By Sian Beck

After two months of service, living in Montana, and adjusting to an entirely new work culture, I’m beginning to feel settled. I can recognize people’s names in conversations and learned that I’m not the only one who doesn’t know what every government acronym stands for.

There are a couple of exciting projects I have been making movement on. The first is in efforts to reduce the amount of hand towel waste created in the park – produced by employees, volunteers, and visitors alike. To begin with, we had proposed putting hooks in the bathrooms and distributing hand towels for employees and seasonal volunteers to use. In this, each individual would be responsible for periodically cleaning their hand towel. The Green Team met this with mixed emotions. On one hand, this is the group of people who would be on board with using the towels. On the other hand, there were concerns about hygiene and participation. Would people actually take their towels home to clean them? Would people use their own towels, or would they use someone else’s when they forgot theirs at home? Would we even be able to find funding?

Other ideas buzzed in the group: why not install hand driers? That’s more likely to get funding and also reach more people, expanding beyond just employees and volunteers. In the next weeks, I dove into research comparing the cost, hygiene, and sustainability of both paper towels and hand driers. It turns out to not be as black and white as you would think. It’s more like comparing apples to oranges. In the process, I gained insight from people working for sustainability at other national parks, which has fueled me with new ideas. At this point, the major factor in pursuing this project farther is if we can get buy in from our facilities management team. What the park needs is a sustainability project that we can get some movement behind, and for that we need support.

I am also looking into ways to reuse or recycle plastic. In the past months, I have gotten the opportunity to meet with various park employees and correspond with people representing different local organizations. One exciting piece of this is an upcoming meeting with people from Flathead Valley Community College and the Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship at Whitefish Middle School about different options for recycling plastic, one of which involves 3D printing! Personally, I’m ecstatic about the potential to fuse sustainability and education.

Sometimes I am challenged by the speed at which progress is made in the government, but movement is movement!

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