Dedication to native plants and wildlife study area earns local woman kudos

It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

Carol Runyon has done it and is doing it. And for those efforts, she is the 2001 Sentinel Kiwanis Club's Volunteer of the Year.

Without Runyon's perseverance, Lewis and Clark Elementary School would not have its native plant and wildlife habitat study area, wrote Margaret Manning, the Lewis and Clark teacher who nominated Runyon.

The habitat study area has sites established to attract butterflies and birds, for native grasses, a rock garden and a sensory garden. One special section contains plants Lewis and Clark noted in the journals about their travels. One section has a stream and waterfall. There are walkways to observe the gardens and, in the bird habitat, birdhouses and feeders. The sensory garden, named for its aromas and tactile touch of the plants, is accessible to those who use wheelchairs.

Runyon's responsibility began when she approached school officials in 1996 to write a grant for a school project. Manning and fellow teacher Maureen Kane talked to her about their ideas for a schoolyard nature area, according to Manning's nominating application.

Four years later, Runyon has written 23 grants for the project and raised $14,000 from eight successful grants.

The Outdoor Discovery Corps was born.

It is a wildlife habitat that also functions as an outdoor classroom, Manning said. It also is certified as an official schoolyard habitat by the National Wildlife Federation because it provides habitat, food, water, shelter and a place for animals to raise their young.

Runyon, Manning said, meets regularly with the advisory committee, school staff and students. She has consulted with construction and landscaping experts to help students plan the area.

The students have helped plant some of the plants. Third-graders are creating a sculpture of Sacajawea and either Lewis or Clark to go in the Lewis and Clark garden. Fifth-graders are researching the native uses of the plants and will create interpretive markers. Sentinel High School industrial arts classes made benches and bridges for the garden.

Donations and helpers included parents who helped lay sod and businesses that helped install a pond and donated plants.

"Carol is the person who organized all these people in all these events," Manning said. "It could never have been done without her. Classroom teachers have no time to do it. … She's like the center of it."

But what Runyon also does is bring recognition to teachers and parents and kids who are involved in the project.

"She stays behind the scenes and does the work," Manning said. "She is the essence of what a volunteer would be. She is really a legacy."

"It's a community project," Runyon said after receiving her honor from the Sentinel Kiwanis Club. "We've been blessed with a lot of community participation. Businesses have given significant donations plus their expertise in landscaping.

"The fun part is the kids. They love it," she said, adding that the kids, with help from landscapers, designed the garden.

By the end of the school year, she said, all the plantings should be in place.

Runyon also has volunteered as a court-appointed special advocate and as a tutor at C.S. Porter Middle School.

Runyon received a personal plaque and a $250 check, which she said she will donate to the Outdoor Discovery project. Her name will be added to a plaque in the Missoula Public Library.

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