Like many Albertans, I have found awe and wonder, inspiration and solace in our provincial parks. But what I wish to write about here is not our spectacular land and wildlife, though I love them dearly.
I wish to write about the people of Alberta Parks, because they have made me a better human.
I first visited Kananaskis Country in 2009. A friend of mine was about to begin a position at Alberta Parks. Back then, I had a fascinating job in eastern Russia. In my experience, however, the former Soviet Union was not a place where teamwork regularly ran deep. As my friend introduced me to the people he worked with in Canmore, I felt the care that he and his colleagues had not only for nature, but also for one another and for their community. I felt it in my heart. And I knew I wanted to be a part of that.
I have been fortunate to collaborate with Alberta Parks staff in Kananaskis Country since 2012. During this time, they have taught me how to be a good teammate, a good collaborator, a good professional friend. Before I met them, I was decidedly not these things – or at least, not in any kind of consistent way.
Over the years, ecologists, conservation officers, environmental educators, planners, managers and others at Parks have persistently shown me kindness and empathy at times when I was stressed and short. They gave me the gift of their patience, reassuring me that they had faith in me, even when I was not at my best. From how they treated each other, and how they treated the public, I understood what it meant to deeply value relationships, and to live by those values. I understood the kind of person I wanted to be.
Our Alberta Parks staff extend this care to non-human beings as well. My grandma visited Canmore several years ago. We went to Peter Lougheed Park. Well into her ninth decade on Earth, my grandma saw her first grizzly, Bear 139, in the meadow behind the Discovery Centre.
Bear 139 is a young female whose home range overlaps with many busy trails and campgrounds. She needs extra help to navigate all this human activity. For all of her life – so far – Alberta Parks conservation officers and ecologists have had the resources to provide her the care and assistance she needs. In return, Bear 139 has inspired thousands of visitors who have been lucky enough to see her, and who have had the chance to learn from her about respect for our wild neighbours.
In Kananaskis Country, many staff positions are now being drastically modified or eliminated entirely. Will Bear 139 survive this?
Just as worrisome – will the culture of empathy and teamwork at Alberta Parks survive, without needed resources, support, respect and care from above?
I am very concerned about what the provincial budget cuts mean for our parks, our land, and nature. But I am just as concerned about what they mean for all of us, and for how we relate to one another.
The stout beige provincial building in the centre of Canmore reminds me that while our town is growing rapidly, we are not yet that big a place. Alberta Parks staff, and the culture of caring and professionalism that they carry forward, are key threads in the fabric of our community. I know that I am only one of many, many people whose lives have been enriched by these threads.
I understand that economic conditions in Alberta are not great. I understand that means we have to make choices. Many others are already articulating that the economic rationale and numbers behind the cuts to Alberta Parks just don’t make sense. I agree with them.
But personally, I am wondering about the bigger, moral picture. When we make hard choices, certainly we have the ability to choose compassion, empathy, listening and teamwork as guiding principles. When we choose to be guided by such principles, certainly we are at our best, as humans.
What principles are our provincial leaders choosing?
To the staff of Alberta Parks here in Canmore and Kananaskis Country, I thank you. I love you. I am most certainly not the only one.