By Cathy McAllister
About a month ago, an e-mail popped up in my inbox. “Congratulations!” it read… “You have won a trip…”
My immediate reaction, of course, was “SPAM.” As my finger headed over to the trash button, I happened to notice the words “Algonquin Park” in the following text. I thought, “That’s funny, you don’t usually associate spam with Algonquin.” Reading further, I noticed the trip was a guided “Photography Adventure” tour at the Wildlife Research Station in Algonquin Park. SPAM or not, I had to look further.
Apparently, a donation I had previously made to the station had automatically entered me into a contest co-sponsored through WorkCabin.ca.
What a happy accident!
As my husband is an avid photographer, and I am an avid “doer of things that involve canoes, hiking, wildlife, and the natural world in general,” clearly this was going to happen.
So, we arranged babysitting, waterproofed our hiking shoes, and headed up this past weekend to the Wildlife Research Station nestled in the spectacular fall colours of late September in Algonquin Park.
Let me tell you a little about the WRS from their website:
“The WRS is situated on Lake Sasajewun in Algonquin Provincial Park and operates as a not-for-profit organization.” It is “A leader in wildlife research through experiential learning.”
“The goals of WRS are:
To Educate: scientists, the public and policy makers;
To Conserve: biodiversity, ecological integrity, and a culture of field-based research; and
To Inspire: environmental stewardship, a community of collaboration, and a connection with nature.”
During the weekend, we hiked through pristine wilderness, canoed through glassy lakes, searched for elusive moose, took more than a few pictures (yes, even me, and no, not with my cell phone), met some really interesting people who are genuinely passionate about the work they do, and temporarily cured ourselves of Nature Deficit Disorder (See Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv). The research station is not generally open to the public and we felt immensely lucky to be granted this privilege.
As I am a wannabe naturalist (see my other blog – Featured Species), I wasn’t as focused on taking photos as I was on trying to retain all the details of the flora and fauna being pointed out by our incredibly knowledgeable guide. Did you know that wood sorrel (which, if you’re like me, you would probably mistake for clover) tastes like Granny Smith apples?
We had so many great conversations, but we spoke at length about the importance of environmental education that occurs away from a desk or lecture hall. If you’re at all familiar with me or my blog, you’ll know I’m a huge advocate of experiential environmental education for students of all ages. You’ll know that I don’t believe that a trip to a landfill (for three consecutive years) qualifies as environmental education for a JK/SK/Gr1 student (but I digress).
With degrees in Biology, Environmental Studies, and Planning, one might assume that I had my fair share of field courses and time in nature. Yet, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of course field trips I took in my 12 years of university education (and that is probably generous). Most of those lasted less than half a day. I actually took a course in plant identification, which never left the building. Yes, my Masters and PhD involved field work, but those were self-directed.
In this one short weekend, while spending time with an experienced guide, I know I learned more than I learned in whole courses. THERE ARE SOME THINGS THAT MUST BE LEARNED IN THE FIELD. Are you hearing me, school administrators, funding sources, teachers and professors?
If you feel that researchers need wild places that are untouched by tourists in order to gain accurate information about the health and long term sustainability of the natural life of this beautiful country….
If you feel that students need places to visit to be fully immersed and connected with the natural world, and inspired to pursue a career in conservation….
Perhaps you will consider making a donation to the not-for-profit Alqonquin Wildlife Research Station. http://www.algonquinwrs.ca/Donations.html
(You’re probably not going to win a trip, but is that really the point anyway?)
Thanks again to our hosts at WRS and station manager Tim Winegard, and WorkCabin.ca and founder Gregg McLachlan, for this incredible opportunity. I hope we have the chance to cross paths again!
Photos by Cathy McAllister, processed by Paul Habsch
Read more from Cathy’s blog at https://unlockingthegate.wordpress.com/