Trail Guides: Informal Field Education for the Public

published Mar 19, 2010 8:42am

By David Mogk, Montana State University

The Trail Guides project was developed to provide the hiking public with information about the natural history of popular hikes around Bozeman, MT. Our hope is that the hiking experience will be more enjoyable if hikers have a bit of knowledge about the natural history of the area. So we have prepared online trail guides to encourage the public to hike these trails and to help the public know what to look for and how to interpret the natural phenomena encountered on the trail. The trail guides were developed by geology majors at Montana State University as a service-learning project. Group hikes were taken in the fall of 2009, and all participants contributed to documenting natural features they observed on the trails, particularly by taking a photographic record of what they experienced on the trail. Later in the fall semester, three groups of students took responsibility for developing a webpage on each of three trails by researching the geologic history of each field area and demonstrating these features in text and figures on the webpages. Each module includes directions to the trail, a photo overview of the sites that can be seen on the trail, and we also provide more background information about the geologic history of the area (fossils, landforms, rock types, structures) with links and references to help hikers explore these topics in more detail if they have interest. Trail guides are available for hikes to Sacagawea Peak of the Bridger Range (Phanerozoic sediments, abundant fossils, Laramide and Sevier-style structures, and active surficial processes); Hyalite Peak of the Gallatin Range (Absaroka Volcanics and surficial processes); and Bear Basin in the Spanish Peaks of the Madison Range (Archean basement with high-grade metamorphic rocks, and the Laramide Spanish Peaks fault).

A distilled version of this information will also be presented as trailhead posters to also inform casual hikers about the natural phenomena they'll see on the trail. The website also has reminders about safety in the back country, and responsible, low-impact hiking.

We hope that these web pages will serve as a national model for other groups to do service learning projects to promote field-based learning by developing similar trail guides in their own region. The website can be accessed at: