Alberta Parks celebrate volunteerism
Each year, more than 2,500 Albertans volunteer more than 100,000 hours to assist with provincial parks' programs. Volunteers are involved in customer service and conservation efforts including greeting park visitors and assisting in educational programming, maintenance, administration and scientific research. If you would like to volunteer in provincial parks, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Alberta Parks system covers 27,678 square kilometres. These parks preserve important ecological areas and provide places where people can enjoy and learn about Alberta's natural heritage. For more information, visit www.albertaparks.ca.
Alberta Parks is grateful to everyone who volunteers in our provincial parks. Here's just a few we'd like to say thank-you to.
Victor and Frances Grimbly
Carson-Pegasus Provincial Park, 25 minutes north of Whitecourt, is known for its spectacular birding, power boating and wildlife viewing in the summer months. The other major draw to the area is its warm hospitality. Victor and Frances Grimbly, campground hosts at Carson-Pegasus since 2003, ensure every visitor has an amazing time. Like so many volunteers, their passion for the park is obvious in their daily contact with staff and visitors.
Vic and Frances first became interested in becoming campground hosts over ten years ago. Retired, they were eager to fill their days at the lake, fishing and socializing. Vic spends hours along the boardwalk, talking with visitors, answering questions and teaching people how to fish. Several times each summer, Vic sets up a Fishing with Vic booth. He brings his own fishing gear to teach visitors what types of rigs work best at Carson-Pegasus. While they wear identifying badges, it's not necessary as many will comment, "Where's Vic?" if they haven't seen him that day. Often Vic will be at the seawall for six to eight hours a day on weekends, helping everyone get the most out of their fishing experience. When not on the boardwalk, Vic's probably helping Frances hand out maps. Frances also posts information on the welcome board, to let visitors know about bear safety, fishing tips and other environmental information.
The most rewarding part of volunteering with Alberta Parks for Frances is the people. "We always have a good time at the lake," Frances says. "It's fun when you meet someone and they come back next season to say hi." Vic, with his wide-smile and boisterous laugh agrees. "We're in the wilderness but you never feel alone. We work as a team with the Parks staff. We want this to be known as a people park."
Victor and Frances encourage everyone to get involved in Alberta's provincial parks. "It's great if you like people," Vic says. "Be prepared to answer questions. You don't always need to know the answer. If we don't know something, we'll check with Parks staff and find you around the campground to let you know the answer. It's a great way to learn about the area," says Frances. The eternal optimists, neither Frances nor Vic could think of a challenge they face as campground hosts... other than the occasional summer storm. Victor's favorite memory over the past 10 years was when an older visitor fell and' Victor pulled him out of the lake. Filling with pride, Victor was happy to be there to help. Frances loves being a part of the community. "At home, you go to the grocery store and no one notices you. Here, everywhere you go, people are waving and saying hi. It's like we're a big family," said Frances.
Parks staff find Victor and Frances Grimbly to be invaluable. "Vic and Frances are the mold of what a campground host should be like... approachable, hard working and passionate," says Don Spencer, a Conversation Officer with Alberta Parks. "A couple of years ago, we built a new brochure rack for the host site. Their eyes lit up when they saw it. They immediately took ownership of it and were very diligent in keeping it neat and well stocked. They take amazing pride in their roles as campground hosts. They truly make my job easier...and it is a pleasure to work with and know these folks."
For their incredible dedication to our provincial parks, Victor and Frances Grimbly were honoured with the 2012 Campground Host Hospitality Award at the Alberta Parks Volunteer Conference.
The Wildlife Ambassador Volunteer Program is a collaborative effort between Bow Valley WildSmart, The Friends of Kananaskis Country and the Government of Alberta, through Alberta Parks. Throughout the Bow Valley corridor trails and campgrounds, Wildlife Ambassadors promote trail etiquette and help to increase environmental education and wildlife safety.
Mike Walters first began volunteering with the Wildlife Ambassador Program six years ago. He first became aware of the program from an ad in the local paper. Mike has been actively involved since the program first started. "When we started the Wildlife Ambassador Program, Mike was probably one of the most enthusiastic and keen volunteers we had," says Daniella Rubeling, the Interpretive Supervisor in Kananaskis Country. "It seemed like he was out on the trails every other weekend, helping people to be wildlife aware, helping organize volunteer kits and with our end-of-season wrap-up."
Mike takes an active role, speaking with trail users and encouraging them to be safe while sharing the space with wildlife. "You get to meet people from all over the world," says Mike. "It's a great way to spend the summer... out on the trail and helping take away people's fears by providing educational information." An active outdoorsman, Mike feels like being part of the Wildlife Ambassador Program is a way of giving back to the area he loves so much. "We teach visitors not to be afraid of the animals. We need to keep the animals safe," says Mike. "Through education, we can all enjoy Bow Valley."
Mike's favorite thing about volunteering with Alberta Parks is experiencing the excitement of visitors. "Children are always a captive audience. I remember one little girl was so adorable making her cougar scare face," laughs Mike, a smile spreads across his face as he imitates the childish growl. "It's great to speak with large crowds about how to avoid issues with the local wildlife. And we make it fun."
