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On a sunny spring morning, students in Bozeman High School’s wildlife ecology class yanked invasive weeds from along Mandeville Creek as it burbled and wound its way through campus.

For decades the creek ran in a straight line along North 11th Avenue, ugly and uninviting.

Today, after two years of work by students and community volunteers, it has been transformed into a natural, meandering creek, lined by aspens and native rose bushes, a fitting home for trout and mallard ducklings, a place where students like to hang out.

“I love it,” said wildlife biology teacher Robin Hompesch, who spearheaded the Mandeville Creek project. “It’s such a great place to come…. It’s just a great outdoor laboratory, where before it was just a ditch.”

This school year’s big news, Hompesch said, is that the project has won its largest grant ever, $146,000 from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

That money will pay for finishing the meander project next summer all the way to Durston Road.

“It’s huge, it’s amazing,” Hompesch said. It’s $146,000, she added, “with three zeroes!”

Matching funds are required, she said, and they still need to raise about $60,000.

This summer, the organizers need about $30,000 to replace a bridge, put in more landscaping and build an outdoor classroom. Plans call for two tiers of natural seating, facing the creek like an amphitheater.

“I think it would be nice,” junior Maia Burket said. “Inside, we’re kind of sulky, we’re not very in touch with nature. And we’d get more vitamin D.”

Josh Thompson, 17, said he wouldn’t mind having 20 outdoor classrooms.

“It’s what Montana kids need,” said Eden Sullivan, 17. “That’s what Montana’s about. It feels like we’re trapped (inside). It makes learning more exciting.”

“It shows our community we care about our environment,” Maddy Vilhauer, 17, said of the creek project. “It wasn’t visually appealing (before). Now it looks like a natural creek that hasn’t been touched. It makes me feel more proud of my school.”

Progress made so far wouldn’t have been possible without parents, students, alumni, clubs and community volunteers, said Abigail Breuer, a parent volunteer. More than $200,000 worth of labor and in-kind donations have already come from more than 40 local organizations and businesses, she said. The project has also received a total of $45,000 in grants from the Kendeda Fund, Cross Charitable Foundation and Gilhousen Family Foundation.

This summer the Bozeman High Class of 1966 will hold an auction at its 50th reunion and donate the proceeds to the creek project, Breuer said. Classes that raise at least $2,500 can have their class name recognized on the project. People can also put the name of a student, favorite teacher, alumni or community member added for $100.

It would take $150 to donate a tree or a boulder, $250 for one foot of restored creek or $500 for a riffle. A landscaped seating area would take $5,000 and a bridge entryway $15,000.

“This is a model for creeks throughout our town,” Breuer said. “This one is accessible, highly visible and has a chance to educate students in our community.”

Native plants and wetland sod salvaged from a subdivision have been planted along the creek. It has been enhanced with natural curves, creek bed gravel and large rocks, which help produce “the wonderful sound of flowing water,” Breuer said. Areas that used to be unattractive or even “scary” to students are now “lovely,” she said.

Soon the city of Bozeman will plant five Amur maple trees and install a storm water separator to catch the trash and “icky stuff” that gets swept down the creek during spring runoff, she said.

People interested in donating or volunteering this summer can do so through the project website, www.bhscreek.org, or email bhscreek@gmail.com.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or gails@dailychronicle.com.

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