Photo by Jana Bounds



It was the first independent Friday for Big Sky School District students – a hard-earned treat for the work it took to transition to online and distance learning. The premise is that if they get their coursework done, they are free to pursue whatever activities get the nod from their parents.

Ophir Middle School 8th grader Sammy Ayers and 7th grader Marley Schack initially reckoned they would use their free time for a hike, but instead opted for a delayed celebration of Earth Day.

With orange tape wrapped around their arms, the girls walked a mile stretch of Highway 191 South from Big Sky and collected a giant bag of garbage.

Their useful exercise produced pieces of tire, one big half of a tire and a pool noodle. “It was mostly recyclables like water bottles and cans and stuff you could tell people crushed and threw out the window,” Schack said.

They said it was surprising to see so much garbage accumulated by the highway, especially in this rural part of Montana, Schack questioned what it must be like in more populated areas.

The answer: devastating. Roadway garbage is a frustrating and costly issue for many states, especially California. In 2016, the California Department of Transportation spent $67 million on litter removal – enough debris and garbage to fill nearly 9,000 garbage trucks, according to a South Tahoe Now article.

Still, these young Montanans expect people to respect – and protect – the wilderness. “It was kind of depressing to see all this trash in the mile by our house,” Ayers said. Still, they surfaced with smiles, because what could be better than sharing friendship on a sunny day and helping Mother Earth along the way?

Big Sky Resort ski patrollers also recently cleaned-up an area along Hwy. 191 – an effort to honor late ski patroller Erika Pankow.

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