From Maclay Flat to The M, from neighborhood bushes to hidden trails, kids are building a map of their favorite Missoula places, adding illustrations, poems and recordings of themselves reading their writing.

Tylor Upham, a fourth-grade student at Hawthorne Elementary, said the multimedia tour will help adults see the valley the way kids do.

“Missoula has different places where adults don’t go to that much. They mostly work and take walks and most people don’t see that,” he said, as he added his poem to the map earlier this week. “Kids explore more. We get time to do that, but parents have to do all this other stuff.”

Upham’s poem, “The Bush,” is about a favorite hideaway — a bush “like a tree" — near his grandmother’s house atop a cherished sledding hill.

“I used to go there all the time. I used to live over there and now I moved, so I miss that place,” he said. “I used to go in and talk to my friends or have some alone time in there.”

Missoula Writing Collaborative Executive Director Caroline Patterson works with area schools to teach poetry. While applying for grants to support the effort, she was trying to think of a new way to engage students and tapped into her personal experience as a travel writer to develop the idea.

“Kids’ writing becomes stronger when they’re writing about a specific place,” she said.  

The interactive maps will be displayed at the Missoula County Public Library and online this April. The project is a partnership between schools and the Missoula Writing Collaborative, Geodata Services, and Chris Robitaille of Xplorer Maps, who will draw a custom background for one of the maps based on the students’ work.

Children at Hawthorne were the first to test the idea, coming to the library on Tuesday and Wednesday to map their poems.

Someone walking along River Road might not notice the bush across the street from Briana Newman’s home.

To her, it is a special place where she can go to think and to feed nuts to her "favorite squirrel, Nutcracker." Most of the year, it's a dull brown but "looks like purple polka dots" in the summer.

It’s a great place to read

as the squirrels scitter

Most of Mizhoni Thomas' peers chose an outdoor locale, but her drawing and poem featured shelves of books at her school library.

“I wanted to show how fun it is,” she said.

The library is wonderful

many mystical and magical things

Richard Morris wrote about Maclay Flat Natural Trail, a place he said he visits with his family a few times a year. In the winter, he sits on a large log to look over the fallen snow.

When you enter Mclay Flat you feel safe.


but you.

“Grown ups sometimes just don’t realize how much beauty is kept inside (Missoula),” he said.

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