The Montana Gap program represents the culmination of three decades of carefully crafted, successful and impactful summer teen service programs. Montana Gap takes those experiences to the next level for older students, using the pillar ingredients of the summer programs (service work, cultural exchange + adventurous exploration + community-building) and also folding in robust curriculum, workshops and other hands-on learning….. VISIONS Experience. Dive into the culture and lifestyle of backcountry Montana, exploring what it means to live conscientiously and sustainably in the modern world. Based at our 80-acre historic farm & ranch nestled among the foothills of the Bridger Mountains, our program combines accessible outdoor adventure with hands-on learning and sustainable living.
We draw inspiration and curriculum from Project Drawdown’s Climate Solutions and delve deep into the socio-environmental problems of the 21st century, exploring ways to reduce sourcing, bring emissions to zero and uplift nature’s carbon cycle. Our goal: learn how to build a bridge to a better future, both for ourselves and for generations to come.
The program culminates with a capstone project, an opportunity to tap into YOUR personal growth and experiences, to convey what you’ve learned to the rest of the group via a creative method of your choosing.
Our Montana Gap program offers both SPRING and FALL 8-week sessions, with a curriculum and activities that are very similar, though with a few differences based on the seasons. Any differences are outlined in the program guide below. We also offer a WINTER program with a different twist (more focus on outdoor recreation)!
Like all VISIONS experiences, our U.S. Gap Programs are focused on putting down roots in a single locale, immersing ourselves holistically with a way of life. Rather than a travel-based experience, our participants settle into the Rocky Mountains of southwest Montana, in the middle ground between the wild and the modern, to learn about endangered environments and ways of life in the West.
HANDS-ON PROJECTS. Immerse yourself in farm and ranch work (varies by season) to foster a deeper connection to the land, complemented with community service work with local nonprofits like the Food Bank and Hopa Mountain, which invests in rural and tribal citizen leaders.
COMMUNITY BUILDING. Intimately connect with people of different backgrounds and interests—not just with other participants, but with locals from the farming, ranching and conservation communities, as well as members of Native American tribes.
OUTDOOR ADVENTURE. Head into the backcountry of Montana to learn to connect to wild nature, to understand how to take care of and find harmony with the land that brings us all life. Build outdoor skills to participate in backcountry life in safe, experienced ways.
Welcome to the Gallatin Valley, known as the “Valley of the Flowers” among the Native American tribes who called this region home for generations. You’ll spend the next eight weeks living on our farm, nestled among alpine peaks and a mountain stream, learning the rhythms of farm life and embarking on wilderness excursions to breathtaking landscapes. And while the farm is our basecamp, other farms, ranches, conservation areas and the surrounding wilderness will serve as your classroom.
During our Gap programs, we’ll eat from local food sources as much as possible, including produce harvested from neighboring farms and organic meat from grass-fed beef and bison. Participants will learn how to utilize local and natural ingredients and resources for sustenance, and we’ll all prepare meals together in rotating groups. Every week in our schedule includes at least one free day to sleep in, cook a group brunch, and choose between relaxing at the farm or taking an optional outing.
Over the first few days, we’ll relax into our new home, draft goals for the weeks ahead, discuss leadership roles, expedition behavior and shared responsibility. We’ll also explore the surrounding area and bond around campfires, outings, meals and daily life on the farm.
More than a third of the world’s food goes uneaten, resulting in wasted land and greenhouse gases. Learn to reduce food waste and sustainably move food from and farm to fork.
Culinary Arts: With good meals serving as a building block to a healthy program, we’ll spend part of a day learning the basics of culinary arts and ways to create meals and meals that utilize locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
Bison Harvest & Processing: Travel through Bridger Canyon to North Bridger Bison Ranch, where ranch owner Matt Skoglund shares his knowledge of holistic management and environmental policy. Take part in the harvest, field dressing and evisceration of a bison, done with honor for the animal and the land that gave it life. We’ll enjoy bison steaks for dinner, with a new connection to this food source and the history behind it (Note: vegan and vegetarian options are always available).
We’ll later learn the Native American tradition of hide tanning from a cultural anthropologist, Billy Maxwell, who has been working with bison hides for decades. We also delve into the age-old techniques of cutting and preparing wild game with several master hunters, each passionate about sourcing their own food and utilizing all parts of the animal.
Composting: When food waste sits in landfills, it decomposes sans-oxygen, producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. With help from a composting company, we’ll learn ways to keep food waste out of landfills and instead draw it into a rich nutrient cycle. We’ll compost during the entirety of our program, an excellent “Drawdown” practice for participants to incorporate into the rest of their lives.
Mindfulness: Embark on a journey to develop a practice of mindfulness, resilience, motivation, compassion and leadership. These short activities provide practical tools that can affect positive change in all our lives immediately and will serve us for a lifetime.
Cultural Shifts & Policy Shifts: Storytelling and art are powerful means of shaping our culture and belief systems. A guest speaker from the film industry discusses their process as we embark on telling our own stories. We also learn tools for effective advocacy to make our voices heard! You’ll have the opportunity to further develop your capstone project and start thinking about the creative form you wish to use for it.
Wilderness First Responder: Part of connecting to the natural world is knowing how to keep yourself and others safe while experiencing it. Together we’ll participate in a course to earn Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification. The eight-day WFR course taps into anatomy and physiology, as well as the fundamentals of saving someone’s life. Upon successful completion, participants receive WFR and CPR Certifications. The WFR (colloquially known as “Woofer”) is a national benchmark certification for wilderness medicine, a prerequisite for many outdoor industry jobs, and an excellent vehicle of medical knowledge for anyone looking to spend time in the wilderness. (Participants who already are WFRs should contact us about alternative options.) During this module, we’ll also practice cooking on open fires, making backcountry shelters, and mastering the wilderness principles of “Leave No Trace.”
No previous medical or outdoor experience is necessary! Our instructors take an all-inclusive approach to teach everything you need to know
Self-Sufficiency & Living Off the Land: Travel to Pony, Montana, once a prosperous gold mining community. We’ll stay at the historic River Camp, sleeping in wickiups or an earthlodge with design principles from the northern Great Plains Indians. We’ll immerse ourselves in the natural world, learning how to meet survival needs with little more than our bare hands. Using salvaged resources, we’ll also explore ways to achieve energy independence.
Modern Homesteading: Learn about modern homesteading techniques at the VISIONS farm. Participants have the opportunity to learn some basic construction skills and delve into the world of self-sufficient living.