Editor's Note: This post was written by Francisco Samayoa, one of our four seasonal staff - OWC Outreach Assistants. This is his version of what happens in a fairly typical week. Thanks for doing such a great job, team!
It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it...!
We were hired as seasonal Outreach Assistants as part of the OWC’s Engaging Recreationists project to inspire conversations in the backcountry with recreationists of all kinds, facilitate positive change and promote watershed health. This blog is an insight into our weekly routine, to see the kinds of things that we get up to - and the reasoning behind it.
For most people, Wednesday is their half-way mark, but for our team, it's the start of the week. After a weekend in the backcountry - often without cell service - we spend Wednesday entering the data that we have collected, posting stories on social media, and most importantly, writing our weekly blogs. Sitting at a computer might not be the most exciting part of our job, but communication is what our work is all about.
After all, if a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear? If we are out in the backcountry but no one hears about it, did it even happen? By communicating our work, we inspire volunteers, donors, and people throughout the watershed to make positive change.
Connect with OWC through our various social media platforms to follow more of our work:
Thursday: Pulling Weeds
This is our weed-pulling day! We leave town early so we can meet up with Mike Gibeau from the Southern Alberta Land Trust Society (SALTS); he takes us to the conservation easement where we will help tackle invasive weeds. It's great to meet the different landowners and see how excited they are to have us helping them. It is also inspiring to see how much they all care about protecting their native grasslands.
This is usually the most physically draining day for us; either it’s been raining or temperatures have been in the +30’s - and last week, we had to contend with mosquitoes to boot! That said, many hands make light work - if you’d like to join us and volunteer one Thursday, email Mike Gibeau at email@example.com
Once we are finished pulling weeds, we set up camp. Our team chooses to stay at designated campgrounds to minimize our impact (and the enforced quiet hours help us relax after a busy day - if you do choose to random camp, please remember to be respectful and keep the noise down at night, so people have a chance to sleep after a long day!).
Friday: Observations and Conversations
Since most campers are still loading up and heading to their camping destination in the morning, we are able to sleep in and get a later start to our day. On Friday we usually head out around nine o'clock to make some observations (of trails, erosion, stream fords, signage, bridges, etc) using a customized app. It puts these observations on a map with GPS coordinates, and allows us for example to identify areas for future restoration work. It also helps us track our outreach and surveys.
After lunch we head out to do in-person surveys with random campers, motorized recreationists (quadders, dirt-bikers, etc), and other backcountry users. Our surveys are structured more like conversations, starting with what people love about the backcountry, and they involve us mostly listening. This helps us understand backcountry users’ values, motivations, and concerns, and leads to a discussion about the links between recreation and watershed health.
We have been pleasantly surprised by our reception in the backcountry; most people have been friendly and support what we are doing. Many of them have been coming to the backcountry for 10+ years, and are very passionate about these places. It is encouraging to see how so many people are already taking their own initiatives to help protect our watershed, such as using bridges and helping to educate others that may not know all the regulations (for more on backcountry regulations, click here!).
Saturday: Point Duty
Saturday brings more surveys, and a point duty at the campsite from 2-5 p.m. A point duty is an interactive educational station that we use to engage families and get them thinking about watershed health through fun activities - and creepy crawly bugs! We collect benthic macroinvertebrates (BMI - the bugs -) from the nearest water body and show the kids the relationships between the different invertebrates and the quality of the water. We have a fun BMI Memory Game, and our Oldman puzzle is always a hit!
Our point duty is also another outlet that we use to share information about relevant topics: Wheels out of water, Leave No Trace, Clean Drain Dry, Whirling disease, etc. We use a place-based learning model to help get the kids excited about protecting our watershed, and the parents seem to love it just as much as the kids!
Sunday: Leave No Trace!
This is our Friday, so we're kind of excited to get home and scrub off the weekend's dirt! Our morning starts off by breaking down camp and making sure that we go around the campsite picking up every little piece of garbage - you always have to Leave No Trace!
After cleaning up, we conduct a few more surveys, then do a bridge survey before we head back to town. Our bridge surveys are done at a stream ford that also has a bridge beside it, to see how many people use the bridge vs. the ford. The next time we come back we put up signs that say “Thank you for using the bridge” to see if that encourages OHV riders to use the bridge instead of fording the stream - we’re not done surveying yet, but so far it seems like the signs help!
Once we get back to Lethbridge, we unload, refuel, and wash the work trucks - always at the car wash, since carwashes treat their wastewater before the drain returns it to the river. Remember not to wash your car at home since water running off our driveways into storm drains does not get treated; it goes straight into the Oldman river!
Want to help raise awareness about our storm drains? Learn about the Yellow Fish Road project! It's fun and kids love to get involved!
Monday-Tuesday: Shower, Sleep, Explore!
We are all tired after a long week of work out in the backcountry, but we have no time to rest! After showering and doing laundry, we each spend our days off enjoying the Oldman watershed in our own way. Nata spends her time off mountain biking in the Crowsnest Pass and hiking with her friends. Reuben loves spending his time hiking with friends and family, and he never forgets to bring along his fly rod. Francisco loves going on hikes and taking his dog for walks along the Oldman river. Our Team Lead, Rob, loves helping keep our native grasslands alive by caring for his native plants, as well as spending time with his wife and two dogs. Our team wants to remind you to go out and enjoy our watershed for yourself.
So far the the summer has been a blast. We have enjoyed having great conversations with backcountry users. We look forward to the weeks to come and continuing to cultivate awareness of watershed health in the backcountry; we hope to see you out there!!