Capstone Team H: Engaging Youth Through Parks

The Winter 2021 Cohort of the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program presented a unique challenge to all participants: connecting entirely in an online space during the peak of a global pandemic. This program typically presents plenty of challenges even when operating as usual: connecting with other park leaders from different parks organizations, all at different points in their careers, and with different worldviews and experiences. This year, none of our cohort ever got to meet each other in person!

How does a Capstone Team of four different people from four different parks organizations unite and find common interests? Fortunately for the Winter 2021 Capstone Team H, we were able to overcome the distance, time zones, and occasional technological issues to focus on one topic that we all care about: youth engagement in our parks and protected spaces.

In March of 2021 during our two-week eResidency, our group was thrown together and had to decide, through nothing but a series of creative team building activities and conversations, what we thought our Capstone Project might focus on. Our Capstone Team has representation from four different agencies: Parks Canada, Sépaq (Québec), Ontario Parks, and Alberta Parks. We spoke a lot about themes that were important to all of us: reciprocity (giving to and receiving value from parks); connecting (and reconnecting) people with parks and protected spaces; youth; and the inspiration we took from some of the amazing guest speakers we saw during the eResidency.

One common theme we were all able to identify from our individual journeys in Parks is that of youth involvement (or lack thereof) in parks and protected spaces. We all agreed that young people – whether they work for our organizations, recreate in our spaces, or just care about nature and the environment – are critical to informing the future direction of our organizations. We know that Canadian youth have valuable opinions about issues related to our parks and protected spaces, such as inclusion, diversity, accessibility, resource management, and visitation. We also know that youth have a desire to be involved in our organizations and spaces, but sometimes encounter barriers that deter them from engaging to the fullest.

From these conversations we developed our Capstone Team idea: a Youth Council for Parks. We developed a “poster” that summarized our vision and what we hoped a Youth Council could achieve.

While the idea of a pan-Canadian Youth Council for Parks’ agencies was appealing, we realized very quickly that the scope of this idea was far too broad for us to tackle over a few months. Our team engaged in several thought-provoking discussions which led us to narrow our focus to a project that kept the core values and purpose of our initial idea but was much more manageable for our timeframe. We developed the following goal statement: Things would be better if parks agencies had a tool to keep youth more engaged with Parks’ goals and values, allowing current, former, and future/prospective youth workers to connect with one another and with mentors or other park agencies, share thoughts and ideas, and participate in meaningful projects and dialogue.

Our Capstone Team had a number of personal observations and theories as to why youth may or may not engage fully with parks’ agencies, as well as many ideas about how to connect and engage youth further, but we wanted to hear these thoughts directly from young people. We finally settled on developing a survey which could be administered to youth to assess youth values, concerns, and ideas surrounding parks and protected areas. With a limited timeline to prepare, launch, and evaluate survey results, our team created a short survey of 11 questions and distributed the survey within our networks. The survey was conducted from July 16 – July 26 and was intended to provide baseline results showing general trends.

When the survey period closed and we got a chance to look at the results, we were blown away by the quality and depth of responses. Respondents generally validated a lot of the initial observations and ideas that our Capstone Team had proposed, but also revealed deeper understanding of park issues and a greater passion for parks than we might have expected.

Despite respondents having self-identified as avid users of parks both personally and professionally, several barriers to their continued or increased enjoyment of parks and protected areas were identified. These included distance and accessibility, cost, time, overcrowding, and mistreatment by visitors. Many respondents are seeking improved job opportunities, career continuity, and improved accessibility to parks and protected area systems. Most respondents also clearly indicated an interest in having more opportunities to engage with other youth in parks and connect about jobs, training, and diverse work experiences.

