History Major Steps Back In Time At Wilderness Internship

Carolyn Collier has spent her summer in remote Montana.

Her typical day includes sharpening hand tools dating back to the 1820s, hiking 10 to 18 miles a day with a 40-pound backpack, and cutting up logs with a hand saw. She’s seen snow in July, she has minimal cell phone service, she often cooks over an open flame, and the nearest interstate is about 100 miles away.

Most wouldn’t call it paradise.

“It’s my little slice of heaven,” said Collier, a senior history major who is interning this summer at the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation.

Bob Marshall Wilderness is the largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states. It encompasses 1.5 million acres in western Montana. No motorized or mechanical equipment is allowed in the wilderness — not even bicycles.

“It’s the closest place to being back to how things used to be,” she said.

The Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring and preserving the trail system. The Foundation works with the U.S. Forest Service to identify trail system improvements, and they rely on volunteers to help maintain the forest.

Collier splits her time between the Foundation office and the wilderness. In the office, she coordinates crews who lead volunteers into the wilderness, plots out itineraries, and sharpens hand tools.

In the wilderness, Collier leads groups of six to nine volunteers on a seven-day trip. They saw down logs and cut away brush blocking trails; they remove noxious weeds and they help install bridges. The work is physically demanding especially since chainsaws and other power tools are prohibited.

With no prior forest experience, Collier said the learning curve was overwhelming. She attended saw school, spent hours in safety classes, and familiarized herself with every corner of the 60-mile forest.

“It was very overwhelming at first,” she said. “But I’m finally in my comfort zone and it’s an enlightening experience.”

Collier learned of the internship through a student conservation organization. She initially hoped to intern in Colorado knowing she wanted to be surrounded by mountains. She applied for a position at the Foundation as a backup plan.

“But the more I learned about it, the more it sounded better and better,” she said. “It’s such a good fit for me. It’s right where I need to be.”

She has already agreed to work there again next summer following her college graduation. She also admits she is considering a possible career with the Forest Service or non-profit agency that works with the wilderness, although her career ambition is to be a history professor.

“Right now it’s hard to imagine doing anything else,” she said.

It’s also hard for her to imagine returning to Lincoln in mid-August.

“It felt weird being in Missoula (population 64,000) a few weeks ago,” she said. “When you’re not used to seeing a lot of people, that city seemed huge.”

“I’ve been to every corner of the wilderness and it’s been fun to live simply,” she continued. “It’s so hard to imagine leaving.”

Name of the internship organization?

The story is great but it doesn't specifically name the group she worked with to set up her experience. I assume she was placed through The Student Conservation Association (SCA). If so, their web address is thesca.org.

I did a similar internship with SCA in Alaska many years ago and it was as rewarding as Carolyn's. I highly recommend it to all students. Our team had all levels of backcountry experience so don't let your limited time in the woods deter you!


Carolyn is one of the most broadminded people I have ever met. The most interesting to discuss whatever with and has extreme "Bear Grills" mentality when it comes to the outdoors. I have no doubt in my mind that the experience and knowledge she will bring to lincoln will be something I want to learn as well. Many more should have this same experience to gain an appreciation for the real world and what we take for granted. I, just getting back from a study abroad from a third world country, have also seen how things are when there isnt a Wal-Mart or McDonalds on every corner, Peaceful! Thanks CAROLYN , for being a prime example that i hope many will follow!

Post new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
Carolyn Collier calls her internship with the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation a "slice of heaven."
The Bob Marshall Wilderness covers 1.5 million acres of natural beauty.
Carolyn works with volunteers to cut and clear logs from the forest. They use primitive saws since chain saws aren't allowed.