2018 marked the beginning of a new 3-day outdoor educational program for the Rivershed Society of BC. Named the Rivers Clinic for Environmental Leaders (RCEL), the program was developed by Sustainable Living Leadership Program (SLLP) 2016 grads, Megan Rempel and Petra Markova. It was during the SLLP when the two came up with the idea of providing a similar, but more accessible, outdoor opportunity for local change-makers. They wanted to create something to engage more people in outdoor education. What Markova and Rempel didn’t know at the time was that for many years the RSBC had dreamed of developing shorter educational journeys.
Markova and Rempel collaborated with RSBC to design, develop and deliver the RCEL with the intention of connecting local post-secondary students with shared sustainability interests.
“When I started doing environmental work I didn’t know anybody, which was the most difficult part. Trying to save the world by yourself is really daunting and difficult, but as soon as you meet a network of people that want to do the same thing you realize that each person is making a difference. Everyone you meet can become a resource and teammate.” – Megan Rempel
The RCEL took place from June 1 – 3, 2018, engaging 18 students from various post-secondary institutions in the Lower Mainland, as well as two facilitators and two guides. Over the three-day program, the group paddled the Fraser River from Kwantlen to Musqueam Territory in 34’ voyager-style canoes, starting from Glen Valley Regional Park in Langley and finishing at McDonald Beach Park in Richmond. The students got to know each other, heard from guest speakers, learned about Fraser River issues and solutions, and took part in a community dinner with the Kwikwetlem First Nation.
The RCEL was a great success, but don’t take it from me when you can read about one student’s experience with the RCEL below:
By Cloe St-Jean, 2018 RCEL participant
Little did I know, when signing up for the 3-day Rivers Clinic for Environmental Leaders (RCEL), that I would come out of this trip infused with hope, happiness, and inspiration! I, and 17 other students from different universities around Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, along with two guides and two coordinators, paddled the Fraser River from Fort Langley all the way to McDonald Beach Park in Richmond, 60km of networking, learning, and discovery in two 34-foot Voyageur canoes!
The founder of the Rivershed Society of BC, Fin Donnelly, met with us at the beginning and end of our trip, telling us about his eventful life swimming the ENTIRE Fraser River (1,400km) not once but twice to raise awareness to save wild salmon and live sustainably within our watershed, as well as working in politics to help his vision of sustainable living to come true. No matter what others say that one should do, he says, the most powerful thing is to inspire others to change their own beliefs about nature, people, and reality to something more connected and positive. His main goal transpires through this RCEL program!
Our guides, Justin and Doug, were incredible! Fun, positive, knowledgeable, and eager to share, they guided us along the river and encouraged inspiring conversations and discussions. Doug Radies worked with parks, wilderness, and land issues, doing his best to protect spaces from being clear-cut and to protect salmon populations, and succeeded at saving important parts of forests in BC. Justin Russell has extended knowledge of watersheds and hydrology, and was able to expand my knowledge on the longest river in British Columbia. ‘Shout-outs’ to our coordinators Megan Rempel and Petra Markova, inspired by their 26-day expedition on the Fraser River (Sustainable Living Leadership Program) and eager to make this fantastic experience more accessible. They worked hard for over a year to create this 3-day program!! Thank you!! Also, big thanks to John Lewis for helping us along the way!
Along our trip, we were welcomed and hosted overnight at the Kwikwetlem First Nation. We met with Councillor Fred Hulbert Sr. and elder Beverly Mroczkowski over a tasty dinner of wild salmon and learned about their nation and their relationship with the land, the Fraser River, and the wild salmon running through it. It was a true honour to be there! We learned how big their original territory is and how they have adapted to live on their small reserve, the impact of European contact, and how depleted the salmon populations are now. They are filled with hope, positivity, and resilience, and they are working hard to repopulate the salmon. Elder Beverly always prays for the salmon fingerlings before releasing them into the waters.
We then toured Colony Farm Community Garden with Kiyoshi Takahashi, an 86-year-old nature conservationist with a special passion for bats. He’s been highly involved in his community and is in need of a successor. He’s built many kinds of boxes for bats, bees, birds, butterflies, and other insects to help in their conservation. He was eager to show us his work, and was so happy to be with us when our own excited eyes saw the bats slowly come out of their boxes at dusk!
We then met with Justine Nelson who talked to us about the current situation with the Kinder Morgan Pipeline and how her and the big community of engaged individuals are working hard to fight against it. Even though the Federal Government recently bought the pipeline, she sees it as a second bigger boss to defeat and does not lose hope.
All in all, it was some truly incredible three days, spiced up by the truly wonderful and engaged students with whom I was able to meet and share. Everyone I met along the river was so nice, passionate, and inspiring. I will be forever grateful for this invaluable experience!