Though the initial results are limited and not statistically representative, Capstone Team H believes that a survey of this nature could and should be developed further and would be an excellent tool for the CPC, CPCIL, or other parks’ agencies to employ. The data that can be gathered from our youth workers and Canadian youth in general will be invaluable to the future direction of parks’ agencies and ensuring that parks remain an accessible place for all. The youth we surveyed demonstrated thoughtfulness in their responses and proved that the next generation of park leaders are already out there. The survey and resulting data can be utilized to support the development of a community of practice for youth to engage in park leadership, by offering an open safe space for dialogue, collaboration, and to encourage youth continuity and growth.

Meet the CPCIL Knowledge Gatherers – Karly Upshall

Karly Upshall hiking in the Purcell mountains.

A recent graduate from Mount Royal University’s Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership program, Karly Upshall joined the Knowledge Gatherers team with previous valuable research experience to bring to her role. This included an immersive field school in Peru for research and a past position working for the Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership as a Research Assistant. During this time, she contributed to the Accessibility Parks Leaders program and the creation of the Inclusion and Accessibility Community of Practice. As well, in 2020 she worked as a research assistant at Mount Royal University in a practicum role, analyzing and interpreting data around travel fears and aspirations throughout COVID-19. Karly’s strong work ethic and diligence have contributed immensely to the quality of her parks and protected areas content, where she has explored topics ranging from environmental podcasts to assessments of post-secondary environment programs to palliative care in natural spaces. 

Let’s get to know more about Karly’s experience with CPCIL. 

Photo of Karly Upshall in a tree.

What were some of your first formative experiences that helped you feel connected to nature?

My dad was a pretty outdoorsy guy. So as a kid, he would take me hunting, which is a far cry from who I am now, but I remember as a kid I just wanted to be out there with him. We’d go camping every summer, but I also really love that mom’s not as much outdoorsy, but she’d be happy to join along with the trailer, as long as she had an indoor bathroom. But those were the big ones, hunting and fishing and camping with dad as a kid.

Did you always know you kind of wanted a career path in conservation?

No, I was fairly into English and literature and poetry growing up. On my first round through university I was working on an English degree and had started out with the intention of being an editor, and through that I found speech pathology and started to pursue that path but eventually I realized that I hated it. So I took some time off to finally travel and figure out what I wanted to do. When I did decide to come back to school, I didn’t actually get in right away. So instead of moping about it I decided to follow another dream to volunteer with elephants. I ended up in a sanctuary in Cambodia and fell in love, it was kind of the epitome of ecotourism and that’s how I chose Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership as my undergrad, expecting to pursue tourism as a career. I didn’t really come into the conservation side of things until meeting Don and participating in the CPCIL Accessibility Park Leaders program back in November 2019.

Has your experience with CPCIL shaped or altered this path in any way? If so, how?

It definitely has. I wouldn’t say I was very interested in working for parks originally. Where I grew up, there’s not really any provincial parks nearby and the nearest national park was four hours away, and it was considered a tourism destination. So that concept of being connected to nature through parks was not familiar to me. While I was at Mount Royal, I was starting to learn more about the darker history of parks. When I began the leadership programme I was anticipating some resistance around inclusion. But then you start talking to people, you start realizing, these are my people. These are weird, compassionate, funny, easy going people who love what they do. They know the things that are going on, they know what’s wrong and they know what needs to be improved and they care.

What are your main takeaways from your experience as a Knowledge Gatherer?

In terms of projects, it has been interesting to go more in depth on the topics that I’m covering, such as with the jurisdictional scans, and figuring out what’s important to park leaders. Figuring out how to take an idea and make it digestible to a reader, in the most effective way. And as much as I love writing and learning and figuring out how to do this work, the highlight is definitely our weekly meetings and getting to hear from different park leaders with all sorts of backgrounds, and even from the other knowledge gatherers. 


Read some of Karly’s articles here:

Meet the CPCIL Knowledge Gatherers – Hyun Ho Cho

Photo of Hyun Ho Cho in mountains.

