It's been a great number of years—maybe 10 or 15—since I've packed my bags and taken a weekend jaunt to either Glacier or Yellowstone National Parks. I know, it's kind of pathetic, right? Sometimes it's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day craziness and forget the majestic spots sitting almost right in our backyard.
Well this week, that's likely to change, especially after realizing that I can visit all 392 national parks for free, all thanks to National Park Week, the Department of Interior's celebration of our national parks which runs Sat., April 17–Sun., April 25. This means that you, reader, can witness Glacier's majestic mountains and lakes, or check out Yellowstone's Caldera, all for free. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, eh? Sure does to me. So get packin' and visit nps.gov/npweek for more details.
Before you hit up a park, though, why not get wet and learn to rescue others during the Montana River Guides' (MRG) Swiftwater Rescue Technician Course, which meets Fri., April16–Sun., April18 from 9 AM–5 PM at a TBA location and is geared toward novice and experienced recreational paddlers and river guides. $295. I'd recommend that you RSVP on Thu., April 15, by contacting Mike Johnston at 777-4837 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Sat., April 17, warm your insides with gluten and maple syrup so you can bust a gut during the UM Physical Therapy Student Association's All-You-Can-Eat Pancake Breakfast and 5k Bust-A-Gut Fun Run, which starts with race registration at 7:30 AM at UM's Oval. Breakfast is served from 8 AM–noon at Christ the King Church, 1400 Gerald Ave., and the race kicks off at 9 AM at the Oval. $10 for the race and breakfast/$5 breakfast only/free children under age 6. Call Lisa at 439-1851.
If that sounds like a gut bomb waiting to burst, spend Sat., April 17, watching grizzly men and women mountain bike, trail run, paddle and navigate themselves through the elements during the third annual GrizzlyMan Adventure Race and Black Bear Challenge, which starts at 8 AM at the Lubrecht Experimental Forest and Resort at Paws Up. It's too late to sign up to compete, so you'll just have to spectate. Visit grizzlymanrace.com.
Instead of watching your fellow humans get jiggy with nature, consider Sat., April 17, as a prime time to ogle avians when the Five Valleys Audubon Society sponsors a full-day field trip to the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge near Stevensville. Free. Meet at UM's Adams Center parking lot at 8 AM to carpool, or at the refuge parking lot at 9 AM. Also bring a lunch and your binocs. Call Larry Weeks at 549-5632.
Get loopy on your bike Sat., April 17, when you hit the road with Missoulians on Bicycles during the Perma Loop ride, a 50-mile jaunt which starts at 8:30 AM with a carpool out of Missoula at a TBA location. Or you could meet at the Perma Bridge at 10 AM, but I'd call Patty at 745-4549 for specifics. Free. MOBI has another ride at 9 AM Sun., April 18, that leaves from Perkin's, so visit missoulabike.org for details.
Or give that running itch a hearty scratch during Run Wild Missoula's Superfun(D) 5k and 10k run, which starts with day-of registration at 8:30 AM at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Bonner, 8985 Hwy. 200 E. $25/ $22.50 Run Wild Missoula members. The run follows at 9:30 AM, and a pancake gorge fest occurs after the races. Register at runwildmissoula.org.
Gaia always needs some lovin' too. So hook her up with your love on Sat., April 17, by pulling weeds and planting native species during the Rattlesnake Creek Watershed Group's Bugbee Nature Preserve Workday, which runs from 9 AM–4 PM at the preserve, off of Missoula Avenue. Free. Bring gloves, lunch and water. E-mail email@example.com.
Bleeding hearts are always allowed for this one: On Sat., April 17, the Clark Fork Chapter of the Montana Native Plant Society hosts Revisiting Dicentra uniflora, an eight-mile roundtrip hike with ecologist Mike Young in search of this intriguing wildflower (aka the longhorn bleeding-heart), which starts at 10 AM at the Rattlesnake Trailhead. Free. Bring water, lunch, boots, and rain gear. Call Mike at 721-7615.
Be the Michael Phelps of the outdoors on Sat., April 17, during the Montana Wilderness Association and Missoula REI's Wilderness Olympics, which features a plethora of activities including a scavenger hunt and obstacle course, and runs from 10 AM–2 PM at Kiwanis Park. Free. Visit wildmontana.org.
And just when you thought Sat., April 17, was more packed than your medical sage pipe, the Montana Natural History Center (MNHC) comes along with Family Fun Day. The registration kick off for its upcoming Summer Science Discovery Camps runs from noon–4 PM at the center, 120 Hickory St. Free. Here's the lowdown: From noon–2 PM, your rugrats will feast their eyes on live animals, and at 2 PM, local author Donna Love will read them a story, or three. Call 327-0405.
Once Mon., April 19, rears its unsightly head, gather your old sleeping bags, boots and other gear in order to donate them to some sustainable mountaineers during the Nature-Link Institute's Gear for the Garhwal drive, which continues through Fri., April 30. Gear drop-off locations are at UM's Outdoor Program, Pipestone Mountaineering, The Trail Head and Aerie Wilderness Medicine. Visit nature-link.org and call Eric at 370-2294.
Finally, give ursines all your undivided attention on Thu., April 22, during the Swan Valley Bear Resources' third annual "Spring Bear Wake Up Social," which features discussion on current research related to bears in the Swan Valley, from 5–8 PM at the Swan Valley Community Hall, near mile marker 42 off Hwy. 83. Free. RSVP by calling 754-3137.
As for now, pack it up, pack it in and don't sleep on a free offer to scout out some national park magic.