On July 16, 2016, we were in for a treat. As we made our way to the Montana Audubon Center, a group of early birdwatchers were ready with binoculars for a morning of viewing and identifying our feathered friends. We too were ready to take in the sweet smell of sage and the songs of birds calling from the trees.
We were met by Trinity Pierce, Land Stewardship Coordinator and former Master Gardener, who invited us to pick a variety of mint leaves to tear apart and place in a jar of sun tea for refreshment after the tour. A woman in our group also used the leaves on her legs as a bug repellant.
Since 1998, volunteers have been reclaiming an old gravel mine, planting 65,000 native trees, shrubs, and grasses just of of South Billings Boulevard. The Center is a cooperative partnership with YRPA, YVAS and the Montana Audubon. The Center was build with conservation and place-based education in mind for people of all ages to learn about the birds, plants, bugs, and aquatic creatures of the Yellowstone River riparian area. Children go there for field trips, classes, summer camps, and after school programs, and adults can enjoy the Center on Sun-days, when they offer canoeing, bird watching, and other fund activities. Nearby Norm Schoenthal‘s Island is a great place to walks dogs, explore the trails, or cross-country ski in the winter.
Trinity and her volunteers have done a great job preserving the natural landscape and native plants, encouraging them through much mulching and coaxing. There were clusters of beautiful Blanket Flowers, Echinacea, Cone-flowers, Blue Flax, Mustard and many other wildflowers to attract pollinators. Trinity took us to the three ponds where children can conduct research, enjoy the thrills of canoeing, and may be experience a turtle or two. Giant cottonwoods and willows surround the water, providing habitat for many varieties of wildlife.
As we savored our herbal tea, Trinity showed us the Center, named after the dedicated Norm Schoenthal, she told us that it recycles water as it is used inside. Children use the Center as a lab, and gain hands-on experience with identification of plants and animals. A lot of respect and hard work has gone into the reclaiming and healing of this area of the Yellowstone. It is a hopeful place. The tea was delicious too! A combination of chocolate, pineapple, and apple mint leaves, fragrant and cool.
Submitted by: Julie Osslund