Growing up in Coaldale, and spending as much time as possible throughout my youth fishing, camping, and exploring the incredible landscape that the backcountry of Southern Alberta has to offer I was excited to return home this summer to pursue an internship with the Oldman Watershed Council. I knew that this was a fantastic opportunity for me, and to be able to hold this internship while collecting the research for my own master’s thesis was just the icing on the cake.
I was excited that this internship would allow me to put into practice what I have been learning through my Master’s of Natural Resource Management from the University of Manitoba. I knew that this opportunity would provide me with a fantastic practical experience to take away from, an opportunity to learn and grow, and to bring new perspectives forward into my studies and future career.
What I didn’t know at the time was exactly how much I would learn and where this knowledge would come from. What surprised me the most was learning how little that I actually knew about this area that I have always called home.
Even though I have spent so much time out in the scenic mountain valleys of the Eastern Slopes I had no idea of the preparation, work, and dedication that goes into managing this one small piece of Alberta’s beautiful natural environment, nor had I realized before the many people, organizations, and clubs that are invested in this work.
Even within the Oldman watershed, the Eastern Slopes are only the smallest portion of a much larger system. Yet this small geographic area holds such significance. This region provides the headwaters for the Oldman River, this is the very birthplace of the Oldman. The sparkling crisp mountain water which I have been enjoying this summer in Dutch Creek will eventually make it’s way to the Oldman River, across the prairies, through the maze of interconnected Manitoba lakes and streams, to eventually find itself in Hudson’s Bay.
This relationship between Alberta’s backcountry and the thousands that depend on water downstream is one that I had never spent very much time actually thinking about until working for the OWC this summer.
Yet, it is not only for impacts many miles downstream that this region is valued. The Eastern Slopes, not to mention the rest of Alberta’s backcountry, holds a particularly local value as well. This region has become a home away from home for many adventurous Albertans, as well as visitors from other provinces and countries, who are ready to leave the city limits behind for a while. These recreational visitors hold deeply rooted ties to these beautiful regions and have come to value Alberta’s backcountry for so many different reasons.
Whether they experience the backcountry on foot or with a little motorized help every one who spends any time in these secluded wilderness escapes cannot fail to see the wonder and beauty that these regions hold. It is no wonder why so many of these recreational groups are also actively involved in managing, protecting, and conserving these spaces.
It has been my pleasure, and absolute honour, this summer to have spent so much time interacting with, and learning from, the many men and women who work so hard to ensure the continued health and use of Alberta’s beautiful backcountry.
There is still much to be done in Alberta before we can achieve the sustainable future that we hope for. It may be a long and difficult process but from all that I have learned, the discussions I have been a part of, and the work I have witnessed first hand this summer I believe that we are definitely working in the right direction.