Since we are parked at my parent’s for a month while Vaughn helps them remodel their new house, I’ve been trying to find some educational/fun activities for the kids. To be honest, the area around Billings really doesn’t have much in the form of family oriented (let alone educational) destinations. We enjoyed the Western Heritage Center, but we hadn’t done much beyond that in the three weeks that we’ve been here. Enter Chief Plenty Coups State Park!
Wednesday I called the park and asked about doing a tour. The visitor’s center is not open all the time in the off season (after Sept. 30), but I had heard that they give educational tours if you make an appointment; I called and asked if they would consider doing one for our little homeschool group (8 of my kiddos and a cousin). They were super nice over the phone, and were even game for us to visit the next day!
So, Thursday we drove about 20 miles to…
He ushered us inside, where he gave us a quick overview of what to expect of our visit, then gave us about 20 minutes to explore the very kid-friendly museum…
The museum is a terrific balance of informational displays for the older set, and hands-on activities for the smaller bunch (and a few olders when they thought I wasn’t looking 😉 ).
The whole museum is very well done; I was impressed!
There were all sorts of interesting activities – from interactive maps,
The museum was surprisingly child friendly but also interesting to us older folk!
It was bright, clean, and concise!
And while we appreciated the museum display experience, the real treat was to come!
Now, we’ve been to 89 National Parks, quite a few museums, zoos, and aquariums, and all sorts of kid-friendly locations; we’ve met a ton of rangers and been through dozens of ranger-led programs, all over the country. And I think that the Chief Plenty Coups State Park has a gem when it comes to customer service and experience!!! Ranger Aaron gave the kids a 45 minute lesson on the bison; how it was Walmart for the Indians, including an extensive explanation on skinning the bison and treating the hide.
Here the are stretching the hide just as the Indian squaws would have to help soften it…
Ranger Aaron told the kids about how the Indians started fires before the white man began to come west…
and then had them try the flint and steel that the Indians used after the white man began to trade with them…
My home/road-schooled littles loved the ‘raise your hand’ aspects of being group taught! LOL! Molly would raise her hand at nearly every question, and when she was called on would just say, “ummm”. Even Caleb was raising his hand.
After our fun little lesson, we headed outside to visit Chief Plenty Coups’ house…
Ranger Aaron gave us a tour of the inside of the house, and told us all sorts of interesting information about the house and it’s occupants (including visitors). The house is around 100 years old, and we learned that, while the government made the Crow people build white man houses, the Indians often put up teepees near the houses and still lived in them. When the government surveyor would come to make sure the Indians were living in their houses, they would stay in them while he was checking, but then they would go right back out to their teepees in the back yard the minute he had left! LOL!
We also got to check out the spring near the house that is considered a special spiritual place by the Crow, and Ranger Aaron pointed out the items hanging in the nearby trees and explained how some Indians still come there to offer prayers, and leave something of themselves by way of all the varied notions hanging.
After our tour of Chief Plenty Coups home, we went back to the museum where I picked up a book in the bookstore – the book is about the last chief, who just turned 100 a few days ago – he earned his status as a chief by the heroic deeds that he performed in WWII!!! I can’t wait to read it – and the boys will love that!
The kids also received a bag with fun items to encourage outdoor exploring like a fun magnifying bug box and a small flashlight. Their favorite tho, is a whistle that has a compass and thermometers on them.
The whistles work.really.good. 😛
When we left the visitor’s center, we drove down to the groomed picnic area (within walking distance) where there is a nice playground….
They had a great time, through the whole park. Several remarked how it was much more fun than they thought it would be. LOL!
A National Historic Landmark, the Chief Plenty Coups State Park covers 195 acres, and includes a stretch of Pryor Creek. While you cannot fish on an Indian Reservation, the park is considered it’s own entity, and you can fish in it as long as you hold a MT state fishing license.
Located just 40 minutes south of Billings, the park is staffed from 8 am to 8 pm May 1 through Sept. 30, and from 8 to 5 the rest of the year. During the off season, the visitor’s center is not always open, but the rangers are on-site and will gladly open the museum for you if you give them notice of your visit.
Entrance is fee free if you have Montana license plates (including those of you RVers that have LLCs here), and only $5 per vehicle for non-residents.
We would never take our 40+’ 5er through the parking lot in the busy season, but for smaller RVs it’d be fine (no overnight camping). The picnic area is a super place to run off some energy and have lunch, and since it’s pretty out of the way, I don’t know that it ever gets very crowded (a plus in our book!).
So, given our great visit, and the kids’ overwhelming approval, the Tribe gives it a thumb’s up for kid friendliness and educational value (without tears)!
Chief Plenty Coups State Park is a great place to spend an afternoon/day, and is a must stop if you like to learn about local history in your travels!