Mountain High 

This week's unseasonably cool weather and heavy rains makes the Calendar Playa look toward fire season. It's probably too early to know if Mother Nature plans to bring her wrath to the forests of our five valleys this summer. But if she does, it likely won't be as bad as it was in the state of California last year.

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You see, I just recently came back to our fair town from a 14-month stint living in California's San Joaquin Valley. Last year's forest fires in California were downright nasty. So bad, in fact, that Fresno was engulfed in a disgusting orange-brown haze of smog and fire particulate for several weeks. Add to this the fact that Fresno recently received the honor of being ranked the fourth worst city in the nation in terms of air quality by ozone, according to the American Lung Association—and the fact that it's, you know, Fresno—and you can imagine my nightmare summer. As you can probably tell, it feels good to be back.

So take solace, dear readers, in the fact that western Montana isn't coated in a perpetual layer of smog and enjoy plenty of fresh air during one of the Wilderness Institute's volunteer monitoring trips in the Sapphire and Blue Joint Wilderness Study areas, which this week takes volunteers up to Reynolds Lake Trail. Hikers will head out on July 17, return July 20, and help monitor weeds, recreation impacts and wilderness character. Click on over to www.cfc.umt.edu/wi to sign up, or call 243-5361.

After my experience in Fresno, sometimes I like to just sit inside and simply dream of shredding western Montana's terrain. If you're similarly inclined, you'll get a chance to watch the evolution of freeride trail bike riding on Teton Pass, from its illegal beginnings to its now legal status, during July 17 screenings at the Roxy Theater of Freedom Riders, a documentary about a group of Wyoming bike riders and how their once illegal trail systems soon got the thumbs up from the U.S. Forest Service. 6:30 and 8 PM. $10 advance. Tickets at Missoula Bicycle Works, Bicycle Hanger, Bike Doctor, Big Sky Bikes & Fitness, Backcountry Racks, Edge of the World, Strong Water Kayaks, Hellgate Cyclery and Ear Candy Music. Visit www.freedomridersthemovie.com.

Speaking of thumbs up, the joy of pleasant distraction fills this weekend's discovery workshop at the National Bison Range near Moiese. You should be signed up for it by July 16 if you want to participate in the activity on July 18. As for the workshop itself, citizens should expect lots of mud bogging and trail walking while learning about the importance of wetlands, as well as the plants and animals that inhabit them. Hurry up and call Pat Jamieson at 644-2211 ext. 207 to register or e-mail pat_jamieson@fws.org. Cost and other details TBA.

If you slack on signing up to explore the National Bison Range, you'll have yet another chance to enjoy a particulate-free environment during "Fun and Games!" a kid-oriented weekend festival that runs from 9 AM–7 PM on July 18 and 9 AM–5 PM on July 19 at Traveler's Rest State Park near Lolo. Youngsters can participate in a range of classic European American games as well as American Indian games, such as an atlatl throwing competition. Free/$2 adults. Call 273-4253 or head over to www.travelersrest.org.

Later on Saturday, for those who aren't early birds, but enjoy studying birds, two Missoulians—Byron "The Bug Man" Weber and Charles "The Bird Man" Miller—present "Beneficial Insects and Beautiful Birds," a tag-team presentation at 10 AM that begins with a meet up at the Montana Natural History Center, 120 Hickory St. This presentation, which is also kid friendly, covers all the birds and insects that reside on the PEAS Farm and aims to show you where and what to look for the next time you go out to explore those winged and six-legged creatures. $15/$10 members. Call 327-0405 to register, since space is limited.

On Sunday, July 19, get out of church—or if you're like me, skip church altogether—and hit the pavement when Missoulians On Bicycles presents a Geezer Ride to Some Restaurant Somewhere at 10 AM. Riders should plan to meet up at the Greenough parking lot, at the corner of Monroe and Locust Streets, and be prepared to endure a 10–14 mile bike trip. Call Gayle and Ernie at 240-9279 or visit www.missoulabike.org.

Later that week, those of us who feel like skipping a day of work might consider heading out with the Nature Conservancy and American Wildlands at 10 AM, July 22, for a 2.5 round-trip hike in the Northern Swan Valley to Glacier Lake. Plan to meet at Highway 83 and Kraft Creek Road near mile markers 36–27. Call Kim Davitt at 728-2087 or e-mail kdavitt@wildlands.org.

Well, I'm a little pressed for space at this point, but hopefully this should satiate your outdoor needs at least for the next week. As always, please send outdoors related events to me by 5 PM on Fri., July 17. Until then, work hard and play harder outside.

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