Fireside Chats Ignite Curiosity and Community

Relaxed conversations about ecology, history, and conservation connect land and people

Who knew a little electric fireplace could ignite a community of lifelong learners? 

In 2019, Prickly Pear Land Trust launched an environmental education program in response to community demand for outdoor learning experiences. The program focused on high school students, but it quickly became evident that the appetite for learning extended far beyond the classroom.

The Fireside Chat initiative emerged from this realization. Education Coordinator Audra Shropshire dreamed of using adult education to creatively connect land and people. Her vision was simple: gather experts and community members for relaxed discussions on topics like geology, ecology, and local history. “There’s a thirst for learning in this community,” Audra says. 

She started recruiting speakers for a monthly talk and bought an electric fireplace to foster a cozy atmosphere. Last November, hydrologist Mike Roberts spoke to about 20 attendees at the first Fireside Chat. Since then, our Fireside Chats have thrived. In February, more than 60 people showed up to learn about the historic Mann Gulch Fire retired forester David Turner and conservation educator Liz Burke. And in March, over 100 folks showed up to learn about new parks and trails in East Helena from board member Betsy Burns. 

Environmental consultant Taylor Spiegelberg presented on the geology and history of our favorite landmarks. “I was excited to see how many people in the community were interested in geology and science as a whole,” Taylor says. “It feels like our community is full of people who enjoy learning more about their natural environment and how they interact with it.” 

Program and Trails Director Nate Kopp advocates for growing the Fireside Chat program because our mission extends beyond conservation to education and community empowerment. “We are aiming for six chats next year,” Nate says. To make this program accessible to everyone in our community, we’ll livestream future Fireside Chats and share recordings online. 

We invite you to join us in shaping the future of Fireside Chats. Do you have ideas or expertise to share when we gather around the fireside in the fall? Let us know! Together, we can empower our community with the knowledge and passion to protect our land and inspire future generations.