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Riding the Lewis & Clark Trail In Search of Roadkill

The Scott family on Lolo Pass, MT. Photo by Charles Scott.
The Scott family on Lolo Pass, MT. Photo by Charles Scott.

National Geographic Emerging Explorer Gregg Treinish founded Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, a nonprofit organization connecting outdoor adventurers with scientists in need of data from the field. He also organizes his own expeditions, contributing to research on wildlife-human interaction, fragmented habitats, and threatened species. In that spirit, his blog posts appear both here on Explorers Journal and in Beyond the Edge, the National Geographic Adventure blog.

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Charles Scott is a self-titled “family adventurer” based out of New York City and an adventure-science volunteer for my organization Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC). Ask Charles what it means to be a family adventurer and you’ll get a host of answers, but a common among all of them is taking his children along for the ride and giving back to important causes along the way.

Charles’ journey to become the “family adventure guy” started long before I met him, however. In 2009 he took a two month leave from his stable corporate job to take his 8 year old son to Japan where they would cycle the length of the island nation – 2,500 miles over 67 days. Along with the trip Charles and Sho raised money for a global tree planting campaign and were later named Climate Heroes by the United Nations. Since that first trip Charles has left his corporate life behind fully pursuing the life of the family adventurer traveling around the world with his kids giving them hands-on opportunities to give back.

My relationship with Charles started this past spring when he contacted ASC about his upcoming trip across the American West tracing the Lewis & Clark Trail with his kids. Though they drove the first section – from Saint Louis to North Dakota – the Scott family was planning an epic 1,700-mile bike ride across Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. During the course of the trip his son Sho (age 12) would be riding his own bike while daughter Saya (age 6) would ride behind him on a tandem trailer. Along the way the Scott family would be regularly collecting roadkill observations to help researchers understand the impacts of roads on wildlife populations and inform them on the best way to mitigate dangers to humans and wildlife alike.

Charles, Sho and Saya preparing for the journey in NYC. Photo by Joerg Kundinger.
Charles, Sho and Saya preparing for the journey in NYC. Photo by Joerg Kundinger.

More from Charles:

I spent this past summer cycling 1,700 miles of the Lewis & Clark Trail with my children, ages 12 and 6.  We worked with ASC  to collect data for their roadkill project, hoping to help reduce the impact of roads on wildlife.After we returned to our home in New York City, my 12-year-old son said, “Before this trip, I didn’t think much about roadkill.  I just assumed that, where you have roads, you’re gonna have dead animals.  But I learned that so many animals don’t have to die, if people care enough to give them safe ways to cross.” 

I learned that so many animals don’t have to die, if people care enough to give them safe ways to cross.

If people care enough.  That’s the phrase that sums up what I hope my children internalized from our summer adventure.  Although we live in a dense urban environment, my wife, kids and I regularly leave the city to hike in nearby forests on the weekends.  And we’ve taken several major summer bike excursions.  So far, we have cycled the length of Japan (2,500 miles in 67 days), the circumference of Iceland (1,500 miles in 46 days), across Western Europe (1,200 miles in 42 days) and the Lewis & Clark Trail (1,700 miles in 60 days).

On these trips, we spent most of our time outside, and we often slept in a tent.While riding through Iceland, my daughter, 4 years old at the time, declared, “I’m in love with horses and Arctic terns!”  I’ve found that the more time kids spend in nature, the more connected they feel to the world around them.  And I hope, as they grow, my children will translate this sense of connection into caring enough to try to protect the wilderness that remains.

Charles & Sho in Iceland. Photo by Charles Scott.
Charles & Sho in Iceland. Photo by Charles Scott.

As we re-traced the Lewis & Clark Trail this summer, whenever we saw a dead animal by the road, my kids yelled out “Roadkill!” and we stopped to document the animal.  We pulled the bikes off to the side and kept in the grass to stay safe.  I placed a 6” tube of sunblock beside the animal to provide scale, then took photos from two different angles.

The photos had geo location data automatically embedded.  ASC connected us to their roadkill project with Professor Fraser Shilling at the University of California at Davis took our data and uploaded it to an online map and database.In Missoula, Montana, my kids and I met with officials from the Department of Transportation to share our observations and learn what the department is doing to reduce roadkill.

Western Montana has an ambitious roadkill mitigation strategy and has constructed over 85 wildlife crossings.  U.S. Highway 93, for example, has seen a 40 percent reduction in wildlife vehicle collision as a result of these efforts (more here).  I was impressed by the Montana Department of Transportation’s efforts and think more states should emulate their approach.

But we will not soon forget our summer experience working with ASC and paying a little closer attention to the world around us. 

We’re back in New York City now, fully immersed in our regular routines of school and work.  But we will not soon forget our summer experience working with ASC and paying a little closer attention to the world around us.For more information visit the ASC homepage at www.adventureandscience.org and you can follow ASC on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Google+.

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