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Seeley-Swan High School senior Gus Batchelder, left, and Seeley Lake Elementary School Superintendent Chris Stout, right, prepare for the opening of SLE Outside, a new outdoor equipment cooperative staffed by students.

BRONTË WITTPENN, Missoulian

Two years ago, Outside Magazine named Seeley Lake Elementary the best place to work in the entire country. Having one of the largest outdoor recreation publications pay us this honor was a testament to the amazing colleagues, supportive parents and professional development that make working at our school such a joy.

It was also a testament to the breathtaking natural world right outside our school’s double doors.

Over the past several years, we’ve incorporated that world into our curriculum. We take our students canoeing, cross-country skiing and hiking. Just miles from the classroom, we look for grizzly tracks and moose droppings and examine trout habitat. We even have poetry lessons that draw inspiration from the wildness around us.

No doubt, our surrounding landscape has long been the source of our community’s educational and economic potential. That’s why Seeley Lake Elementary is committed to stewarding our landscape for future generations of Clearwater Valley children. With that commitment in mind, we’ve endorsed the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project.

The Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project was developed a decade ago by a diverse group of local residents in Seeley Lake and Ovando. These folks haven’t always agreed on everything, but they’ve always come to the table knowing something we try to teach our students every day – that what we can create together is greater than what we can accomplish on our own.

The BCSP is a landscape-sized proposal that supports our timber industry, designates additional wilderness for wildlife habitat, and adds additional recreational opportunities to the Seeley and Ovando areas. At this point in the game, the BCSP is fully vetted, unanimously supported and ready for our congressional delegation to take to Washington, D.C.

From my perspective as an educator who uses the natural landscape and outdoor recreation to educate our youth, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project is an investment in our kids’ future.

Last summer, a fellow teacher and I ran with an idea that would offer our students a real-world educational opportunity and help grow our business community. We created SLE Outside, a community recreational cooperative staffed by students from Seeley Lake Elementary. We sell Patagonia, Buck Products, Bozeman Reel, Big Agnes, and other national and Montana-based outdoor brands.

SLE Outside only exists because of the stunning public lands and recreational opportunities surrounding us In an uncertain world, the Blackfoot Clearwater proposal is the closest thing to a guarantee that our backyard public lands will remain a living classroom and an economic driver for our community.

Residents of the Seeley Lake and Ovando areas are asking Sen. Jon Tester, Sen. Steve Daines and Congressman Ryan Zinke to join together as a team and see the BCSP through in Washington, D.C. We need to grow our recreation in Montana, and we need to continue offering our kids the opportunity to learn in a wild classroom.

Chris Stout is the superintendent of Seeley Lake Elementary School.

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