Hyun Ho Cho joined the CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers team in September 2020, fresh off a graduation from Mount Royal University’s Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership undergraduate program. With a background in military service, guiding, outdoor education, and environmental education, Hyun Ho has experienced first hand what it means to develop meaningful connections to place and collaborative approaches to understanding the environment, and how to foster these experiences for increased outdoor advocacy. His perspective as a first generation Canadian brought invaluable insight to the team of six, shaping meaningful discussions around inclusion and accessibility. Based just outside of Banff National Park in the hamlet of Dead Man’s Flats. Hyun Ho’s favourite ways to explore the outdoors range anywhere from caving to rock climbing to backcountry skiing. Quick-witted and with the perfect metaphor ever on the tip of his tongue, Hyun Ho has a talent to clearly articulate any given situation in a contextualized and relatable way. His work with CPCIL has centered around newcomer experiences in parks as an avenue to developing connections to nature.

We asked Hyun Ho about the path that led him to CPCIL, and how it has helped shape his journey moving forward. Here’s what he had to say.

Hyun Ho Cho family photo at Waterton Lakes National Park.
Photo by Hyun Ho Cho.

What were some of your first formative experiences that helped you feel connected to nature?

I’ve always been out in the mountains and always been connected to the mountains.  My family didn’t have a lot of resources growing up, so in a way we were forced to recreate nature. Having a family that would bring us to the natural world really went on to form when I thought about it. Even just being outside and playing after school. Growing up in an immigrant family right next to Fish Creek park, when you don’t have a Game Cube or an Xbox, you’re going to go out and explore, play outside on your bikes, and stay out until the streetlights come on. Having those experiences and those memories that were very formative to who I was in nature. 

How has this shaped how you view the environment today?

Growing up in southern Alberta gives you access to these massive mountains, you have these rolling hills, you have these river bottoms that are just gorgeous and look like floodplains. For me my main connection in nature was always just it’s a raw unadulterated way to experience the world. There’s no social constructions. There’s no man made objects, in most cases, to hinder your access. If you want to get somewhere on your own two feet, you get to suffer along the way and it reminds you you’re alive. In some recreation settings such as when you’re ice climbing, and you’re just focused on your next two swings and your next two kicks, and that’s all that matters in the world. Everything falls away when I’m outside. That’s what I love about it. 

What made you decide to pursue a career path in the environmental field?

I was always stuck between two places as a newcomer and immigrant. When I visited my family in Korea, they thought of me as a Canadian. And when I visited my friends and other people and other relations here in Canada, they saw me as Korean. So I never really fit in anywhere and for a long time, I struggled with that. Eventually, I came to embrace my identity as a bit of both, predominantly Canadian because I grew up here. That self realisation came around ninth grade, along with this understanding that I could do better, I could actually do something to help people. 

And that’s when my mind started turning towards public service – I always kind of knew that I wanted to get involved with law enforcement, firefighting, the military, paramedicine, teaching something like that, and I still have strong desires to work in the public sector. So that’s why I started with cadets – it was a free way to get outside and it kept me out of trouble. In 11th or 12th grade for two weeks over spring break, we came out to the Rocky Mountains. Up until that point I had done a bit of backpacking and scrambling, but we got into ski touring, avalanche terrain, and ice climbing. That trip had such a big impact on me, it’s what made me decide that I want to be able to do this for the rest of my life. After that I started thinking more about career paths that would allow me work outside, like guiding and search and rescue, and I had heard of the ETOL program at Mount Royal University which I ended up applying to and being accepted to. I learned a lot about recreation, time of the epistemology behind parks, the health and physical education aspects of parks and recreation. I also learned about adventure therapy, which is something I’ve been looking at and been wanting to do at some point in my career. 

That one trip in high school really set my career path, because I was not in a good place at that point in my life. That trip definitely turned it around, and having that kind of experience made me want to be able to share that with others. 

What have been your biggest takeaways from being a Knowledge Gatherer with CPCIL?

