Birds, Biocontrol, and Education: Rock Creek Confluence Property Update

This past summer has proven to be another big year at our Rock Creek Confluence Property. From hosting student groups to bird banding, the Confluence Property continues to improve in health as it simultaneously provides educational opportunities for area students and public access for the community.

Earth Moving Phase Complete

The Missoula College’s Heavy Equipment Operation Program completed their land re-contouring project at the Confluence Property this past May. “Just running equipment and digging doesn’t have the same effect that something like this does,” says Rod Frost, former Director of the Heavy Equipment Operation Program. “This has been a particularly interesting job because of the restoration aspect.” Five Valleys has enjoyed the opportunity to help train the next generation of heavy equipment operators while receiving top-notch restoration work of the artificial pond and berm site.

Insect biocontrol of toadflax in action.
Insect biocontrol of toadflax in action. Photo by Five Valleys staff.

EQIP Grant and Revegetation

With the earth moving complete, our focus now turns to revegetation of the sizeable area left disturbed by the earth work. Five Valleys received an NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) grant for restoration at the Confluence Property. The grant will help to fund noxious weed management and revegetation of disturbed areas, including native grass restoration and planting of riparian shrubs and trees. One of the tools being used to mitigate noxious weeds is the release of biocontrol agents: specific insect species that target noxious weeds. With support from the EQIP grant, Five Valleys will be able to jump-start and better plan our revegetation efforts.

University of Montana Bird Banding Station

This past summer the Confluence Property was host to a University of Montana Bird Ecology Lab bird banding station. The station’s scheduled research days were open to the public, allowing visitors to participate in the hands-on research. The UM scientists set up mist nets to carefully capture specimens, then banded, measured and cataloged each bird before releasing them. The Confluence Property saw 160 visitors this season, more than any other bird banding station. Nearly 30 different species were identified, including the Swainson’s Thrush, which spends just 60 days in Montana as it migrates the 6,000 miles between the Northern Rockies and Argentina. We look forward to hosting the bird banding station again next summer.

Student's at the Kids' River Expo. Photo courtesy of the Clark Fork Coalition.
Student's at the Kids' River Expo. Photo courtesy of the Clark Fork Coalition.

Kids’ River Expo and Montana Natural History Center Programs

The Confluence Property has proven to be a perfect outdoor classroom for the next generation of land stewards. On May 5th the Confluence Property hosted the Clark Fork Coalition’s Kids’ River Expo. Over 80 sixth-eighth graders attended the Expo from the Missoula International School, Bonner Elementary, and C.S. Porter Middle School. Adult volunteers from six different agencies attended to lead the student activities. Students learned about the basic concepts of watershed science and how to keep our rivers and streams healthy through interactive learning stations and a service project. Another educational group to utilize the Confluence Property this year was the Montana Natural History Center. Nearly 150 summer campers were able to explore and examine nature at the Confluence Property. The Montana Natural History Center’s Visiting Naturalist in the Schools program is also used the Confluence Property this fall to educate approximately 100 area fourth graders about the natural sciences through real-world interactions with nature.

Westside Public Access

In addition to the parking lot and trailhead on the east side of the property, we have been busy readying the larger west side for better public access. Last summer, the Missoula County Youth in Restoration Crew broke ground on a trail running from Rock Creek Road across the property to Rock Creek. This fall, the Missoula College’s Heavy Equipment Operation Program was busy preparing the west side’s new parking lot and trailhead site. The west side trailhead will also be home to new interpretive signs, which will educate visitors about the property's flora and fauna, Native American history, and recent restoration. By next summer, the entire 270-acre Confluence Property will be ready for greater, and easier, public access. 

Top image: UM researcher Boo Curry cataloging a cat bird. Photo by Five Valleys staff.


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