So, I took the jump. After graduating from college this past December, the next challenge was finding a job in the midst of a pandemic. After a few lucky coincidences, the Montana State Parks AmeriCorps program brought me to Great Falls and First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park. AmeriCorps is the domestic version of the Peace Corps, a voluntary term of service to help others and meet critical needs in a community including education, public safety, health care, and environmental protection. I’m currently serving an 11-month term at the buffalo jump and do a variety of activities, most related to education and interpretation. While my role varies from day to day, my most pressing duties are, broadly, to provide education and interpretation, recruit volunteers, engage the community, & improve park land.
What all that really means is that I have the coolest job in the world. I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased though. There are no regular days, but we often find ourselves leading field trips to school groups, swearing in Junior Rangers, or leading guided hikes about plants and snakes. We get to teach visitors about the historical and ecological significance of one of the largest buffalo jumps in North America. Buffalo jumps are an ingenious use of the land to gather the resources necessary for survival. We work to improve park land by maintaining our 7 miles of trails and removing noxious weeds to help the prairie thrive. We also partner with local organizations and businesses, so everyone has access to the park. All while taking in some of the most glorious views of the mountain ranges, open skies, and sunsets over the cliffs. Phew! All in a days’ work.
Not knowing how long I’ll get to stay in Montana after my AmeriCorps term has pushed me to do as much as I can in a short amount of time. Great Falls has truly been the perfect “basecamp” as I travel far and wide to experience as much of Montana as possible. Being from the flatlands (Nebraska), I have a huge appreciation for any elevation gain into the mountains but also adore the wide-open spaces of the prairie. Here are just a few of my favorite places near Great Falls:
- First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park (you knew this was a given)
- Holter Lake (a kayaking dream!)
- Sluice Boxes State Park (who’s done all 16 creek crossings?)
- Freezeout Lake (the bird watching opportunities)
- Crown Butte (the views may even rival the buffalo jump’s, but you didn’t hear that from me)
- Tower Rock State Park and Recreation Road through Hardy Creek (a perfect dip into the mountains if the big sky views of the prairie aren’t enough)
- Silver Crest Winter Trails (a moment of absolute silence in the winter)
- Dearborn #206/Devil’s Glen Trail (one of the first trails I did after moving and the first time it really sunk in that I get to live in this beautiful state!)
Don’t fret! There’s plenty to do in town as well:
- Giant Springs/Ryan Dam (perfect place for some spring frisbee or a picnic)
- Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center (and the festival!)
- Downtown murals tour (really gives you the vibes of Great Falls)
- Hi-Line Climbing Gym (catch me there at least once a week)
- Carved Axe Throwing (took my family here and they loved it)
- Electric City Coffee and Café/Tru Brew/Crooked Tree (I can’t pick a favorite!)
- Great Falls Public Library (watch for the library book sale, a book lover’s paradise)
Post-graduation, you’d think I would know what I’m doing but I was still so confused. Moving to Montana was a dream come true and I hope to stick around. Even if I don’t get to stay, my time at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park has helped me discover my love for teaching others about the natural world. Next time you’re in Great Falls, be sure to stop by the jump and look for the AmeriCorps logo!
Kylee Meyer is a Nebraska native and a Montana enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Nebraska- Kearney in December 2020 with a degree in Recreation Management and moved to her dream home in Montana soon after. She’s currently serving a term with Montana State Parks AmeriCorps at First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park. Following this term, she plans to continue working in state parks as an interpretive ranger to connect people to the world around them. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, volunteering, kayaking, reading, and making art. Follow her adventures on Instagram!