Sunday 27 September 2020

Nature Regina: Watch Them Grow, Part Two

You can grow much more than just plants in a garden, as Nature Regina discovered. We started telling their story in Part One of this article. The story continues. 

Shannon Chernick, a volunteer at the Native Plant Garden that is maintained by Nature Regina volunteers, has two sons, Damon and Graham. They love spending time outdoors so Shannon brought them with her to the garden one day. The other volunteers wanted to know how she got her kids interested in nature and this led to a more general discussion about how to get more kids involved in Nature Regina. When Nature Regina received the public engagement grant from Nature Canada, they immediately thought of Shannon, who has a Bachelor of Education and has worked as a youth engagement coordinator. 

Shannon signed the contract on April 1 when the province was under lockdown. She and her sons took daily walks outside for their mental health. One day, when Damon and Shannon were out walking, he suggested they take photographs to let other families know what was going on outdoors. And that was the start of Wandering Wednesdays which are self-guided, family-friendly hike guides to help families explore the green spaces in Regina. (PS It was Shannon’s husband who came up with the name and the idea of a weekly guide.) 

“It’s my kids’ brain child and they’re the ones making it happen,” Shannon says. “They see things I’d never have seen on my own. They even come up with activities they think other kids would enjoy.” Shannon’s job is to capture photos of their outdoor adventures and put the outdoor adventure guides together. She also needs to identify the insects and plants they’ve discovered. And for that she turns to the other members of her “team” – the knowledgeable people in Nature Regina. “There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t contact Dale Hjertaas or Gail Fennell,” she says. Many other volunteers have also helped, including Glen and Maureen Lee, Brett Quiring, and Kim Mann. 

The family outdoor adventure guides are posted simultaneously on Nature Regina’s website and Facebook page and sent out in the organization’s e-newsletter every Wednesday. With 15 guides and counting, that’s a big commitment from Nature Regina’s communications volunteers. “Every week, our volunteer communications team - Daralyn Sheffield, Ingrid Alesich, and Jim Elliott - are ready to get it posted,” Shannon says. “Without them, no one would know about Wandering Wednesdays.” 

The family outdoor adventure guides are proving extremely popular and both Nature Regina and Shannon want to see them continued. They are looking for outside grants that will support their efforts to provide Regina with kid-friendly outdoor activities. 

Over the summer, Wandering Wednesdays focused on places – Condie Nature Refuge, White Butte Trails, Hidden Valley, Wascana McKell Conservation Park. This winter, Shannon plans to focus on activities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, winter birdwatching with Wandering Wednesdays - Winter Edition to inspire Regina residents to spend time outside. Her mind is bubbling over with additional ideas. Regina schools have cancelled recess due to the pandemic. Instead, teachers are expected to integrate outdoor activities into their daily schedule with their classes. The schools have banned travel outside of the city and redeployed their outdoor education staff, but they are encouraging in-city travel into green spaces close to schools. Shannon and Nature Regina hope they can be of assistance, especially as there is a Wandering Wednesday site within a 30-minute walk of three-quarters of Regina’s schools. 

“We’re listening and trying to respond to local needs as quickly as possible,” Shannon says. It’s challenging given limited funds, but Shannon is forging partnerships with other organizations to make it happen. Nature Saskatchewan delivers Nature Canada’s Naturehood program of activities designed to get students outside and enjoying nature. Lacey Weekes is their conservation and education manager and has all sorts of resources. 

Lacey and Shannon are working together to assemble materials to assist teachers with outdoor education. “We really want to respond to needs within our community,” Shannon says. “It’s a stressful time for teachers. Not-for-profits have a real opportunity to be part of the solution.” 

Lacey and Shannon have also set up a Get Outside! Outdoor Adventures: Kids Club with help from SaskOutdoors who are managing registration and have developed a participant survey and designed the graphic for the program as they have expertise in those areas. 

Kids Club is proving popular. Registration was at maximum capacity within 12 hours of registration for the first session. Nature Regina is now looking for additional volunteers so they can increase their capacity and give more family groups an opportunity to participate in the program. Each volunteer would lead separate groups of 10 families through a round robin of activities. 

This was the format Nature Regina used at two events earlier this season. One event, at Wascana McKell Park, led families through a series of activities, such as pond dipping. Ducks Unlimited provided background information about the site and led a train-the-trainer session. “We’re working together and not trying to do it alone,” Shannon explains. “Ten people came to train-the-trainer. Three of them had never volunteered for anything before. We’re constantly recalculating to try and make things work.” 

The Royal Saskatchewan Museum and the Saskatchewan Science Centre are adapting to the new reality and working hard to move their activities online during the pandemic. As there are Wandering Wednesday sites close to the Saskatchewan Science Centre and the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, Nature Regina has provided them with QR codes for nearby Wandering Wednesday locations. If families arrive and find the buildings closed because hours are limited during the pandemic, they have something to do in the area before heading home. 

Shannon’s energy and enthusiasm is contagious. But she insists that she’s not doing it alone. “We’re working together, establishing teams and partnerships, and people are stepping up.” 

All 15+ Get Outside! Outdoor Adventure Guides are available for download on the Nature Regina website. If you would like to support the Get Outside movement in Regina, you can make a donation or purchase a membership to Nature Regina on their website