The Glacier Institute is now calling Columbia Falls home. The nonprofit organization provides educational programs in Glacier National Park and the Flathead National Forest purchased the former Whitefish Credit Union on Nucleus Avenue late last year and started moving into the building last week, said executive Director Joyce Hassard.
For 30 years, the Institute had its offices above Rocky Mountain Outfitter on Main Street in Kalispell.
But with field camps at Big Creek and near Apgar in Glacier National Park, it’s always wanted to be closer to the Park and the North Fork.
Columbia Falls fit the bill, Hassard said.
“We’re 20 miles closer to our two campuses,” she said.
The credit union property includes a spacious lawn where they can hold local outdoor classes and the 1,800 square-foot building will accommodate their administrative offices, Hassard noted. The parking lot is also big enough to house the Institute’s vehicles and the old credit union vault also allows for security to store its valuables.
The Institute served about 1,300 youths last year in various programs and hosted about 620 adults as well, all on a budget of about $400,000 annually.
Almost every class it offers is in the great outdoors.
“You hike and learn with us,” Hassard said.
The organization has about 16 employees in the height of the summer season. The Big Creek and Glacier Park campuses have the added advantage of having employee housing. Most employees are college-aged students looking to start a career in education or the outdoor field.
Hassard offered a special thanks to Colleen and Don Scharfe, who owned Rocky Mountain Outfitter and gave the Institute a home for 30 years.
“They were incredibly generous,” Hassard said.
The Institute was founded on Dec. 12, 1983 by Lex Blood and Ursula Mattson.
At the time, Mattson was teaching undergraduate students from the Wildlands Research Institute about endangered species in Glacier National Park. As part of the curriculum, she teamed up with researchers like Kate Kendall, Riley McClelland and Blood who brought expertise in their fields to the program.
Blood was a geology and geography professor at Flathead Valley Community College. He said he moved here from Colorado with the idea of setting up an educational programs in Glacier in the 1970s.
The two were able to convince Glacier Park leadership to let the new organization use an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the park to teach classes, and the Institute was born.
Today classes run the gamut from classes on alpine critters to a week-long wilderness camp for teens.
To learn more about the Institute visit glacierinstitute.org