In today’s post, Anna Winge-Breen shares her journey from childhood to becoming a Discovery Ranger of Algonquin Provincial Park.
We all have at least one childhood experience, so clear and profound that it has become almost inseparable from our identity.
A memory that is so deep in your heart that thinking about it brings you back to a feeling of excitement so exuberant that only a child could feel it.
For me, this memory is the summers I spent in Algonquin.
An annual expedition
I will never forget the butterflies in my stomach when my mother announced that she had booked our annual camping trip to Algonquin. I can only imagine her frustration, as it became almost impossible to sleep as the days went by until our trip.
I remember the excitement and anticipation I felt when the flat, sprawling fields surrounding my hometown in southern Ontario were gradually replaced by the stunning jagged rocks and rolling hills of the Canadian Shield.
I fondly remember the joy I felt when we walked through the west gate, tuned into 102.7 FM, and heard park updates through bursts of radio static…this meant we had arrived!
I spent my first summer in Algonquin when I was two years old and have returned every year since. My mother also spent many of her teenage summers commuting here!
Discovering the Discovery program
After setting up our camp, my mother and I immediately looked for the This week in Algonquin Park booklet to carefully select which Discovery programs (then called NHE programs) we would attend during our visit – my favorite part of our trips!
Our adventure often began with a children’s Algonquin. program, followed by a guided hike, complete with pond exploration and dip nets.
In the evening, we would make our annual pilgrimage to the open-air theater. for a late night show, where I sat in awe before the park’s naturalist on stage, telling stories about the park’s ecology and history while desperately shooing away mosquitoes..
When I was a nature-loving child growing up in an urban area, the strange toad wandering through my garden seemed like the discovery of the century. When I visited Algonquin, I found myself completely immersed in nature and surrounded by people who loved it too.
It was heavenly.
I don’t remember all the details of what I learned in the programs (other than the fact that painted turtles breathe through their butts during the winter, a process called cloacal respiration, which I’ve probably told my family about hundreds of times). . Still, I remember how they made me feel.
Raised by nature
I always felt important. I looked at the park’s naturalists with a kind of reverence.
These summer students, who dominated me with their beige shirts and the parks of Ontario hats, apparently knew the answer to all my questions about nature (and believe me, I had many. These naturalists were patient too). I thought they were so Cold.
Every time I attended a children’s program, I felt special. Even though they asked me questions that I’m sure they’ve heard hundreds of times, the naturalists listened attentively and answered my questions as if for the first time.
When I showed them what I had found in my dipnet, they encouraged me and made me feel like I had discovered something fascinating. I always felt like I had something to contribute.
From a young age, Discovery’s rangers helped instill in me, a city kid, a passion for nature and a desire to learn more. I left the Discovery programs feeling capable of exploring the lush forests and vast lakes that awaited me in Algonquin.
Become a role model
I remember the excitement I felt when my mother told me, “Hey, someday you could be the one up there.”
Being a child in Algonquin is such a valuable experience that it is difficult for me to put it into words. My time here taught me many things that I still carry with me today: independence, a thirst for adventure, and a deep appreciation for the land in which I am a guest.
I really wish all children could have this experience.
This summer I turned twenty years old. I have worked at the park for two summers and now begin my first year on the Discovery team.
The next generation of nature lovers.
I can’t wait to meet visitors, hear their questions, and help them discover more about this amazing park.
No one has all the answers about nature, and that’s what makes it so exciting! It fosters a lifelong curiosity and sense of wonder about the places we go.
I hope I can help park visitors feel the same way I did as a child when I visited the park.
Most of all, I am excited to meet the future generation of naturalists who will spend their summers exploring Algonquin Provincial Park.