CPCIL seems like a way to help a lot of people get into the parks and to make parks a better place for them. In the beginning, I thought it was more of just a research position looking at articles and combing through the interwebs. But when we got to writing the blogs, the stories, and actually sharing them, that helped me look within myself as to how I could best help. That’s why I shifted from public safety to more newcomer programmes or outdoor recreation introductory programmes, because it resonated so much with my own experience. Being able to provide that insight is where I think I can have the most effect.

This experience has definitely impacted where I see my career going, or what I see myself doing in five or 10 years. It’s reiterated that I have a unique skill set that is extremely useful in a certain area, and I’d like to pursue that and see where that goes a bit more. Going forward, I might not be guiding or might not be in public safety, it might not be what I originally envisioned myself doing. But the things that give me fulfilment are being able to help people to make places a better space for people. It’s reframed how I think of how I can help people best, and that I need to leverage my talents, and with CPCIL I’ve been able to do that. What I’ve loved most about this experience is the amount of introspection this project and this place of employment offered. I’ve thought about my own experiences as a newcomer before. But this project has forced me to really rethink it, and recontextualize my lived experiences.

What I’ve Learned About Learning: University Degrees for Parks People

Close up of hands on laptop, woman sitting on park bench in nature.

By Karly Upshall

Karly Upshall is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada.

There are a lot of ways to come to Parks. People from all backgrounds end up working in Parks. Some actively chose this route — they worked in parks as teenagers, picked a green degree, interned in conservation fields, anything that would lead to a career in parks. Others, like myself, kind of just fell into it somewhere along the way. As one of my university professors, Joe Pavelka, likes to say, “There are a lot of ways to live a life, and most of them are good.” I believe this applies to Parks as well — there are a lot of ways to come to Parks, and most of them are good. 

That being said, the more I get to know park leaders, the less clear I am about what that actually entails. These wonderful people have opened my eyes to a variety of backgrounds, interests and experiences, all of which make up the parks world beyond a singular definition. More and more, the parks field is becoming an interdisciplinary playground filled with jacks of all trades.

This fact is partially what made my task of curating a degree list so complicated. While I hope that this list is a meaningful resource for those looking to pursue or further a “green” type education specifically relating to Parks, this list was made through my own lens of what I’ve seen from current Park Leaders, what I understand to be the direction of Parks in general, and what I personally would like to see be a part of the future of Parks. 

Plenty of Paths in Parks Professions

Within that struggle to define a Park Professional also lies the question of the definition of Parks. There are National Parks, Provincial Parks, Municipal Parks, Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, Marine Protected Areas, and hundreds of other protected land designations across Canada, and they all need a variety of people to run the show. The breadth of knowledge and experience required by parks is vast, however, a list that includes every area of expertise would not have been that helpful of a resource. Applicable programs such as Human Resources, Organizational Management, and even Environmental Engineering were mostly left off of this list due to their non-specificity to Parks or environmental protection in general. Geology and Anthropology are also rarely found on the list as Geology often focused on resource extraction rather than land protection and Anthropology often lacked an environmental element. Some green sounding degrees were also left out because their focus was in agriculture and crop production. I am not perfect, however, and I am certain that some things have snuck in that shouldn’t have, and other things were left out that should have been included. 

While I aimed to be as unbiased as possible in my creation of this list, it is never possible to be truly neutral. Being a part of something, creating something, means it was created through your worldview, and that’s okay. I come from a humanities background, so you’ll definitely see my bias show up in this list. Because of this, I tended to give a little more wiggle room to degrees that involved community development, leadership, Indigenous studies, and the kind of social equity programs you might not typically associate with parks. I believe that diversity includes a diversity of educational backgrounds. By no means am I trying to overshadow some much more abhorrent inclusion issues that parks across the nation are tackling such as gender, race, and LGBTQ+ inclusion, but some of these degrees reflect the knowledge and interests of the people often left out of the conversation.

