I just came back from the Canadian Parks Conference set in Canada’s first national park, Banff, Alberta. The days were filled with amazing presentations and I had the opportunity to meet so many incredible and passionate people. And yes, despite the cold temperatures, I made sure to get out and enjoy the beautiful Rocky Mountains. In fact, I climbed Tunnel Mountain on my first day!
The Conference started Wednesday evening with an opening presentation by Chief Dave Courchene followed by a celebration with Treaty 7 Indigenous dancers and drummers.
There was a common thread running through the conference about the importance of Indigenous leadership for conservation and protected areas, echoed by Indigenous leaders, conservationists, high profile Canadians and even by the federal Minister of Environment.
One of the most inspiring storytellers was by none other than six-time Olympic medalist in cycling and speed skating Clara Hughes, the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both summer and winter Olympic Games. As Canadians we all adore and admire her for her athletic abilities AND for what she’s championed for mental health, right to play, Indigenous Rights and conservation. She talked about the importance of nature for mental health and well-being and how where ever she is, she takes time each day to get out in nature.
There were presentations on the importance of protecting global biodiversity, especially the face of climate change, and that protected areas are the most effective conservation tool to protect biodiversity.
Dr. Mark Trembley, a researcher from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), presented his work quantifying the importance of unstructured outdoor play. He argued that when kids are outside they move more, sit less and play longer, which are all key antidotes for healthy active kids. So parents take your kids outside into nature! He stressed the importance of connecting with your kids by disconnecting from your electronic devices. It was a “sitting-optional” presentation and in fact, to keep the incentive he made a challenge to all of us that he would donate the number of people standing in dollars to the TransCanada Trail Charitable Organization. In the end, there were 137 people standing and he made a donation of $150.
I went to two different youth-led workshops, one focused on weaving the web of youth leadership opportunities in conservation in which we literally made a web of opportunities. The Nature Playbook was the focus of the other youth-led workshop where each table designed a nature-based activity. The Nature Playbook is also the inspiration for the Young Nature Leadership Grant, a grant established by Nature Canada’s Women for Nature, intended to inspire youth to design an activity to connect a new generation with nature.
The Parks Conference was amazing on so many levels, and through the presentations, reinforced the importance of getting out into nature, something we encourage everyday through our NatureHood program. No matter where you live in the country, you can find and experience nature, so get out and explore! To learn more about our NatureHood program and how to get outside, click here.