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:

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