Group Use in Owen Sowerwine

What is group use?

Group Use is restricted to the mainland portion (area west of the Stillwater River), and is prohibited on the other areas within the Owen Sowerwine area. In addition, Group Use is not available to provide for-profit opportunities for individuals and/or institutions, as this is prohibited by the CE.

In the Conservation Easement, “Group Use” is defined as organized, concentrated use of the Easement Area by private or public entities. The goal is to provide broad-based, quality conservation education and research opportunities for the public without having significant individual or collective negative impact on the other Conservation Values and/or significant disruption of bird or wildlife use of the area. The intent is that Group Use will promote understanding of the natural environment through conservation education and scientific research activities by schools, government entities, nonprofit organizations, scientific entities, or other organized groups conducting conservation education or research. The scheduling of group use will be done so that no specific group dominates permitted Group Use opportunities.

Group Use includes activities such as: day-use by teachers and students, field studies, and similar activities that do not individually or collectively impair, damage, or destroy a Conservation Value, and/or do not individually or collectively disrupt bird or wildlife use of the Easement Area. Group Use may be limited in frequency, intensity, extent, seasonality, timing, location, methodology, or group size.

What group activities are allowed in OS?

Allowable Group Use includes activities that do not individually or collectively impair, damage, or destroy a Conservation Value, and/or do not individually or collectively disrupt bird or wildlife use of the Easement Area. (see FAS website for Visitor Resources/Outdoor Recreation Expectations for Owen Sowerwine (OREOS) to use as a guideline and/or teaching tool). 

Activities we recommend such as (not all-inclusive): 

  • Bird watching/listening/identification/surveys or counts
  • Nature walks, Forest Bathing, meditation, and relaxation
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Sound Mapping, “Sit Spots”, journaling
  • Non-commercial sketching, painting, or photography
  • Naturalist interpretive walks observing birds and animals respectfully, listening for/identifying bird song, looking for animal tracks, scat, & sign, identifying vegetation and wildflowers, etc.
  • Geological, hydrological, botany, and/or biological interpretive walks or surveys

If the activities you desire to engage in involve loud noises, running and yelling, wading into and throwing things into the water, and other disruptive activities, then another location would be better suited to your needs. Suggestions include: Lawrence Park, Woodland Park, Steel Bridge and Shady Pond area, Otter Island, Leisure Island Park, Herron Park, Kalispell Kidsport Complex, etc.  Permission is required at several of these locations – do your homework. Destruction or harvesting of vegetation, gathering materials and/or creating structures are not allowed in Owen Sowerwine, and may not be allowed in the alternative locations listed above – it’s your responsibility to know the rules for the places you visit. The best guideline to keep in mind is: Leave No Trace. 

Applying for group use

1. How to Apply for Group Use: The following steps must be completed in order to apply for a Group Use activity in the mainland portion of the Owen Sowerwine area: (Note: there is a 3-month window, so you may only request dates 3-months into the future; see Open Enrollment Dates below.)

  • READ and agree to the Terms and Conditions for Group Use, (see below). READ, share with group participants and adhere to the Outdoor Recreation Expectations for Owen Sowerwine (OREOS) (see Visitor Resources). Both are also accessible through a tab below. Acknowledgment is required on the application form.
  • Liability insurance for Group Use is required by State Law. Provide a certificate of insurance for your entity (must be group use applicant), listing Montana DNRC, Flathead Audubon, Montana Audubon, and Flathead Land Trust as additional named insureds. Policy limits must be at least $1 million per occurrence, and $2 million aggregate. Flathead Audubon must have confirmed receipt of this certificate prior to your group use date, or your group will not be approved to use the property. Certificate must be emailed to Flathead Audubon (OS@flatheadaudubon.org) with a copy to DNRC  (asmoran@mt.gov)
    • Please Note: If your group is not a legal entity that can procure liability insurance, at the discretion of Flathead Audubon, they may be able to coordinate to lead your group. Contact Flathead Audubon. (Email: OS@flatheadaudubon.org). 
  • Formulate your arrival/departure, shuttle, and/or parking plans and include this information on the application form. (see #2 below for access and parking). Provide any additional information requested in order to complete the approval process.
  • Lead Time: Application and approval of your Group Use and parking/shuttle plans may take approximately 7-14 days, and may be faster for repeat users (the insurance document is kept on file). Prior to submitting an application, please read the information provided above in order to ensure that your group meets the requirements of the Conservation Easement, and that the group activity you plan to conduct is compatible with the Conservation Easement and Conservation Values described above. Questions: Email OS@flatheadaudubon.org

