Montana/Dakotas

<<Back to Winter 2008-2009 Steward

Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center Draws Visitors and Volunteers

volunteers with Governor Schweitzer

BLM volunteers Cindy Hirshberg and Clark Wagner pose with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer at the dedication of the Missouri River Breaks Interpretive Center in Fort Benton. Cindy is dressed as Mae Flannigan, a young lady who wrote about her steamboat trip aboard the steamer Eclipse in 1887. Clark is a 'shady horse trader' from the late 1800s - waiting to see what "treasures" would be unloaded from the steamboats as they docked in Fort Benton.  Clark and Cindy have each given nearly 1,000 hours of volunteer service at the MBIC – in 2008 alone. 
BLM photo 

Word is spreading.

The Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center in Fort Benton is a great place to visit. In addition to the unique building design, scenic location, and interactive exhibits, the center offers fun and creative interpretive programs for people of all ages. 

In only its second year of operation, the MBIC hosted almost 700 students at 54 programs. Four separate evening presentations featuring historical reenactments drew in an additional 123 people. 

“We select the program to fit the group,” said Interpretive Center Director Connie Jacobs. “Sometimes we focus on the history of this area, and sometimes we focus on the wildlife or geology.”

The programs are gaining popularity. While the center first focused on drawing in students from Fort Benton and nearby communities, now it’s getting requests from schools from as far away as Winnett, Whitefish and Browning.  

Successful interpretive programs don’t just pop out of a book. Weaving historical information into meaningful activities and interesting discussions requires skill and time. To help reach the center’s goals, Jacobs recruited volunteers, both locally and nationally. The resulting roster of 11 talented volunteers donated an impressive 2,643 hours in fiscal year 2008. While some of those hours went toward staffing the front desk, the vast majority were related to outreach through interpretive programming.

“People wanted to get involved, but some didn’t want to commit to being at the front desk,” said Jacobs. “So we created two kinds of volunteer positions – one assists with the business of the center, and the other assists with our programs.”

One of the interpretive programs focuses on the Nez Perce Trail. Volunteers modified an existing program so that it can be effectively presented within hours, rather than days. The program has been so well received that the National Park Service’s Bear Paw and Big Hole battlefields, the other two major sites associated with the Nez Perce Trail in Montana, plan to adapt portions of it for their own use.

That interagency cooperation is just one of the many benefits that are growing from the positive interaction among MBIC staff, other agencies, volunteers, and the local community.

“Our volunteers are such great ambassadors for BLM,” said Jacobs. “They reach so many more people than we could ever reach without them.”  

Every Hour is a Gift!

Volunteers at the Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center:

Cindy Hirshberg – An interpreter, Chautauqua presenter, and retired business professional, Cindy developed many of our education programs. She also coordinated all the volunteers, scheduling programs and ensuring that presenters had what they needed. Cindy came from Maryland intending to volunteer for just one season, but has stayed for three.

Clark Wagner -- Clark provided front desk operations, gift store management, administrative support, technical review, and electronics operation. His home is in Maryland, but Clark has been Center Director Connie Jacobs’ right-hand-man for the past three seasons. He is an interpreter and Chautauqua presenter, and is retired from Department of Defense.

Anna Mae McKeever -- Anna Mae has helped with all aspects of educational programs by scheduling, developing, and presenting. A retired educator and farmer, she also provides front desk and sales support, as well as administrative assistance. There’s not much Anna Mae can’t do, and everything she does, she does well.

Ruth Carlstrom – Ruth has been instrumental both in developing and delivering educational presentations. She provides great community PR and helps us with cooperative volunteer development through the Chamber of Commerce. She is a retired educator in talented and gifted programs. 

Leone Cloepfil -- Leone is a local artist who has helped out with painting and illustration needs at the center. Her efforts have made our topo map of the Missouri River region much richer.

John Cloepfil -- John is a retired educator who helps cover the front desk and provide visitor services. John has helped us for many years - long before the new interpretive center was developed.

Dusty Keuhner -- A retired educator, Dusty has been instrumental in program evaluations and logistics. She helps with set-up and take-down and provides program assistance wherever it is needed.

Joanne Witt -- Joanne has jumped into the proverbial frying pan. She is a retired farmer/rancher who one day asked how she could help. Since then, she has taken on an entire program to learn and share. Joanne says that she learns from the students every time she makes a presentation.

Mary Meissner – As a retired educator, Mary took on a new program about bird adaptations that the students really enjoyed. She is also always willing to help with other programs and development.

Casey Naeseth and Mariette Daffy -- Casey and Mariette are high school friends who stopped in over the summer to see if there was something they could do. Silly question! They were soon asking visitors to complete surveys for the interpretive center. They both did an excellent job of getting nearly a 100 percent response.

Other folks around Fort Benton and local communities have heard the word – the Missouri Breaks Interpretive Center is a fun and challenging with great camaraderie. At least seven more people want to join us in the coming season!