I was also more likely to include the certificate or diploma in some topics rather than a full degree, as they made more sense as complementary knowledge rather than an educational focus for someone aiming to be a parks professional. Therefore, the following list will generally fall into one or more of these topics:

  • Environmental Sciences/Studies
  • Environmental Management
  • Earth Sciences
  • Forestry
  • Geography
  • Tourism/Ecotourism
  • Outdoor Guiding/Adventure Studies
  • Sustainability/Sustainable Development

If you are interested in a general cacophony of these niches, this list was made for you.

Canadian Parks Relevant Degrees List

British Columbia


Graduate Studies:












*Included more agricultural programs given the location and focus on agriculture in the province






Programmes de 1er Cycle: 

Études Supérieures:


Programmes de 1er cycle:

Etudes Supérieures:











Newfoundland and Labrador





Nova Scotia

New Brunswick

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Prince Edward Island

Method of auditing:

  • Degrees that resulted in careers linked to the Parks and Protected Areas field (environmental consultants, parks planners, etc) were normally included 
  • Reputable Indigenous Studies programs, particularly ones with environmental/planning links, were normally included
  • Programs with required courses that pertained to the interests of Parks and Protected areas were normally included
  • Major degree programs that are offered at most Universities such as Human Resources, Operations Management, Engineering, etc, were mostly excluded from this list as they are not directly linked to Parks and are readily available at many Universities. 
  • Specializations that were only offered as minors were also primarily excluded from this list. Exceptions were made in cases where outstanding or unique programs were found. 
  • Format for listing programs may vary slightly between schools depending on how the school presented information i.e some schools highlight exceptional minor programs and so more minors were included 

Which Universities made the list:

The list was determined using the Government of Canada’s List of Designated Educational Institutions and setting the filter to “University” for each province. An exception was made for Mount Royal University, which is designated as a Junior College on this list but has recently attained its University status. Vocational schools, technical colleges, and private institutions are not a part of this list.


Designation – Major: Specialization or Concentration


Bachelor of Arts – Geography: Human Geography (All Three Components)

Bachelor of Science – Environmental Science (Designation and Major)

Bachelor of Resource Management (Specialized Designation, no listed Major or Concentration)

Do you know of a really great program related to parks? Leave us a comment below, we would love to see what you are all learning! 

Knowing. Doing. Learning: The 2021 Pan-Canadian Parks and Protected Areas Research Sumit

From March 9th to 13th, 2021, knowers, doers, and learners from across the country came together virtually at the inaugural Parks and Protected Areas Research Network Virtual Research Summit. This conference was made possible thanks to the collaborative partners of Canadian Parks Collective for Innovation and Leadership, Mount Royal University, Parks Canada, Canadian Parks Council, and York University Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change.

Nearly 200 registrants from British Columbia to Nunavut to Prince Edward Island  were in attendance for various sessions throughout this pan-Canadian summit. All came with the common goal to learn, collaborate, and share knowledge about parks and protected areas. The summit opened with an introduction by Gùdia – Mary Jane Johnson, a Lhu’ààn Mân Ku Dań Elder. Her words resonated with the audience, as she said: 

“We pay our deepest respects and give our heartfelt thanks to those knowledge carriers, keepers, both past and present. For us to be good caretakers we must respect each other’s abilities to learn from the past. By being present, today. For a future where our strength will be each other. Our legacy will be communities where First Nations, Inuit, Metis and other world people can be curious, playful, intelligent, industrious, creative and respectfully strong. Where the winged, the finned, the four legged, the two legged, the rooted and the flowing all continue to thrive to be part of the next seven generations.”

At the start of the event, Dr. Don Carruthers Den Hoed mentioned that both the definition of parks and protected areas and park leaders is not static.

“Park leaders don’t just work for national, provincial, or territorial park agencies. They are also Indigenous knowledge holders and community partners, academics and students, municipal and private landholders, and more. And parks can be the entire continuum of protected areas from private conservancy to local greenspace to IPCAs to marine parks – as Bruce Downie of Yukon Parks once told me, ‘parks are wherever you learn to love life.’”