2. Access and Parking: There is limited legal public parking access to Owen Sowerwine. It is critical that you have an acceptable plan for getting your group to and from the area.

  1. TREASURE LANE: Three legal parking spots (two with larger vehicles) at the end of a county road with only a 30-foot Right-of-Way. Due to limited width of the Right-of-Way, vehicles are not allowed to park or drive on the road side or off the road; “No Parking” signs are present along the right-of-way. Parking at the end of the road can accommodate a van but not a bus. You must turn around within the road Right-of-Way and NOT in neighboring driveways or property.
  1. Greenridge Drive: Two spots are located at the end of Greenridge Dr. Because it is a 60-foot Right-of-Way, you can also park about 5 passenger vehicles totally off the road on the grass within the Right-of-Way (North side of road). Buses may come to the Greenridge entrance, but FAS must obtain advance permission from property owners to use their driveways to turn the bus around at the end of Greenridge. A bus could also be unloaded at the T-junction of Howard Drive and Greenridge Drive, and participants can then walk the 1.5 blocks to the entrance. The bus may not idle while waiting, or block driveway access. Do not ask to use private bathrooms.
  1. There is no legal access for the public through Kalispell Montessori Education Center (Kalispell Montessori School) located just north of Treasure Lane. Flathead Audubon has an agreement with Kalispell Montessori School to seek permission and take groups through their private land on a case-by-case basis for the purposes of conservation/education. Their parking lot cannot accommodate large field trips or a large number of vehicles, and visitors must avoid their pickup/drop off times (7:30 to 9:00 a.m. and 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday). However, during school days, a bus or vehicles can unload and turn around using the school parking lot, and it’s possible that a small number of parking spaces can be used. If your group is partnering with Flathead Audubon for this access, provide the date, start and end times, and the number of participants, and allow 1-2 weeks in advance to obtain permission. Weekend and summer visits through this access are easier to schedule because the school isn’t in session.

3. Factors considered in the approval process (not all-inclusive): 

  • Group activity cannot be commercial, for-profit, or require a fee to participate (From Easement: “Commercial Use” means a use for which a private person, corporation, group, or other entity charges a fee or obtains other consideration. Commercial or similar non-commercial uses within the Easement Area are prohibited.)
  • Group Use activities must be compatible with the Conservation Values of the Conservation Easement protecting the area.
  • Group Use is restricted to the mainland portion only (see map).
  • Groups who are new users of the area are given special consideration in order to reach a broad-based audience.
  • Application must be complete and provide adequate lead time.
  • Applicant meets the requirement for adequate liability insurance, and a certificate has been provided (see details in “How to Apply” above).
  • Terms and Conditions have been read and agreed to.
  • Parking, carpooling, and/or drop-off has been considered, and adequate and legal parking is available to accommodate the group.
  • Group use does not require bathroom facilities OR the group is willing to provide their own portable bathrooms.
  • Requested dates and times are available on the maximum use calendar, in order to uphold the Conservation Values.
  • Flexibility – so that alternative dates and/or times may be acceptable in order to accommodate the maximum use calendar and/or other Group Use already scheduled. 
  • Flathead Audubon Society reserves the right to monitor or restrict the activities of groups who have been unsuccessful at complying with the terms and conditions during previous group use. Approval of continued group use may require being monitored by Flathead Audubon and/or being restricted to certain areas and/or times. Violations of rules/laws while visiting Owen Sowerwine will be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency.

