Youth Engagement

Photo by Meg Killen

Stewarding Our Future

Montana Wilderness Association believes volunteer service is essential to cultivating Montana's next generation of land stewards. Every summer, MWA partners with youth serving organizations to engage youth and young adults in meaningful conservation projects on public lands across the state. Since 2012, MWA has organized 21 youth projects with 158 volunteers, contributing more than 6,300 hours of service.

MWA stewardship projects are fun, educational experiences that have a lasting impact. They provide youth with hands-on work experience while simultaneously raising awareness for conservation issues. The work is challenging and team oriented: to accomplish project objectives, crews must work together and push their limits. On the way to reaching their goals, youth forge a deep connection to the landscape and with their peers.

In 2019, MWA continued partnerships with Montana Conservation Corps, Salish Kooetani College's Upward Bound, and Montana Youth Challenge Academy. These crews improved trails in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, the Badger-Two Medicine and the Jewel Basin. We're grateful for their service and their commitment to public lands! 

Interested in having your youth group join a trail project? Review our Project Partner Guide or contact stewardship coordinator Sonny Mazzullo at for more information.

Montana Youth Challenge Academy

Montana Youth Challenge Academy assists at-risk Montana youth in developing the skills and abilities necessary to become productive citizens by focusing on the physical, emotional, and educational needs of the youth in a highly structured, quasi-military environment, using proven techniques of discipline and motivation.

Prior to Montana Youth Challenge Academy's spring class graduation, cadets spend a week off campus, exploring a vocation. This is meant to be a capstone experience, during which cadets can gain professional experience while broadening their horizons. Since 2012, Montana Wilderness Association has offered volunteer trail projects for cadets who are interested in outdoor and conservation professions. Here they experience the daily routines of field work and build the teamwork necessary to complete a large-scale project in the real world. It is also a chance for them to develop backcountry living skills and volunteer their time toward a meaningful cause.

In June of 2018 and 2019, cadets worked in the Bear Trap Canyon unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, the first BLM-managed Wilderness in the U.S. Cadets helped repair switchbacks and perform routine trail maintenance by clearing, building drainage structures, and brushing the trail corridor. In 2019, eleven volunteers gave a total of 240 hours in service to the Bear Trap National Recreation Trail. Our crew braved rattlesnakes and poison ivy to tame overgrowing brush on the first 1.5 miles of trail.

Together, Montana Youth Challenge Academy and Montana Wilderness Association have constructed new trail on the Continental Divide Trail, built a large jack-leg fence out of locally sourced natural materials, installed trailhead signage outside the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness, and performed routine maintenance on trails surrounding Butte. The cadets have always been hardworking and enthusiastic participants, and we're grateful for their commitment to our mission. We can't wait to work with them again!

Piikani Land Crew

2018 marked the fifth year of service-oriented work on public and tribal lands for the Piikani Land Crew. Seven Blackfeet young adults were led by two Montana Conservation Corps AmeriCorps participants. The crew worked with a wide range of local and statewide partners over their 10 weeks of work. They contributed more than 2,000 hours of service work and learned about land management practices. This crew completed natural resource, cultural, and community service projects, all while earning a paycheck.

The central goals of the Piikani Land Crew are for participants to leave the program with new leadership skills, new technical skills, valuable relationships with land managers and conservation partners, strengthened communication and team-building skills, an increased knowledge of the natural environment, and an ethic of volunteer service and civic responsibility.

The Piikani Land Crew brings together a unique and dedicated partnership of non-profit organizations, tribal institutions, and federal agencies: Blackfeet Nation, Montana Conservation Corps (lead organization), U.S. Forest Service, U.S. National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy and Glacier National Park Conservancy. 

2019 MWA Sponsored Accomplishments
Three Weeks on CDNST
Miles Improved: 3.5
Drainage Structures Installed: 42
Crew service hours: 609


If you or someone you know is interested in joining, learn more on Montana Conservation Corps' website.

Salish Kootenai College Upward Bound

Upward Bound is a program designed to provide low-income, first-generation high school students with the skills and motivation necessary for success in post-secondary education. The program serves students on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Services include tutoring, mentoring, college entrance preparation, enrichment activities, and college visitations. A six-week residential summer component on campus offers students high school credit, college credit, and work-study experiences.

Salish Kootenai College's Upward Bound program features a service-learning component where, for one week, students embark on diverse service outings throughout the Flathead and Mission valleys. These volunteer trips expose students to new career opportunities, while offering a chance to give back.

As a part of their service week, Salish Kootenai College students occassionally join us for a stewardship project. In 2018, they joined us in the Jewel Basin, and in 2014, Upward Bound participated in a weeklong trail maintenance project in the Badger Two Medicine. We're thrilled to continue our partnership in the future!