Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
My Journey to Becoming a Discovery Guide at Rainbow Falls

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 Caroline Freitag, Discovery Guide at Rainbow Falls Provincial Park.

When I was very little, I was fascinated by leaves and rocks. On walks around my neighborhood, I would pick up the biggest, freshest leaf I could find and take it home to show it to any family member who hadn’t been with me when I found it.

My preferred method of showing affection to people was to give them a “cool rock,” usually a piece of gravel I found on the side of the road. My only neighbor loves to tell the story of the shy girl who left her piles of stones by the garden gate!

Children standing by the water's edge with Mazinaw Rock in the background.My Brothers and I by Mazinaw Rock on Bon Echo

When I was nine years old, my family went camping in Bon Echo Provincial Park. I remember almost nothing about that trip, but I have a very vivid memory. My sister and I attended an insect discovery program and I immediately became obsessed with a fun fact the discovery guide shared with us.

Image of a discovery program.My sister and I (with our stylish green hats on the far right) attended a Discovery show on Bon Echo in 2007.

An easy way to tell the difference between dragonflies and damselflies is by the way they hold their wings: Dragonflies sit with their wings out to the side, and damselflies sit with their wings together up behind their back. From then on, I pointed out every single dragonfly and damselfly I saw.

Dragonfly on the left and damselfly on the right.Left: Dragonfly with wings down. Right: damselfly with raised wings

From the time I was seven until I was eleven, my family participated in a neighborhood tradition called No-Moms-Allowed Camping. Every Father’s Day weekend, dads and neighborhood kids would camp at a group campground in Algonquin Provincial Park.

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It was a weekend full of fun, swimming, hiking, bonfires, music, and lots of candy. The best part, however, was exploring the large meadow adjacent to our campsite with my friend.

We found lots of frogs, butterflies and insects! We spent hours looking at all the cool animals and hunting for the fairies we were convinced were there too, although usually the flash of wings we were chasing were dragonflies or damselflies (and I always knew which ones they were after the Bon Echo show).

When I was in high school, I was pretty sure I wanted to do something with nature when I grew up. I joined my school’s High Skills Environmental Specialist program and truly embarked on the journey to where I am today.

We take classes like environmental science, field ecology, and resource management. We took field trips to landfills, commercial forests, provincial parks, and bird observatories (where I was able to personally release a female American redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) which was the catalyst for my love for birds).

Team photo.My high school’s Envirothon team (I’m second from the left)

Perhaps most importantly, I had the opportunity to participate in my region’s Envirothon competition. Envirothon consists of two full days of learning about five different nature-related topics, and then a day of testing and presenting a mitigation action plan for an invasive species.

Photo of the flower being talked about.The butter and eggs flower (Linaria vulgaris)

After a stress-filled wait, the results came in and my team had won! Our prize was a Newcomb Wildflower Guide. I took that book home and immediately began studying it. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the flower I had referred to as “butter flower” since I was a child was actually called butter and eggs (Linaria vulgaris)!

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Over the next few years, I put my inquiring mind and need to understand the world into practice. I learned everything I could about frogs, salamanders, birds, snakes, wildflowers, mammals, trees, fish, benthic macroinvertebrates, and invasive species.

Ontario Parks hired me as a discovery guide two years ago and I’m still learning everything I can. I went from the Great Lakes ecosystem and the St. Lawrence Lowlands to the great boreal forest.

Image showing the difference in the forest.Great Lakes Forest on the left and boreal forest on the right.

This forest is wild and free: home to black bears, bald eagles, and bobcats. I’ve found snowshoe hares (and barred owls eating them). The ghost flowers, which grow among the blueberries and the rocks covered with sundew. This is not a land we can tame and I love it.

Discovery program board and staff.Running the Feathered Friends Discovery Program

My job is truly the best in the world. When I see the same expression of excitement about learning on a child’s face that I remember from when I was little, it reminds me that even a positive interaction with nature can shape a child’s entire future.

I think we should all live in a perpetual state of excitement about the world. After all, it doesn’t matter if you started exploring when you were two or 52, there will always be more to discover!

Explore one of Ontario’s provincial parks and discover the spark that will ignite a passion for the outdoors to take home. Discovery Guides are always happy to help!

Are you interested in becoming a discovery guide? Apply today!