Technology has added so much to my life, but, where there is addition, there is also inevitable subtraction.
I fondly recall memories of being a child, and running into the water up at my cottage with pockets empty, and my attention fully on the feeling of the brisk water on my sunscreen covered skin.
Yet, the reality is that we’re in a different era now, and frankly it doesn’t do anyone any good to play the role of the curmudgeon that laments the modern world and yearns for a simpler time. If you know where to look there’s never been more opportunity to engage with the outdoors, learn from nature, and rediscover what it means to be human in the modern world. Not to mention, right in our backyard, there are some brilliant examples of how technology and nature can marry, and we can all benefit.
Enter the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), an organization charged with the task of protecting, preserving, and restoring the natural environment, and in highlighting the notion of “The Living City,” a place where both citizens and nature can flourish. A vital aspect of the TRCA is their focus on outdoor education, especially for children who, like it or not, will be the next generation, and will be confronted with the environmental problems created by past generations.
The TRCA, for reference, includes Toronto, Vaughan, Markham, Richmond Hill, and portions of Ajax, Pickering, Brampton, Caledon and many more townships. In short, it’s a vast area including nine watersheds and over three and a half million people.
So, where to start?
Well, that all depends on what you’re looking to do.
Nearby Outdoor Adventures and Getaways
If you’ve got your eyes on camping, then a weekend away at Albion Hills Conservation Park might be ideal. Once the trails are officially opened for the spring, I’d recommend renting a fat-tire bike and getting out into the forest. When you’re tired, you can simply retire to one of 225 available camping sites, or even hit the pool, and enjoy the natural backdrop. Conversely, you can head to the Indian Line Campground near Brampton, and be lulled to sleep by the pleasant sounds of the Rouge River.
If camping isn’t your thing, but you still want to walk on soil as opposed to cement, there’s plenty else on offer. The Glen Haffy Conservation Park in particular offers some of the finest views in southern Ontario, especially if you decide to go for a hike on one of their three wide, scenic trails. You can also fish here for rainbow trout, if that tickles your fancy. In the summer, I’d also consider the Petticoat Creek Conservation Area which is complete with pools and a splash area that kids adore.
Fostering Sustainable Communities
For those who are looking to connect on a deep level with the natural surroundings of this region, you should strongly consider the Kortright Centre for Conservation. Thankfully, many students and school groups make a stop here, and the results have been incredibly positive. Heather Stafford, a bright, impassioned supervisor there, noted, “We have kids, they come in, and they’re sitting waiting and they’re on their devices. As soon as they’re outside, those devices go away, and they forget about them, which is great.”
Just 10 minutes north of Toronto, the Kortright Centre is using their pristine 325 hectares of land for good use. They have more than 50 environmental education programs for schools, around 30 sustainable technology workshops for people of all ages and interests, and they host a whopping 100,000 visitors annually. In thinking about the future, and the need to share lessons that matter from an environmental, educational, and technological perspective, it’s these places we need to covet.
The beauty of the Kortright Centre is that their emphasis in asking students and so forth to be present and focus on what’s before them has nothing to do with an aversion to technology. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. They have two “sustainable houses” on the property – one that showcases technology available today, and another that showcases potential ideas for the future, which encourages people to think about how we live more sustainable lives.
It’s all about using the technology appropriately, to enhance the experience, not detract from it.
In the past, the Kortright Centre has also been involved in programs around geocaching. For those who don’t know, geocaching is basically an outdoor activity in which people use a GPS to find objects marked at particular coordinates. Heather and I talked at length about all the incredible hiking opportunities here, and that’s when she mentioned geocaching. “There are lots of different trails to walk on. If you want to engage kids on a hike, kids love to go geocaching, there’s even a free app for geo-caching. It’s basically a high tech scavenger hunt!”
In some ways, I had this archaic idea that being in nature meant adopting an almost monk-like silence and stoicism, but really, there are so many different ways to understand and appreciate the outdoors. Sure, I’d love to walk solo along one of the trails at Glen Haffy and be one with my surroundings, but, on the other hand, I can imagine how satisfying it would be to watch my future kids navigate us through the forest in an epic bout of geocaching.
Being prescriptive as to how people should experience the outdoors is counterintuitive. In nature, we all find the version of ourselves we need to find, but the trick is that you have to get out into nature in the first place to find that person. That, in many ways, is what the TRCA is all about.
There was one thing that Heather mentioned that I thought was profound. Towards the end of our chat, she exhaled and said that all they hoped to do was “instill an awareness and appreciation for the natural world.” Now that is a mission worth fighting for.
The truth is, we’re blessed to have all of this in our extended backyard – but only if we realize what’s here, and take the chance to get away. To take the chance to, if only for a moment, exhale a breath we’ve been holding for far too long.
Written by: Christopher Mitchell