Photo: Naomi Hui
Elk Island National Park – Parkbus Adventures!
November 21, 2019
Have you ever wanted to enjoy Elk Island National Park, but not had a way to get out there? For the last two summers, there has been a solution to this problem!
The TD Parkbus Express is a free shuttle service offered from downtown Edmonton to Elk Island National Park. Every weekend from June to September, a converted school bus picked up passengers from either the downtown MEC or the Royal Alberta Museum and transported them to the national park. The trip included a Bison Backstage Tour offered by Parks Canada, a drive through the Bison Loop, followed by free-time at the Astotin Lake Recreation Area. The service is an economic, carbon-reducing option that allows individuals from every walk of life to enjoy the natural beauty of Elk Island National Park.
The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Northern Alberta Chapter contributed to the service by hiring an ambassador to oversee the program and ensure the safety of all participants during excursions. I was ecstatic when I got the call offering me to take on this summer position
I helped to increase awareness of CPAWS, a non-profit wilderness protection organization, and their campaigns and initiatives that work to conserve Canada’s public land and water. For example, I shared information about the importance of the Bighorn Backcountry landscape, and how adequate protection would ensure that the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River remain healthy for generations to come.
During the Parkbus season, I had the opportunity to engage with everyone from students, to seniors, to tourists, and families just moving to Canada. We talked about everything from CPAWS conservation initiatives, to places traveled, to how much snow you can expect in Edmonton during the winter months. I believe I learned just as much from the participants as they did from me.
Photo: Taylor Maton
Photo: Taylor Maton
Photo: Jane Chesebrough
Jane, who quickly became part of the Parkbus team, was our most dedicated rider. She attended almost every trip, and was always eager to share her knowledge of the park with others. She and I even orchestrated a surprise for Siggy (our fabulous bus driver) on her birthday, pulling out a lemon-meringue pie while all forty-five bus passengers harmonized to sing happy birthday. Needless to say, the three of us became friends very quickly. She even has her own blog with some amazing photos if you want to check it out here!
Visiting Elk Island National Park each week allowed me to watch the circle of life unfold before my eyes. I witnessed leaves change from green to amber, and berries fruit and be foraged from tree branches. I watched red-neck grebes construct floating nests, lay their eggs and incubate for weeks. I was mesmerized by magnificent plains and wood bison grazing in tall grass. I enjoyed watching the awe of participants just as much as watching the natural wonders that Elk Island National Park had to offer.
I am grateful that I was able to work with Parkbus and CPAWS to facilitate a program that connects people to nature. In a world where we spend so much of our time looking at a digital screen, it can be easy to forget about the wild spaces around us. Increasing our accessibility to parks will not only allow us to foster a greater connection with nature, but hopefully increase our willingness to protect it.