Picking up trash in Riverfront Park on Wednesday, 11-year-old Jonathan Humphrey reflected on the impact that littering has on the environment.
“If there was all pollution, there would be no water to drink and all the animals would die,” he said. “I always pick up trash.”
Getting Jonathan and his fellow campers to think about what effect their actions have on the environment was precisely what Michael Schmelzel, one of the counselors at the Montana Audubon Conservation Center, 7026 South Billings Blvd., set out to accomplish.
“I’m hoping they can see the benefit of something like this,” the Big Sky Watershed AmeriCorps program member said.
The week’s theme was “Earth Heroes,” and each day organizers chose a place near the center that would teach the campers about plants or animals in the Billings urban area.
Tuesday, they went to the Amend Park Community Garden to pull weeds and do other gardening tasks, and on Thursday organizers planned a project with the campers to help keep beavers from felling trees near the center’s ponds.
The projects have been mutually beneficial, said Chris Waite the volunteer coordinator for Billings Parks, Recreation and Public Lands. “We really enjoy them.”
The park’s attendants keep trash off the main trails as best they can, but they can’t do it all, he said, “The areas kind of off the trails by the river don’t get hit as often.”
A volunteer group usually is scheduled to hit Riverfront every month, and Waite believes getting people outside and in the parks gives them a sense of ownership of the area once they experience what it takes to maintain.
“I really like people getting a better understanding of the park and the level of maintenance that goes into it,” he said.
This week, only five campers attended the camps, but most weeks have been filled to the 20 camper capacity.
“Our camps have been super busy this summer,” Schmelzel said. Parents of campers could choose sending their child for the morning or all day.
Monday marks the first day of the eighth and final week of this summer’s camps, but there are plenty more opportunities for people to volunteer or attend programs with children in the fall, he said.
Restoration Volunteer Saturdays happen from 9 a.m. until noon on the second and fourth Saturday through the end of September. The Weekend Wonders program, an ecology program for parents and children, happens Sundays at 1:30 p.m.
The Aug. 17 Weekend Wonders program will get attendees in canoes on Will’s Marsh. The price is $2 per person and free for members of the center.
For more information, log onto mtacec.org or call (406)294-5099. Advanced registration is required.