Looking Back, To See How Far We’ve Come!

Compiled by:  Pam Willison and Linda Winnie (quotes are from Pileated Post articles)

Volunteers being ferried across the river courtesy Sheryl Hester

The annual Owen Sowerwine Natural Area Work Day began in the fall of 2003, and has been held each fall since. The OSNA Work Day began as part of the Prudential Global Volunteer Day program which would award a $1000 grant to FAS if enough workers came out to help. FAS participation in the program was arranged by long-time FAS supporters Jane and Bob Lopp through Jane’s Prudential Financial office in Kalispell. During the 11 years the OSNA Work Day was part of that program, there were always more than enough volunteer workers to earn the grant award for FAS. Various work projects have been completed by groups of volunteers in these work days. Visitors to OSNA owe them a debt of gratitude for helping managing the area and make it available to the public. While the first several years focused on cleaning up river litter and debris, clearing entrances, and tackling the long-neglected weed situation, read on to see what else was accomplished each year.

The 2005 Work Day involved 30 people (4 work crews) and accomplished an amazing amount of work in just a few hours. Brent Mitchell wrote, “It was a great day. Bruce Tannehill lead novice & experienced trail crew members down an 80%+ slope at Greenridge Drive, creating switchbacks and a nice path through a jungle…… Sawyers cleared the big woody debris, swampers removed cuttings from the trail; others clipped back overhanging vines and brush; some dug out steps along the cliff (OK,…steep slope) and installed water bars.” Mike Fanning lead a Post Pounding Crew, packing in steel posts and installing them at the survey markers, going south of Greenridge and then east to the river – over 3/8 of a mile. A Bridge Building Crew, led by Bob and Paula Smith, packed in 2”x6”x18’ planks and built the plank walkways across the wet areas at the junction of Main Trail and Greenridge. Trail Clearing Crew: Bob Lee sawed fallen trees, Bob Lopp wrangled an industrial brush cutter, and a follow-up crew cleared branches and debris on the Main Trail, all the way to the southern boundary.

In 2006, the managing entities, Flathead Audubon and Montana Audubon put a priority on establishing the legal boundary for the Owen Sowerwine area. A land survey was completed in 2005, so in 2006 installing fencing was on the agenda. On National Public Lands Day (Sept 30) 29 volunteers (25 from Montana Conservation Corps) cut trees and brush from a 6’ corridor for over a half mile of boundary. The following Saturday, 24 OSNA Work Day volunteers cleared and scattered the brush, to prepare for a professional fencing crew to install the fence and pass-through gates at the Greenridge and Howard (southern) entrances.

Free boat rides were given in 2007, but not just for fun and games! The Big Island portion of the Owen Sowerwine area is accessible from the Stillwater or Flathead River. 39 volunteers reported for the Work Day, and boats shuttled workers to the Big Island to clear a half-mile of the legal boundary line to prepare it for fencing. Other workers stayed on the Mainland section of OSNA to clear and mow all 3 trails (1.3 miles total). The news article said it best, “Flathead Audubon volunteers, you’ve done a big service for the community”.

Citizen Science began in 2008 with baseline data collected from 12 plot points on the Mainland section during the OSNA Work Day. At each plot point marker, crews “identified, counted, measured, and recorded many different features of the habitat around each stake”.  These surveys are repeated every 5 years “to compare and document the changes that are occurring”. That same day, the “Sign Crew” used wheel barrows to transport the new trail signs, “bulky pieces of cottonwood, averaging 6 inches thick and 26 inches in diameter”. Signs were positioned and staked down at each junction and entrance.  In addition, volunteers completed the annual fence fixing, trail clearing and mowing, and repairs.

A major improvement was made in 2009 when the two bridges were built and installed on the Greenridge and By-Pass Trails.  37 volunteers contributed 111 hours to build the bridges, pull and cut 30 bags of weeds from the Big Island, and complete the usual trail work. In 2010, the bridges were made safer by the addition of some edging. Sadly, in 2010, Work Day volunteers also had to spend time making costly repairs caused by vandalism to the new fencing and kiosk.

A new 10-year license from DNRC was signed by Flathead Audubon and Montana Audubon in 2010. These past three articles looking back at the history of OSNA give an idea of what was accomplished during the first 10-year license – what it means to say we “manage” the area.  It was 10 years of planning, dedication, hard work, volunteerism, and comradery by amazing people. We Thank You!!