Though every presentation related to parks and protected areas, topics were incredibly diverse, ranging from knowledge mobilization to behavioural change in parks visitors, accessibility barriers to reconciliation in natural sciences. Presentations challenged common biases and assumptions and increased our awareness of issues, from Reconciliation to youth involvement in parks. To increase the accessibility of the information, presenters were invited to speak in their preferred national language (French or English), and almost all presentations offered a simultaneous live interpretation.

Keynote sessions included “The state of parks-related knowledge mobilization in Canada, cases from Alberta, BC, and Ontario”, presented by Dr. Elizabeth Halpenny with the University of Alberta; “Ecological corridors and networks: key ingredients for enduring conservation in Canada and Globally”, presented by Dr. Jodi Hilty with Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, David MacKinnon with Nova Scotia Environment, and Chris Lemieux with Wilfrid Laurier University; “Towards reconciliation: 10 Calls to Action to natural scientists working in Canadian protected areas” presented by Dr. Carmen Wong with Parks Canada and Gùdia – Mary Jane Johnson, Lhu’ààn Mân Ku Dań Elder; and “Blurring the boundaries: a panel on understanding, valuing, and supporting the ocean and coastal community well-being”, presented by Noémie Roy, Munju Ravindra, Jessica Lambert, Garrett Mombourquette, Gabrielle Beaulieu, Meaghen McCord, and Hali Moreland with Parks Canada. A range of concurrent sessions were part of the conference, allowing attendees to pick from presentations most aligned with their personal interests, as well as several shorter rapid talk presentations. During each presentation, attendees were invited to continue on the conversation through forums and feedback forms exclusive to conference attendees.

The goals of the conference were first to help connect individuals and create an inclusive community of park leaders, and second, to share and gain knowledge. Based on the feedback received to date, we are confident that the Park Summit has made an impact in both these areas. One youth attendee remarked, “thank you for creating such a meaningful space for youth to voice our opinion — we often talk about youth engagement, but it is rarely done as well as today”, while another said, “since (the conference), I’ve had a couple of fruitful conversations with federal colleagues — I look forward to digesting the presentation a little bit more when they’re available online and to continue participating with the CPCIL”. 

Although the reality of COVID-19 meant hosting this event online, many registrants expressed appreciation for this virtual format. It allowed them the opportunity to attend the conference when they otherwise would have been limited by travel or cost. But this conference wasn’t made up entirely of screen time. Attendees were encouraged to take a break from their desk and connect with nature throughout the conference. During these nature break sessions, all were encouraged to test the ParkSeek online GIS application by making observations about parks in their local areas. During other nature breaks, participants were encouraged to simply go out in nature and engage with their senses to reflect and connect with their local environments, sometimes involving prompts from mailed leaflets included in participant welcome packages.

The interactive component was also brought back online through breakout sessions and regional task groups. These groups were invited to collaborate on virtual murals with the goal to map the network of key players in the parks and protected areas field, make both personal and landscape level connections, and brainstorm and prioritize possible research projects. 

Through these generative activities, real life connections were made, whether it be an individual with resources to support a project, or networking suggestions for potential contacts. Some attendees even met colleagues from within their own office or agency for the first time via the summit, an occurrence that is surely unique to our current reality!

Over 40 youth registrants were also in attendance, and this energized group gave accolades on their experience as individuals newer to the field of parks and protected areas research or practice. One of the CPCIL Knowledge Gatherers, Ebany Carratt, shared her perspective on what it means to be a park leader, and that we are all park leaders regardless of our educational background or experience. This was echoed by more youth attendees touching on the role of youth and inclusivity, including Rhiannon Kramer, a member of the Canadian Black Scientists Network , and Peter Soroye, a PHD student at the University of Ottawa, both with the grassroots group Kaleidoscope Canada. Both highlighted that people who are Black, Indigenous, or persons of colour have had a big role in the outdoors in ways that are often not part of the narrative, and that it is common to not feel comfortable participating in these spaces. Going forward, they challenged Summit attendees to find the many areas in which we can improve this because we are all park people. 

