FREEFLOW project awarded $5,000 grant at outdoor summit

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Whitefish High School FREEFLOW students Annie Robertson, Allie Hickman, Mary Hooks, Bailey McCann, Xander Burger and Ammann Koch-Ford accepted a $5,000 grant during the Business of Outdoor Recreation Summit last week at Grouse Mountain Lodge. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

Whitefish High School’s FREEFLOW club earned a $5,000 grant for future projects during the Business of Outdoor Recreation Summit last week.

Students Annie Robertson, Bailey McCann and Ammann Koch-Ford spoke to the summit’s attendees following remarks from Gov. Steve Bullock. The students, along with other organizations vying for the grant money, touched on their goals and what they hope to do with the money. FREEFLOW is a science club focused on water quality and natural resource conservation in Montana.

Koch-Ford spoke on the group’s future projects, including for water quality restoration as well as Geographic Information System projects. Eric Sawtelle teaches the school’s GIS course.

“This fall, FREEFLOW students collected baseline water quality data on Cow Creek, which is an important surface water resource. We have advocated for and supported a variety of community partners to obtain funding for a restoration project on the stream,” Koch-Ford said. “We [also] collaborate with local partners and participate in a variety of nonprofit events, such as the Vote Yes for Water, the Haskill Basin project, volunteering at Free the Seeds events and the Whitefish Farmer’s Market.”

McCann said the hope is to use the grant money for some technology that would take FREEFLOW learning to the next level.

“One, we’re hoping to get a digital microscope, which would be very exciting and allow for us to explore the aquatic and terrestrial microbial world. The other thing we’re trying to do is [purchase] these hardcore Samsung tablets,” she said, referring to Samsung’s GalaxyTab Active 2 tablets that are built for harsh conditions.

The tablets would replace iPads that students had been using, but are no longer suited for the work being done by FREEFLOW.

“Those would be good for us because then we can take them out into the field, get our checkpoints and then take them back into the educational classroom and practice our GIS skills and build these maps,” she said.

Along with FREEFLOW, the Montana Conservation Corps also won a $5,000 grant. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Friends of the Little Belts, Prickly Pear Land Trust and the Gallatin River Task Force were also contenders for the grants.

The outdoor recreation summit brought together 250 participants from Montana and nearby Crown of the Continent areas to discuss the business of outdoor recreation and ways to create growth within the outdoor industries. The Montana Governor’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, the Crown of the Continent Geotourism Council and Whitefish Legacy Partners hosted the event at Grouse Mountain Lodge.

The FREEFLOW advisors are WHS teachers Eric Sawtelle and Nikki Reed.

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