A lesson runs through it – Leadership learned on Fraser River jaunt

A lesson runs through it – Leadership learned on Fraser River jaunt

Imagine spending a day out on the water with no cares except for how you can make the world a better place.

Now imagine spending three weeks worth of those days.

That is one of the experiences offered to young people between the ages of 19 and 35 by the Rivershed Society of British Columbia.

The Sustainable Living Leadership Program (SLLP) takes 10 participants down 1,400 kilometres of the Fraser River in August, where days are spent learning about stewardship and designing their own sustainability project to implement in their home communities.

The program educates through hands-on experience and opens the door to a network of community leaders in the Fraser River watershed. But most of all, it gives those eager to make that difference in their communities, the time and focus to develop their ideas.

Now in its ninth year, the SLLP is looking for participants for the 2012 trip, which takes place Aug. 2 to 26.

Williams Lake resident Mary Forbes made the journey in 2010 and said called it an amazing experience.

“They really work to instil a sense, not only that you’re travelling down the river, but also to connect you to the land that surrounds it and communities that depend on it,” Forbes told The Citizen.

Forbes was drawn to the program after encouragement from her employers at the Scout Island Nature Centre and Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society. She had just begun her own historic heritage interpretation business and wanted to do more.

“Being an archeologist and heritage interpreter… I understand having a sense of place is extremely important to having a sense of community pride,” she said. That led her to the last heritage building in downtown Williams Lake – a long-neglected 1930s bungalow called Potato House that was up for sale.

“My proposal, right before I travelled down the river, was to create a heritage community to protect what little heritage we have left,” Forbes said.

“I had heard about [Rivershed Society founder and program co-creator Fin Donnelly] when he swam by on the Fraser River, but I didn’t get down and see him,” Forbes recalled. “But I knew his story.”

Inspired by his two Fraser River swims, Forbes said she could relate on some level.

“I felt I was swimming a little bit against the current. Starting a business in environmental education seemed a little bit counter culture,” she said. “Fin was very inspiring – not only did he swim the Fraser twice, he also had this leadership program where he would further inspire young leaders to really follow their dreams and really feel like they could make a difference as environmental leaders themselves.”

During the trip, participants are expected to help with meal preparation, camp set up and other duties as they follow the route of the salmon by canoe, raft, shuttle van and on foot. Meals are local, organic and meatless where possible. The group practices no-trace camping and drugs, smoking and alcohol are not permitted.

Along with developing their sustainability projects, participants study watersheds, salmon, resource management and how to lower their ecological footprint. They also learn about food security, volunteer simplicity and green economics while engaging with First Nations and non-native community leaders.

“The great thing is that many of us go down the river with these giant plans and these huge dreams and they’re really good at keeping us in perspective,” Forbes said.

That perspective steered the 32 year old to start a non-profit society, raise $100,000, purchase Potato House and create a centre for sustainability in downtown Williams Lake. She was awarded a Community Spirit Award by her local mayor and city council this February for her work.

“It all started by going down the river. Life really sometimes gets in the way of the most young, pie-in-the-sky environmental passion,” Forbes said. “But when you take a whole month to just think about one project and see the connectivity of the river the connectivity of other people trying to achieve the same things, it feels like there really is a platform you can build on and feel like you’re not completely alone.”

Applications for the 2012 trip are accepted until May 18. For more information, visit www.rivershed.com