The conference ended with moving words from Gilles Seutin, Chief Scientist of Parks Canada and champion of the Pan Canadian Parks and Protected Areas Research Network. Providing his perspective on contributing to the institution of knowledge and what is needed as a community of conservation-minded people to be able to deliver on living in harmony with nature, Seutin shared:

“It’s a growing ambition to have 30% of the planet’s waters and lands under a good form of protection,” he said. “To be successful, we’ll need to be better equipped than we are now. In Canada, there are currently about 10,000 people working full time at managing protected areas, from lock operators on historic canals to project managers in provincial parks, and Canada is committed to more than double the amount of land and water we want to protect. So we have a huge need for new people, new brains that need to enter the workforce. 

“But in the long term it’s about not only creating those events and moments of individual training and capacity building, but also about institutional building. And that’s what this network is about to do. This week I’ve seen the growing recognition for the diversity of knowledge, and the diversity of knowledge systems, that need to inform protected areas management and, in future, establishment of more places and their management in a broader sense.”

Dawn Carr, Executive Director, Canadian Parks Council, echoed these sentiments, saying,

“Several years ago, there was a recognition that there needs to be better and stronger relationships between Park agencies and different knowledge holders, there was a very specific effort that was put in place to create CPCIL.

One of our priorities is to support the growth and development of an inclusive and connected network of professionals in the parks community, who engage, learn, and share expertise across boundaries. These past four days have been a testament to that priority. But it is also an absolute, and very clear expression of the fact that we’re really coming together to grow this community, which is extraordinary and amazing”

Feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly positive, and there is a lot of excitement and interest to keep the momentum going. Recordings of summit sessions are now available online under ‘CPCIL Virtual Research Summit Archive’ and can be publicly viewed and the Summit forums and other content are available on the 2021 Research Summit Legacy Page.

We thank all presenters, applicants, attendees, and team members who each played a part in the overall success of the event.

Meet the CPCIL Knowledge Gatherers: Tera Swanson

Currently completing a Master’s in Environmental Practice through Royal Roads University, Tera joined CPCIL as Editor and Coordinator for the pilot 2020/2021 team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers, helping to develop content across a wide range of environmental niches with the common aim of connecting and supporting park leaders. With an undergrad in Journalism Communications from Mount Royal University, the first chapter of her career path focused on both freelance writing and content marketing strategy in the tourism industry within Banff National Park. Living here for the better part of a decade, Tera was exposed to various local environmental issues which eventually inspired her to shape her career path in communications towards a focus on sustainability.

Here’s what she had to say about her experience with CPCIL:

What were some of your first formative experiences in nature? 

Pretty much all of my main memories as a kid were related to the outdoors in some way. I grew up on a farm in southern Alberta, almost on the border of Montana, so most of my time as a kid was spent outside, which took me a while to fully appreciate. Whether it was building forts in our backyard caragana trees or going to summer camp in Waterton or canoeing the MIlk River to Writing on Stone with the Junior Forest Wardens club my family was a part of, nature has definitely been a common thread throughout my life. Maybe not as strong or present at certain times, but always there.

I would say that my first intentional formative experiences in nature, where I was there by my own accord and looking to interact with the environment in a meaningful way, would have been after moving to Field, BC to work at the travel information center at 19 years old. It was my first summer job out of high school. Looking back it’s kind of mind blowing how fortunate I was to accidentally stumble into this beautiful little pocket of the world. One of the first hikes I ever did as an adult was the alpine circuit at Lake O’Hara, so the bar was set pretty high. It took me a couple of years of living in the area to really develop a deeper connection to nature and not view it as this separate entity. It was probably around 2015 that I became more aware of how much more meaningful these experiences could be, at least from a recreation standpoint. It opened my eyes to how nature could help you learn so much about yourself and others, and also drove home how nature needs to be respected. 

