Last Thursday at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, representatives of the Bitterroot Youth Conservation & Education Expo, a community sponsored program which introduces young people to the wonders of nature and the value of exploring the great outdoors, accepted a $2,000 donation from the Friends of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. The gift was made in honor of recently deceased wilderness advocate, author and publisher Dale Burk.
“My dad would be completely honored,” said Burk’s daughter Rachel Burk. “Anything that had to do with youth was extremely important to him, and for Tom [Powers] to keep this going and for Friends of the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge to make this donation would be very important to him.”
Paul Hayes, of the Friends of the Refuge, said it started about three years ago when Powers came to them and told them about the Youth Expo idea.
“Dale was the first one to pipe up, saying, ‘We’ve got to help’,” said Friends president Paul Hayes. He said Burk made a motion to give them $2,000, not only that year, but every year.
Started in 2013, this year’s Youth Expo would have been the 8th annual Youth Expo, but the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Paul said when the Expo was cancelled this year, they thought it would still be nice to give them the donation and the board agreed to do it in memory of Burk.
Tom Powers, who was instrumental in getting the Expo started, said, “We do appreciate this really kind donation in memory of Dale, because this program and being involved with youth meant so much to him. He helped out to the point that we will miss him greatly. This gives the opportunity for more of our youth to participate and perhaps by this coming summer we can get these camps rolling again. You can watch for postings on the Teller Refuge website for coming events and summer camps.”
Dave Harlacher, past president of Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, brought the idea of joining in the Youth Expo up to the Club and current president Fred Upchurch jumped into action. Upchurch said they were proud the first year to send 20 kids off to summer camps. The numbers soon grew to over 200 summer camp scholarships.
“Our club ponied up 500 bucks and we’ve been with it ever since,” said Upchurch. He said the growth has been tremendous and they were really making a difference “one kid at a time.”
“We are actually at a point where we need another trailer,” said Powers. He said the club was going to use the funds it raised this year to purchase sufficient camping equipment for the kids to use on their ventures. He said many kids came to the camps with inappropriate gear and the aim now is to provide every kid with uniform equipment, such as sleeping bags and packs, etc.
Karen Zumwalt, Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Teller Wildlife Refuge where the Expo is generally held, said it is really special how this program has grown and attracted continued local support.
“Every year we try to implement new ideas and make the program more of a success,” said Zumwalt. “It’s what kids need to be doing these days, learning to get outside and do things, not just one thing but many things. They are learning archery, flyfishing, wildlife biology, birdwatching, horse packing and other ways to connect and get out there.”