For 30 years, Expo has been getting folks into the woods

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From left, Justin Kaber, Ronald Buentemeier, Deb Starling and Ali Ulwelling at the Family Forestry Expo last week.

When the Family Forestry Expo first started, some of the trees in the Ronald Buentemeier Educational Forest off Trumbull Creek Road were just saplings.

Today, 30 years later, they’re well on their way to being majestic providers of shade.

The idea of the Expo came from an extension forester for Montana that came from Portland, Oregon. Portland at the time was busing kids out into the woods for an inclusive educational program, Buentemeier recalled.

Timber interests, the Forest Service, the state and a host of other forest stakeholders wanted to do the same thing in the Flathead Valley, but without the public having to travel a great distance to get to it.

Twenty acres of F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. property was deemed a great place to have the expo, as it had a creek running through it and it also had just about every tree growing on it that lives in the valley, save for a couple of alpine species.

Like in Portland, educational stations were set up, with talks on fisheries, forest management, fire, native plants, ecology, wildlife, archeology, backcountry horse packing and a host of others.

“The whole principle was to have various stations where people would talk about their disciplines,” Buentemeier said.

People could then draw their own conclusions on forest management.

Years went on and a grandstand was added with a roof (it always seems to rain that week). Events have changed over the years. For a few years there was a demonstration on helicopter logging.

Justin Kaber, the assistant fire management officer on the Tally Lake Ranger District, remembers coming to the event when he was in fifth grade. A logger dropped a tree precisely on a hat, he remembered.

The event features an extensive curriculum for fifth-graders and teachers.

That first year, about 200 kids from area schools attended the event, noted Deb Starling, who along with Buentemeier, were founding interests.

Today, more than 1,300 students from 29 schools and one homeschool group, stretching from Eureka to Charlo, will visit Expo this week noted Ali Ulwelling of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

School kids go through the educational stations and some will tour the Stoltze mill.

The event opens to the general public on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with logging equipment demonstrations, the Forest Service Spotted Bear Ranger District mule pack string, and a logging sports demonstration by Flathead Valley Community College Logger Sports team. Various exhibits featuring local organizations, businesses and agencies that deal with natural resources will be on display. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. a free logging camp lunch will be provided, compliments of Family Forestry Expo.

The expo is made possible through the involvement of over 30 diverse organizations such as local service clubs, forest industry, government natural resource agencies, conservation groups, professional societies, local businesses, many interested individuals and numerous local donations.

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