great Beginning!

contributions by Brent Mitchell, Pam Willison and Linda Winnie

Cleaning up OSNA by Sheryl Hester

A common question about Owen Sowerwine is: “so how did Flathead Audubon get involved?”. Brent Mitchell can answer that question because he was involved from day one. Brent says, “Along came an interesting article in the Daily InterLake. The Parks Board had for several years paid the lease fee – a mere $200 per year. Finances were tight and they were considering forfeiting the lease, since the MT Department of State Lands was planning to raise the fee to $550! I read the article and thought, “Whoa, maybe Flathead Audubon could help out the Park people.” I was the new President of FAS at the time. I called our immediate past president, Robin Maggadino of Bigfork, for advice and her take on whether we should get involved. Robin’s response was, “Heck yes! Check it out.” As wildlife biologists, both Robin and I knew the importance of riparian bottom lands and vegetation to wildlife, birds in particular.

I called the Parks director, Bob Norwood, and set a meeting to discuss the options available. At that first meeting, Director Norwood explained the $350 increase was not budgeted for and was enough to be a deal breaker for his department. I asked him if FAS were able to make up the shortfall, could the Parks Board hold on to the lease for a couple of years until a permanent fix could be designed? Mr. Norwood said yes, but he would first check with the state agency and the Parks Board.

Over the next couple of weeks, we wrote a letter to the editor of the InterLake, asking interested private parties or groups to donate to a special separate fund just for the OSNA lease payment. FAS pitched in $350 to start building the account and we received 3 or 4 donations from the public. The Parks Department was able to continue the lease. Ah, a breather after the crisis!”

With the support of Brent Mitchell and the other FAS officers, Janet Ellis of Montana Audubon conducted negotiations with DNRC, and in February 1997 Audubon took over the lease and management from the Park Board. Through additional negotiations, a 10-year license was established in the spring of 2001, designating Montana Audubon as the Managing Entity, and a separate agreement between Montana Audubon and Flathead Audubon delineated management tasks and financial responsibilities.

In Fall of 2001, the new OSNA Committee was formed. Neal Brown, Dan Casey, Janet Ellis, Leo Keane, Brent Mitchell, and Linda Winnie wrote a Management Plan, which was adopted by the State Land Board in January 2003. The OSNA Committee became a standing committee in November 2002. In the Spring of 2002, Bruce Tannehill organized an OSNA Birdathon, which raised about $2000 to help FAS cover their management and lease expenses.

And then, the real work began!! On October 5, 2002, the first Fall Work Day was held in OSNA, and 28 people volunteered. According to the report in the PP “Over a period of about 4 hours, these volunteers removed a sofa, a rabbit hutch, a tire, a barrel, beer cans, and other litter and flood debris from the forested area along the Stillwater and Flathead Rivers. They filled two pickup trucks with trash. The group also cleared brush from the entrance at Treasure Lane, generating a dump truck load of brush that was then composted.” Whew!!

Fall Work Day in 2003, focused efforts toward WEEDS! Brent wrote in the newsletter that “a whopping 34 energetic weed-pulling folks” … “scoured the trails and entrance to OSNA for thistle, burdock, hounds tongue, and knapweed. The weeds didn’t stand a chance. At the end of 2 hours, the pile of large trash bags stuffed with weeds resembled a small mountain.” In addition, they cleared all the trails with a brush cutter. Apparently, there were still more weeds, because the 2004 Fall Work Day was again organized to pull and bag weeds “to avoid having to spray with chemicals.” These early examples of hard work over chemicals continues to be reflected today in OSNA – volunteers spent 110 hours pulling, cutting, and bagging weeds in 2020 and 2021.

Next month, we will continue with the history of OSNA, as efforts were directed toward making OSNA more user-friendly, with improvements such as signs, entrances, a kiosk, bridges, and fencing.  Through the hard work, time, and commitment of many people, OSNA lives up to the tag Brent Mitchell gave it in 2004: “A Community Treasure”.