By SAMANTHA BOOTH, Chronicle Staff Writer | Published in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle July 11, 2010
The future of public transportation, along with city funding for it, sparked a heated discussion Saturday morning at a youth-led event at the Bozeman Public Library.
Five members of the Children’s Museum’s Bozeman Youth Intern Program presented the findings of their public transportation research project, which started in January. Their research covered the history of transportation in Bozeman, Montana’s “car culture,” alternatives to driving and Streamline Transportation’s funding issues.
They then asked for audience participation, taking polls of who uses different forms of transportation.
The tension arose during the discussion of funding for Streamline, which currently operates fare-free in the Bozeman area. In fiscal year 2009, the buses provided nearly 200,000 rides to and from Bozeman, Belgrade, Four Corners, Livingston and Bridger Bowl, according to its web site, streamlinebus.com.
Streamline recently asked the city of Bozeman for $150,000 per year. So far the city has not agreed to the request.
“What would you give up” from the city budget in order to fund Streamline, Bozeman Mayor Jeff Krauss asked the presenters and the audience.
“Nothing, we are living by the skin of our teeth,” one audience member answered.
Krauss then recalled his work as a student in the 1980s to bring a free bus system to Montana State University.
“The town has a lot of catching up to do with these kids, and with the students (from the 1980s), who recognize that you have to prioritize,” the mayor said.
The interns were pleased with the community response and the debate that their project sparked.
“It was an intense discussion, but it shows that we can really make a difference in the community,” said 13-year-old Laurel Ottey.
Ottey worked on the project with fellow Sacajawea Middle School students Mariclaire Bozarth, 13; Natalie Wilkinson, 13; Kaley Wenzel, 12; and Bozeman High School freshman Alisa Braun, 14.
Project organizer Emily Bauska said the students were prepared for debate.
“We knew some of the people who were planning on coming to this event, so I knew that there would be some strong opinions in the room,” said Bauska, the Children’s Museum community coordinator.
MSU assistant professor Paul Gannon moderated the event.
The Bozeman Youth Intern Program is funded by a grant from Hopa Mountain and the Corporation for National and Community Service. There are currently 24 members of the intern program, ranging in age from 11 to 18.
The transportation research was done in conjunction with the Nomkoo Project, an effort to increase awareness of the interconnectedness of local and global issues.
“This debate is really about building on the assets of the community, and for us the youth are our biggest asset,” said Children’s Museum executive director Susan Denson-Guy.
Nomkoo is short for “Nomkhubulwane,” a 1.3-ton elephant sculpted of recycled tires, which is scheduled to visit Bozeman from Aug. 4 to Sept. 15 as an “ambassador for sustainability.” The journey of this and other elephants sculpted of various materials is being followed on the blogs around the world and documented by National Geographic.
In Bozeman, the young interns hope to take what they have gathered from their research and interviews and create a series of public service announcements by the end of the summer.
“Working on this has been really empowering,” Mariclaire said.
Samantha Booth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org