Terms and Conditions for group use

Agreement to these terms and conditions is required in order to apply for and be approved for Group Use.

  • Group use is intended to be for the purpose of conservation education. We strongly support kids/people participating in outdoor activities and learning about the natural world, and about how to enjoy and respect the land, plants, birds and animals. Group activities should not be planned exclusively for recreation/play (there are other locations in the valley where recreation is more compatible with the setting).
  • Group use is NOT intended to provide “for-profit” opportunities for organizations or individuals, as per DNRC Regulations prohibiting commercial use of these State Lands.
  • Groups should plan for ADEQUATE SUPERVISION of group participants, to ensure the safety of participants, and the quality of the experience. 
  • There are many natural hazards within Owen Sowerwine so adequate supervision is necessary. These hazards include, but are not limited to: standing water, moving water (river and slough), mud, sticks or pieces of wood beside or on the trail, tree roots across or near the trail, tree stumps or rocks on/along the trail, uneven surfaces, deep holes where tree trunks have rotted-away, low-hanging branches/limbs, biting/stinging insects, wild animals (which may include black or grizzly bears in the spring or fall), etc. Carrying bear spray is highly recommended. 
  • There are no restrooms available at this property. Urine may be deposited on the surface of the ground in dispersed locations. In emergency situations, feces may be deposited at least 200 feet away from waterways and buried in a hole that is at least 6 inches deep (dig the hole first). All used bathroom tissue must be bagged and removed.
  • Owen Sowerwine is located on State Trust Land, which is administered by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC). DNRC laws and regulations apply to groups, and all visitors. Owen Sowerwine is open to individuals to hunt and fish according to the regulations for the area established by Fish, Wildlife and Parks. It’s recommended that during fall hunting season (mid-October to late-November), that visitors wear “hunter orange” or other bright colors.
  • In addition to the conditions listed above, the following terms apply to Group Use (and all use) in Owen Sowerwine:
    • Respect and maintain the quiet, natural environment by avoiding loud and disruptive behavior.
    • Leave all pets at home.
    • “Leave No Trace” – DO NOT damage or move vegetation or debris, DO pick up and remove any trash, DO stay on established trail (exceptions can be made for a special sighting the leader/teacher is showing), etc.
    • If the teacher/leader turns over a rock or log for educational purposes, replace it carefully.
    • Natural materials should not be disturbed and/or collected, including: vegetation, berries, flowers, lichen, moss, fungi/mushrooms, bird nests, dead/down woody debris such as bark or limbs, wildlife droppings or antler sheds, wildlife tracks, etc.
    • Do not pick seed heads and/or spread the seeds – there are some invasive plant species in Owen Sowerwine (which we work to control in various ways).  Spreading plant seeds might be spreading unwelcome plants (exceptions include groups organized by Flathead Audubon for the specific purpose of bagging and removing invasive seed heads).
    • Bird watching activities should be conducted stealthily to avoid flushing birds from waterways, nests, and feeding sites.
    • No use of fire and no camping. Do not construct tipis, lean-to’s, wood piles, or other structures, or bring building materials into Owen Sowerwine for the purpose of constructing.
    • No tarps or canopies may be installed. Do not attach string, cord, rope, wire to trees or bushes. Also, no nails or screws may be put into the trees or vegetation.
    • Do not throw debris, leaves, rocks, etc. into the water (sloughs or river). Do not congregate at the edge of water – not only does this startle waterfowl, but it causes damage to the ground at the waterline or river bank and contributes to erosion. 
    • Leaders/Chaperones are expected to explain the Outdoor Recreation Expectations for Owen Sowerwine (OREOS), at the beginning of all group activities. It’s a useful Conservation Education tool and helps set the tone for the group outing. Additional free education resources and videos are available at the Flathead Audubon website. In addition, Flathead Audubon has numerous self-contained Learning Kits available to borrow and use in conjunction with visits to Owen Sowerwine. 

