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Outdoor program includes service in the qathet community

Ecological restoration projects on the horizon

Outdoor leadership and ecological learning has been offered to students in qathet School District (qSD) for close to 18 years.

Sustainability and program coordinator for outdoor and ecological learning Ryan Barfoot came into the role in year two as a professional educator to lead the program (Coast Mountain Academy) forward.

"Most students take the program in their final semester of high school," said Barfoot. "I take students locally and from around the province, as well as internationally. Students have the opportunity to start a project or start an initiative and develop a long-term vision."

One example is carving, where students have learned the skills to carve their own canoe paddle. But the learning doesn't stop there. 

"We go through the process of understanding where the wood is from, its history, its cultural significance to the people of this land," said Barfoot. "We have worked with [Tla'amin] elders within the community and carvers, within the framework of reconciliation."

The students also have a chance to earn industry-level certification in kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing, stand-up paddle boarding, mountain climbing and sailing. 

"For example, after those experiences, it comes full circle, they  [the students] then teach all the grade sevens in the school district how to paddle," said Barfoot. "The paddle they carved, it's a significant symbol of the work they're doing and their approach to this life that they're taking."

Four days a week the students and instructors are out in the field, hiking, paddling, climbing and exploring passions in the context of serving the community. One example described by Barfoot as a type of social enterprise is the organization of the upcoming Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival at Max Cameron Theatre.

"The festival serves as a social enterprise, actively endorsing and uplifting local organizations, and all proceeds generated from the event are earmarked for providing outdoor and ecological experiences for young individuals," said Barfoot in a previous interview with the Peak about the film festival. "It's a unique program and I get called all the time about how we do it."

Barfoot indicated that they want to shift focus toward restoration of natural ecosystems and engaging students in that learning process. 

"We're doing this for a couple of reasons, it helps kids to feel like they're giving back instead of just taking from the environment," said Barfoot. "There's this idea spoken about that reconciliation with the land is synonymous with reconciliation of the people." 

Stream bank restoration and removal of invasive species are some simple examples Barfoot said is part of that ecological restoration.

One initiative started by Barfoot's wife was taking invasive ivy and turning it into wreaths.

"It's quite a fantastic thing because on one hand, you are helping to get rid of these invasive species in our forests, and also repurposing it for a beautiful decoration," said Barfoot. "So it's kind of a win-win, and the kids, of course, are super engaged."

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