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Cycle the Rockies for College Credit

Each summer a group of energetic University of Montana students and instructors bicycle across the state for four weeks as they explore regional energy choices and the impacts of climate change -- all while earning college credit.

The course, Cycle the Rockies: Energy and Climate Change in Montana, takes six students and two instructors on a 700-mile journey from Billings to Whitefish. It is offered by UM and the Missoula-based Wild Rockies Field Institute. 

This summer’s course started pedaling May 21 in Billings, where they saw firsthand how fossil fuel energy is produced and the important role of energy conservation. The group toured the ExxonMobil oil refinery and the coal-fired Corette Generating Plant, and then visited the award-winning, highly energy efficient headquarters of the Northern Plains Resource Council.

Cycling north to Roundup, then west to Helena, students explored renewable energy options. They visited farmers growing oil seed crops, the Judith Gap wind farm, a biomass fuels project in Townsend, the Canyon Ferry hydroelectric dam and a variety of other solar, wind and geothermal projects.

After departing Helena, the class rolled up the Rocky Mountain Front and through Glacier National Park, a place feeling the effects of global warming in highly visible ways. From Glacier the class concluded in Whitefish on June 15, where they gave a presentation to the community on the insights they’ve drawn from their journey.

Along the way, students are posting engaging updates from the road and beautiful photographs at http://www.wrfi.net/CycleTheRockies/. In addition to the cycling and site visits, students also complete traditional academic assignments, including readings, discussions, written assignments and a final presentation. Each student is eligible to receive six credits from UM.

“Climate change and our energy choices will be defining issues for the next generation,” says Nicky Phear, one of the course instructors. “This course gives students on the ground experiences with places affected by climate change and with innovative people who are creating new energy options.”

Devin Trainor enjoyed last year’s unique classroom experience so much, he returned as an intern this year.

“This was by far the best educational experience I have ever known,” Trainor says. “Cycle the Rockies provided me with an approach toward education that is focused by my desire to learn. The environment is so thorough and comprehensive that it allowed me to develop an understanding of the world around me and to also connect with people on a life-changing level.”

“Montana is an amazing place to study energy and climate change,” says Dave Morris, the other course instructor. “We have so many energy options here, from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, all set in beautiful agricultural and natural landscapes that are already feeling the effects of climate changes.”

Cycle the Rockies is one of several field-based courses offered by the Missoula-based Wild Rockies Field Institute. All courses can be taken for college credit through a long-standing partnership with UM. For more information about WRFI or the Cycle the Rockies course, visit http://www.wrfi.net.