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KALISPELL – A monthlong online voting contest among nonprofits in all 50 states has earned the Glacier Institute a $20,000 grant for its Outdoor Education Center located on the North Fork of the Flathead.

The local nonprofit was selected in September as Montana’s lone finalist in the Tom’s of Maine “50 States for Good” program, which helps support a suite of outdoor-oriented community projects nationwide.

The award, announced Thursday, will fund the Glacier Institute’s brand new alternative energy curriculum, which teaches students how to preserve and better use Montana’s natural resources.

“We are thrilled,” Joyce Baltz, director of the nonprofit, said Thursday. “The curriculum will show students that solar and wind is effective because it will power their laboratory classroom at Big Creek, which is off the power grid in the Flathead National Forest.”

The Glacier Institute hosts thousands of elementary school children annually, and the funding will allow the nonprofit outfit to install solar panels, a wind turbine and a battery back-up system at its educational site, as well as create a new curriculum for its “Alternative Energy Surrounds Us!” program.

The voting, which ended Oct. 9 and took place on Facebook, had Baltz scrambling to spread the word and outdo organizations in states with much higher populations and larger fan bases.

“We tried to get the word out big time to win, so we are really excited that we were among the top six nonprofits in the country,” she said.

The organization with the most public support received $50,000 in sponsorship funding, while five additional organizations, including the Glacier Institute, received $20,000.

The Kalispell-based nonprofit offers hands-on science education to adults and children in Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest, and the contest was part of a national initiative to bolster community organizations that promote “healthy, human and environmental goodness,” according to the Tom’s of Maine website. The company manufactures personal care products, like toothpaste, that use natural ingredients.

“Our goal is to provide education and practice ways to conserve and better sustain the natural resources found in this relatively undisturbed mountain environment in and around Glacier National Park,” Baltz said.

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Glacier Institute will develop its alternative energy curriculum in a partnership with Sunelco Inc., which supplies renewable energy systems, as well as the Flathead National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service has granted permission for the program, and for the installation of a solar-and-wind powered demonstration system and a battery bank to the facility’s energy system, Baltz said.

The aim is to teach students about alternative energy concepts and reduce energy use at the Big Creek Outdoor Education Center, a historic Forest Service Ranger Station in the North Fork of the Flathead.

The U.S. Forest Service has granted permission to teach alternative energy and the grant award would provide the necessary funding to move forward with the project.

Baltz did not yet know how many votes the Glacier Institute garnered, but said it earned support from thousands of Montanans, as well as voters across the United States and in Europe, Australia and Japan.

“We are really, really pleased and extremely grateful,” she said.

Missoulian reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 531-9745 or at tscott@missoulian.com.

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