For Canada’s youth, understanding and appreciating the great outdoors has never been more challenging. Distractions of the electronic kind – from Internet to gaming consoles to smartphones – have continued to erode nature’s prominence in modern adolescence.
Julia Belliveau, 19, a Sussex, New Brunswick resident, and Colin Sutherland, a 23-year-old Ottawa native with Cape Breton roots, are this year’s Youth Ambassadors. This summer they are touring the country as part of an initiative to connect young people to the vast natural and cultural heritage Canada has to offer.
“When I was younger, I spent every summer camping at Kouchibouguac National Park with my family,” says Belliveau, whose love of the outdoors continued as she grew older. “I used any free time I had to gather friends and carpool to Fundy National Park for a fun day of hiking and canoeing.”
For Sutherland, summers meant a road trip across Atlantic Canada to visit family on Cape Breton Island. “These summer trips usually included at least one stop at one of the region’s great national parks or historic sites,” he said.
The Parks Canada strategy is a smart one: getting people to appreciate the great outdoors when they’re young, in order to keep them coming back when they’re older.
Rustik caught up with Belliveau and Sutherland during a break in their travels to talk about the program and what Atlantic Canada has to offer young and old alike.
Rustik: What is the goal of the Parks Canada Youth Ambassador program?
We are travelling across the country to improve the quality of the visitor experience for young Canadians. Visitation rates for 18-30 year olds have been declining over the years at national parks and historic sites. Our goal is to reverse this trend by showing other young adults the numerous activities and adventures waiting in their own backyard.
Not only will we be documenting our journey to share with the world, but we will also be working with Parks Canada staff to help improve the visitor experience for young adults. We realize there are a number of barriers to visiting parks – including accessibility and affordability. Thankfully, these obstacles are being addressed by local organizations and Parks Canada.
Rustik: Tell us about some of the measures you’ve seen so far to encourage more youth engagement.
A great project in Toronto is the Parkbus initiative. In May, we took a bus from downtown Toronto to Bruce Peninsula National Park on the coast of the Georgian Bay. This local company allows car-less Torontonians to travel to and enjoy some of these faraway places. Not only does this make parks more accessible and affordable but it also offers a far more sustainable transportation option.
Even though this service does not yet exist in Atlantic Canada, there are loads of opportunities for young people to take advantage of ride share programs, carpool with friends, or plan group trips with organizations like Scouts Canada. In some cases, it’s even possible to bike to your closest park!
For urban Canadians and those who have never camped before, visiting a National Park can be a huge step. Having a variety of accommodation options is key for bringing young people back into our parks. Hostels, yurts and Parks Canada’s new oTENTiks provide a great alternative to tent camping, which requires the purchase of a lot of new gear. The aim is to make visiting a national park an affordable and comfortable adventure even if you don’t have all of the expensive gear.
Rustik: What are you looking forward to seeing in Atlantic Canada?
In terms of parks in the area, Atlantic Canada has some of the best kept secrets in the world. Nothing can top the alien-like landscapes of Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park, canoeing in Kejimkujik National Park, or the history of the Halifax Citadel, which is right in downtown Halifax.
We will be exploring all over Atlantic Canada this summer, beginning at Cape Breton Highlands National Park and stopping at the Louisbourg300 celebrations. We will also head to Fundy National Park and finish off our adventure in Forillon, an amazing wilderness park in the famous Gaspé region of Quebec. Each of these locations has something special to offer, whether it’s Fundy’s new mountain bike trails or Cape Breton’s famous Cabot Trail.
Rustik: What message would you like to send to other young people about the value of our National Parks?
Modern young adults need to get active, just as much as they need to relax and reenergize. Young people also love to explore! We want people our age to know that the perfect solution lies right in their own backyard thanks to Atlantic Canada’s many national parks and historic sites.
Young Canadians can join our journey through social media and even join us at some of the local events we will be hosting in the region. And they can share our pictures on Facebook, watch our videos on YouTube and follow us on Twitter!