Open enrollment dates for group use

There is a 3- Month Rolling Calendar for applying for Group Use, which was activated in February 2024, and continues monthly:

February 1, 2024 applications accepted for use up to April 30

March 1 applications accepted for use up to May 31

April 1 application accepted for use up to June 30

May 1 applications accepted for use up to July 31

June 1 applications accepted for use up to August 31

July 1 applications accepted for use up to September 30

August 1 applications accepted for use up to October 31

September 1 applications accepted for use up to November 31

October 1 applications accepted for use up to December 31

November 1 applications accepted for use up to January 31

December 1 applications accepted for use up to February 28/9

January 1 applications accepted for use up to March 31

Calendar continues 

Maximum group use

Flathead Audubon recognizes that in order to protect the Conservation Values, there needs to be a maximum use, or carrying capacity, of the Owen Sowerwine area and that it varies depending on the weather, floodwater activity/levels, the breeding and nesting activity of birds, presence of young fawns, etc. In addition to natural hazards, there are seasonal cautions about high mosquito activity and various hunting seasons. 

The following guidelines are used for approving and scheduling group use activity in each month in order to not exceed the carrying capacity:

January: up to 3 days of group use activities per week (20 hours total; may be consecutive) 

(CAUTIONS: slippery footing due to ice and compacted snow, waterfowl hunting)

February: up to 3 days of group use activities per week (20 hours total; may be consecutive) 

(CAUTIONS: slippery footing due to ice and compacted snow)

March: up to 3 days of group use activities per week (20 hours total; may be consecutive)

(CAUTIONS: slippery footing due to ice and compacted snow, melt-water standing on frozen ground, sections of muddy trail, debris on trails, slough ice unstable)

April: (sensitive breeding/nesting): 3 days of group use activities per week if less than 3 hours, OR 2 per week if more than 3 hours. May not be consecutive days; and must be minimally disruptive activity and low noise level activities and avoid slough area.

(CAUTIONS: melt-water standing on frozen ground, slough ice unstable, sections of muddy trail, debris on trails)

May: (sensitive breeding/nesting): 3 days of group use activities per week if less than 3 hours, OR 2 per week if more than 3 hours. May not be consecutive days; and must be minimally disruptive activity and low noise level activities and avoid slough area.

(CAUTIONS: flooding activity is possible later in month)

June: (sensitive breeding/nesting): 3 days of group use activities per week if less than 3 hours, OR 2 per week if more than 3 hours. May not be consecutive days; and must be minimally disruptive activity and low noise level activities and avoid slough area.

(CAUTIONS: flooding activity is common – some trails are inaccessible)

July: up to 3 days of group use activities per week (18-20 hours total; may be consecutive)

(CAUTIONS: high probability of mosquito activity, flooding activity is common – some trails are inaccessible)

August: up to 3 days of group use activities per week (18-20 hours total; may be consecutive)

(CAUTIONS: possibility of mosquito activity, especially early in month) 

September: up to 3 days of group use activities per week (18-20 hours total; may be consecutive)

(CAUTIONS: archery hunting, waterfowl hunting)

October: up to 3 days of group use activities per week (18-20 hours total; may be consecutive)

(CAUTIONS: archery hunting, rifle/general hunting, waterfowl hunting)

November: up to 3 days of group use activities per week (18-20 hours total; may be consecutive)

(CAUTIONS: rifle/general hunting, waterfowl hunting)

December: up to 3 days of group use activities per week (18-20 hours total; may be consecutive)

(CAUTIONS: slippery footing due to ice and compacted snow, waterfowl hunting, muzzleloader hunting)

April 2024

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  • Ravenwood-field trip
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