Last summer I celebrated a decade of living in the mountains by volunteering on a guided hike to the Burgess Shale in Yoho National Park. It was a great reflective opportunity on how humanity’s time here is really a blip in the universe, and yet despite this there are so many people who still want to to use that time for the better of our environment.

How did you first become interested in a career path in the environmental field? 

When I was in my first years of university figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, my two “must-haves” in a career were that it needed to be creative and it needed to make a positive impact. I went into journalism because I love writing and the idea of being able to help bring light to issues and elevate voices that needed to be heard. While I really enjoyed the program at MRU I soon realized that traditional news journalism wasn’t necessarily the right path for me, although I’ve done a lot of freelance writing since then. I ended up working in content marketing in the tourism industry in Banff National Park, and there are a lot of great aspects of that field. It allowed for a lot of creativity and collaboration with other content creators in the industry, but I wasn’t getting the sense that I was really helping anyone in the meaningful way I wanted. Having lived in Banff on and off for ten years I’d been exposed to a lot of the local environmental challenges that came with it. I volunteered for various local organizations relating to food sustainability or outdoor recreation, and I had always played with the idea of moving into more of an environmental communications niche. The idea of going back to school for environmental studies had been in the back of my mind for probably three or four years before I finally committed, and I haven’t regretted the decision one bit. 

I decided to adapt my career path at a time when the window of opportunity for internships or youth positions was starting to close due to being in my late 20s. So this editor position with CPCIL couldn’t have come at a better time, and I feel very fortunate that they took me on despite my limited work experience in the environmental field specifically. 

In what ways has your perspective shifted since joining CPCIL?

I think before beginning my position here, I viewed my experiences in nature and experiences in parks growing up as almost a default of coming from a family who at the time didn’t have a lot of resources. While my cousins were going to Disneyland or off on cruises through the Bahamas, my parents were packing up their ‘87 Ford Econoline van with all of their kids to go camping with their six-person tent. Our big family vacations were going skiing in Fernie or Whitefish once a year, maybe once every two years. I try to always keep the privilege that I carry front of mind, but I didn’t realize or appreciate the extent of it by fully recognizing just how many more barriers others face in accessing these experiences. Working with the Knowledge Gatherers on their projects has definitely helped improve my understanding of a lot of these issues relating to inclusion and accessibility. 

I think also with where I live, the communities I’m exposed to are made up of a lot of amazing and incredibly driven people, and it’s because nature is readily accessible that allow for experiences for people to grow and push themselves in. But it’s also easy to have the blinders up and centre ourselves in a lot of these outdoor experiences. It can put the focus on personal accomplishment and sometimes ego, with peak-bagging or long distance trail running or “what grade you climb?” or whatever, and I’m guilty of it myself. I think that those experiences definitely help strengthen a personal connection to nature, but I often need to remind myself to move away from this anthropocentric western perspective, and these myths around nature as an escape or nature as something to be conquered. Something that our conversations as a team have really shown me is the scale at which Indigenous voices, in particular, can be left out of the conversation, especially in academic settings. There are entire courses dedicated to environmental worldviews, yet Indigenous perspectives are almost an afterthought if they’re mentioned at all. So it was great to learn about what parks and protected areas are doing to try to bridge that gap, although it was also surprising that awareness of these issues and initiatives isn’t more widespread.

What have you loved most about your time with CPCIL?

Going into this position I think I was most excited about knowing how many new (to me) ideas I would encounter. This 100% happened! But I think I have most loved working with all of the Knowledge Gatherers to help them build on what they’re already passionate about to turn it into something that can help park leaders. It reminds me a lot of what first drew me to journalism back when I started university, so it has been funny to see that come full circle. I have learned so much from not only their research and ideas, but also from their perspectives and our discussions on their projects every week. That’s what I’ve loved the most about this opportunity.