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Alumnus receives young professional award for role at state park

UMW News Bureau

Jarret Kostrba

For Jarret Kostrba, the manager of Pictograph State Park in Billings, Mont., his management role means much more than the day-to-day duties at the unique park.

“People haven’t painted the long-term picture of this site,” Kostrba explains. “This is the birthplace of Montana archaeology.”

In October 2012, the Montana Recreation and Park Association recognized Kostrba’s leadership by honoring him with the Young Professional of the Year award.

Kostrba, a Bozeman native, graduated from the University of Montana Western in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental interpretation. He came to Montana Western in 2005 as a non-traditional student at the age of 25. Kostrba had a keen interest in Montana’s natural and cultural heritage and worked as a groundskeeper at Missouri Headwaters State Park and the Madison Buffalo State Park. Knowing he needed a bachelor’s degree to pursue a career, he enrolled at UMW.

“There are different ways of learning, trying to reach those kids in different ways, and that came right out of the environmental interpretation classes I had at Montana Western,” Kostrba explains.

While studying, Kostrba gained firsthand experience in his field working as a historical preservation intern at Bannack State Park. As a non-traditional student, Kostrba also says his education was enhanced by Montana Western’s Experience One block scheduling program. Under this program — the first and only of its kind for four-year universities in the nation — students focus on one class at a time.

“I really appreciated all the guidance I had there,” Kostrba says of his experience at UMW. “The block appealed to me because I had been out of school for awhile. Professors Sheila Roberts, Richard Clark and Rob Thomas were all great peers. As I was going through the process it really helped to have other ideas about where I could apply my degree.”

Kostrba’s college efforts soon paid off; he accepted a park naturalist position at Pictograph Cave State Park in September 2010 and quickly worked his way up to manager.

The Pictograph Cave site became a National Historic Landmark in 1964. The site includes artifacts and over 100 pictographs (rock paintings) left by hunters over 2,000 years ago. The park includes an interpretive trail, a visitor center, gift shop and a picnic area.

As manager, Kostrba has worked diligently to archive the site’s resources and to interpret the site and resources to the public. This past season, he led an effort to begin cataloging the existing resources to create a searchable database. Kostrba also spearheaded a partnership with Montana State University and the Museum of the Rockies to acquire unique and valuable artifacts on loan for the park to display during the summer tourism months.

“Those are the sort of things people see and they get it and see the value of this place and better understand the history of the first people to live on the northern plains,” Kostrba says.

The park is also reaching out to local and regional schools to educate students and involve them in the development of trail tours and educational early technology activities. For Kostrba, this experiential, hands-on learning was a central theme of his own education at Montana Western.

“There are different ways of learning, trying to reach those kids in different ways, and that came right out of the environmental interpretation classes I had at Montana Western,” Kostrba explains. “Without the whole communication background at UMW, I don’t know if I would have been able to effectively talk about these subjects to the public. It allowed me to be able to compel people to care about and understand the history of this place.”

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