3 Totally Wild Citizen Science Projects

By Brad Rassler

June 9, 2015


Aurora arc on Glacier National Park's Lake McDonald I Photo by Jacob W. Frank/Courtesy of the National Park Service

Morph a wilderness outing into a satisfying citizen science project by allowing these three organizations to recruit your smarts and brawn to further the efforts of researchers the world over. Call it service learning, edutainment, or just plain fun. (Not up for a far-flung adventure? Many projects allow you to conduct research in the comfort of your own patio or home office. Visit scistarter.com to find the perfect cit-sci program, or visit iNaturalist.org and start logging your observations in the great outdoors.)


Glacier National Park

Combine a backpacking trip in Glacier National Park with hardcore field science by surveying pikas, bighorn sheep, common loons, and mountain goats. After a training course by the Park’s Citizen Scientist Coordinator, newly minted “citizentists” will be set loose with binoculars, spotting scopes, and GPS units to record data such as quantity, gender, location, and behavior of the various species. After returning from your ramble, drop off your data sets and borrowed gear at the Park's Research Learning Center, and drive away with the satisfaction that your hard work has given these critters a helping hand. Training days are scheduled from mid-June through early July.

Don’t have the time or desire to venture too deep into Glacier’s chiseled terrain? You can still help its scientists map invasive plants on the Park’s alpine boundaries. Take an online training course before traveling to Glacier, or simply show up at the Annual Weed Blitz on Tuesday, July 21. For more information, visit the website or email the coordinator at this address: glac_citizen_science@nps.gov


Mount Rainier National Park

Wade through Mt. Rainier National Park’s lakes, ponds, and wetlands to count its toads and frogs on either afternoon forays or small group backcountry outings lasting several days. You’ll need to be able to cope with weather that can go from hot and dry to wet and cold in a heartbeat, and have the requisite camping and backpacking gear. After a required training session reviewing methodology and equipment use, you’ll be assigned a body of water to investigate. The bonus? You’ll be working under the 14,409-foot glaciated peak the Yakama people called Tahoma. Surveys begin in early to mid-July and last through early September. For more information, visit the website or contact Volunteer Program Manager Kevin Bacher at kevin_bacher@nps.gov or 360.569.6567



Match your outdoor athletic skills to cit-sci study areas ranging from the Back of Beyond to the Back Forty. Either way, you’ll be outdoors roving the globe in search of data.

“We find groups that need scientific data that can accelerate their conservation efforts and then we deploy adventure athletes to collect the data so they can [help scientists] better fight the fights that they’re fighting,” Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation’s founder, Gregg Treinish told Sierra by phone.

Treinish, a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, recruited big mountain freerider Jeremy Jones to dig snowpits at 20,000 feet for ASC’s Snow and Ice Project, but he’s quick to point out plenty of smaller-scale projects that don’t involve extreme sports, like identifying road kill while bike-riding or cataloging microplastic particles from pretty much anywhere on land and sea.


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