Mike is lucky enough to live in the Canadian Rockies. There is a provincial park within an hour's drive of every community in Alberta - for Mike that drive is only ten minutes. As Kananaskis increases in popularity, it attracts visitors from around the world. "The biggest challenge can be speaking to a large group who do not speak English as their first language," says Mike. "But we can always find a way to communicate the message of how to stay bear aware or cougar safe."
Don Carruthers Den Hoed with Alberta Parks says Mike was the right fit for the position. "Mike breaks the mold on what it means to be a Parks person," says Don. "The first time we met, he was covered in grease because he came to our meeting straight from his job as a mechanic. He's a tremendous asset to the group. Mike's the guy who's always willing to help. No matter what we're asking, he's the first person to offer to help... and then offer to do more!"
While Mike educates those he meets on the trail, volunteering has provided an opportunity for Mike to become more educated. "I used to be the guy on the trail who walked alone in silence," says Mike. "I've learned a lot about wildlife safety and I enjoy sharing this knowledge."
Mike recommends getting involved with Alberta Parks if you're a nature lover. "It's a rewarding experience. I've met so many people who visit the park," says Mike. "The Wildlife Ambassador Program is filled with people from all walks of life... teachers, conservation officers, doctors. I've made a lot of friends through the program."
While volunteering has brought new people into Mike's life, it's also provided an opportunity to spend time with his family and to grow his connection with nature. "Mike and his daughter make a point of seeing every interpretive program at least once in the summer and connecting with our interpretive staff," says Daniella Rubeling. "When his daughter was old enough, they signed up as volunteers together and I've always thought it was such an amazing thing to see this father-daughter team out there on the trails. He has continued to volunteer every summer since and has provided invaluable feedback into the evolution and the momentum of the Wildlife Ambassador Program in the Kananaskis Region."
This summer, you'll find Mike and his fellow Wildlife Ambassadors on the trails in Bow Valley Provincial Park.
Quite often, individuals looking for volunteer opportunities will check out their own backyards. A convenient location is a main factor when volunteering in a provincial park. For some, the park "calls" to a volunteer... bringing them from a greater distance to get involved. For Chris Ha, volunteering in the mountains is the perfect excuse to make the drive from his home in Sherwood Park.
In 2008, Chris received a call from Don Carruthers Den Hoed from Alberta Parks. Chris was working at the Steward Centre with people with disabilities at the time and his reputation for adaptive physical activity was already well-known. "Alberta Parks was improving programs focused around accessibility and language," says Chris. "And I was open to anything that would get me to the mountains!"
Chris became involved with the Push to Open Nature initiative, the Nature as a Second Language program and other parks events. "Chris is Alberta Parks," says Don Carruthers Den Hoed. "He gets people to experience nature in a way that can be life changing. Many of our volunteers are people that were encouraged by Chris to get involved."
The Push to Open Nature initiative promotes encouraging people with disabilities into provincial parks and the Nature as a Second Language program promotes encouraging new Albertans to visit provincial parks. Both programs focus on removing barriers and increasing accessibility in nature. "Chris' professional background working as an Adaptive Fitness Specialist compliments these programs perfectly," says Don. Chris coordinates much of the logistics for the Push to Open Nature Challenges and is the team lead for the front-country hikes. Chris is trained to assist with transfers and lifts that may be required for some participants. He provides educational information for the Nature as a Second Language program, helping newcomers to Alberta learn about various policies in provincial parks, including fishing regulations. He is also able to provide assistance with translation, as Chris speaks seven languages fluently: English, French, Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Taiwanese. More importantly, filled with positivity, Chris is there to be a friend. Nature can be a little intimidating for someone who hasn't spent a lot of time outdoors. Chris is able to help motivate participants to overcome fears. And he does this with a big smile and an infectious laugh. "There are degrees of nature," says Chris. "The front-country is very different from the back-country. Regardless of your background, there's something for everyone."
During one of the Push to Open Nature Challenges, a group of visitors and participants were hiking the back-country and Chris volunteered to bring them dinner. Chris brought Don's father along for the hike. Chris and Don's father, who emigrated from Holland after World War II, made an unlikely pair but soon grew a strong friendship over the course of the hike. "That's what Push to Open is about and that's who Chris is," says Don. "Nature brings an opportunity to connect with strangers in a meaningful way." Years later, Don's father and Chris are still friends.
Chris admits that volunteering does have its drawbacks. "It is expensive to drive from Sherwood Park to the Rockies," says Chris. "But I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing. I choose happiness instead of money." Chris encourages everyone to get involved in Alberta's provincial parks. "You should always do stuff you're interested in. If you love the mountains - then volunteer in the mountains. If you enjoy talking with people, volunteer for a special event or on a trailhead."
More than his love of nature, Chris highlights the amazing people he has met through volunteering. "The most satisfying part is meeting new people. The participants, the Alberta Parks' staff and the other volunteers are great. It's a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and grow my professional network."