Thu. Feb 29th, 2024
Learning about turtle plastrons at a children’s program.

In our “Behind the Scenes” series, Discovery Program staff from across the province share a “behind the scenes” look at their favorite shows and projects. Today’s post comes from Heather Stern, discovery leader at Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park.

So you think you want to work with the Ontario Parks Discovery Program…

Every spring, when interviewing potential Discovery Program staff, someone inevitably asks, “What can I expect to do in this position?”

This is always a great question, but it can be difficult to answer. Each day is likely to be slightly different and your responsibilities will vary depending on the season.

At Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park, Discovery Program staff are responsible for organizing and leading Voyageur Adventure Tours, staffing the Mattawa River Visitor Center, researching, writing and presenting different types of interpretive programs, and assisting with the monitoring of species at risk and invasive species. species elimination, just to name a few.

Guided at the Visitor Center

Visitors to the park can come from all over the world and the Visitor Center offers an informal atmosphere to meet them.

Mattawa River Visitor Center Staff

At the Visitor Center we are asked a wide range of questions, from the simple “where do I check in for my camp?” to the specific “I’m studying lichens. Can you tell me where is the best place to find Cladonia asahinae?” to the curious “can other animals get poison ivy?” (none of the animals found in Ontario parks, but possibly some primate species).

Knowing where to find the answers to these questions is a skill that Discovery staff learn very quickly!

Rowing like it’s 1796

Voyageur adventure trips are a unique aspect of the job at Samuel de Champlain. It is the only provincial park that offers the opportunity to paddle a 28-foot replica. master’s ship (master’s canoe) on a historic fur trade route.

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Visitors enjoying the Voyageur Tour.

In order to take these tours, Discovery Program staff must learn the information, become certified canoeists, and be able to back a 30-foot trailer into some tight spots.

Dressing in traditional Voyageur costumes and singing French paddling songs is highly recommended.

Reverse the trailer holding the canoe between two containers in the maintenance yard.

Discovering can be fun

Programming is a big part of our job.

Programs can be a guided walk, a table with props for guests to come up to and investigate, a bonfire, a program geared toward children with lots of games and activities, an illustrated talk, art in the park, a musical! The list goes on.

Staff member at a voyageur-themed touch table.

Each of these programs has been researched and written by the Discovery Program staff at our parks. The skills and information Discovery Program staff learn while creating these educational experiences for guests lead them to become experts in their chosen topics.

Learning about turtle plastrons in a children's program.

We try to develop programs that are both entertaining and informative. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing a visitor smile with pride after making their own finger-knit traveler’s sash.

Or seeing the wonder on a child’s face after witnessing a dragonfly emerging from its nymph exoskeleton. These moments of joy, discovery and inspiration are what we look for in each program.

Learning to weave a sash like travelers

Protecting the most vulnerable

In the spring and early summer, Discovery Program staff participate in turtle monitoring. Every night, several staff members will go to known turtle locations to check for nesting turtles.

Staff member helping a Midland painted turtle cross the road.

These could be Midland Painted Turtles, Snapping Turtles, or Blanding’s Turtles. If the turtle is in the path, we gently move it out of danger, in the direction it was traveling. If the turtle has laid eggs, we cover the nest to try to limit predation (raccoons and foxes looking for a midnight snack).

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This year, we are also contributing to a snake monitoring program to study snake fungal disease (SFD) and its prevalence across the province.

On the left, a snake moving through the grass and on the right, a staff member cleaning a snake.

Any snakes we find in the park will be cleaned for the fungus and released. The swabs are then sent to a laboratory for testing to determine how far SFD has spread.

As summer progresses, staff spend some nights next to old buildings with bat detectors, monitoring different species of bats that may be roosting in the area.

Staff member carefully holding a bat.

If there is a cabin or work building with bats roosting, Discovery Program staff can use their carpentry skills to build bat boxes as safe places outside of our buildings.

Bye bye bye bye (invasive)!

Another aspect of the Discovery Program staff’s work is to monitor and possibly remove invasive species. These are species that have been introduced to an area (often by people) and are having a negative impact on their new environment.

A purple loosestrife plant that has been uprooted.

The first step for Discovery Program staff is to learn how to identify invasive species. Is it an Asian longhorn beetle or is it the native pine beetle? Is it purple loosestrife or native fireweed? Once staff know how to identify invasive species, we will be able to monitor where they are in the park and possibly remove them.

Always something different

So, as a Discovery Program staff, you can spend one day taking guests on a hike through an ancient forest and the next day doing toad pee while trying to show it off to a group of hikers. You could spend 45 minutes on a trail trying to identify a bird song or get covered in paint helping out at an Art in the Park afternoon.

staff standing in front of the entrance door

Every day is different. And while I always try to answer the question “what can I expect to do in this position?” as completely as possible, at the end of each summer, they inevitably tell me “this job wasn’t what I expected, but I loved it! “