In a season of transition like October in Manitoba, you’ll see and smell fall as a distinct season. Whether it’s highbush cranberries, or nanny berries, or rose hips, the yellow and gold typical of the aspen parkland comes alive. Corporate retreats, small group hikes, and guided experiences in nature are ways that corporate teams, groups, leadership teams (youth and adult) can experience Riding Mountain National Park. An easy way to do this is to check out places to stay like The Lakehouse in downtown Wasagaming, the Elkhorn Resort & Solstice Spa in Onanole, or Honeycomb Bed & Breakfast in Onanole.

As a transition season, the sights and smells are different. But, for many organizations, boards, businesses and community groups, this transition season is an important one to reset budgets, to re-boot ideas for organizational change, or to celebrate a good year. For all these reasons, the Earth Rhythms team, based in Onanole, Manitoba (beside the national park) is a starting point to ask questions about how they might help you to customize your own retreat or business getaway.

Our certified guides and facilitators create imaginative and deep training. They are experienced in a number of outdoor skills and love taking visitors to new places in the park in all seasons. Next season is winter – when snowshoeing and snow tracking in day or night become a great new way to experience the outdoors together.

Perhaps some of these images will inspire you to think about bringing your group or team to the Riding Mountains.

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Occupy Winter & World Snow Day activities in Riding Mountain

Occupy Winter – Jan. 19 & 20, 2013  Occupy Winter- Moon Lake Poster

Join other Canadians and celebrate Occupy Winter – We ♥ Our Fourth Season all across Canada January 19 and 20, 2013. At Riding Mountain National Park, there will be events. PLEASE NOTE: You can CLICK on and download all of the posters on this post at larger size.

LEARN MORE: Interview with Celes Davar about Occupy Winter.

  • January 19, 12:00 Noon   all afternoon at Moon Lake in Riding Mountain National Park
  • January 19, 7:00 PM (Wasagaming picnic shelter behind the Visitor Centre): A special potluck supper and night snowshoe out to Clear Lake to experience the night sky and stars of Riding Mountain’s dark skies with Buzz Crowston. SPECIAL TREAT: Grandview singer-songwriter and Home Routes performer/host Kayla Luky will be on hand to sing a new song dedicated to Occupy Winter.Occupy Winter Evening Program poster
  • January 20, 10 AM – A snowshoe adventure at Mt. Agassiz. Meet at Agassiz Park Lodge, McCreary
  •  January 20, 11 AM – all afternoon. World Snow Day, Wasagaming (Clear Lake) at the Friends of Riding Mountain Learning Centre.

Over 4,000 Canadians have either joined or been invited to take part in Occupy Winter (Facebook Event), and more than 900 people have signed a national petition requesting Parks Canada’s CEO Alan Latourelle and the Minister of the Environment Peter Kent to please consult with Canadians and restore winter services in all national parks. Winter services (the four

th season) were eliminated from Parks Canada operations as a result of the last federal budget.

Occupy Winter is an opportunity to request Parks Canada to:

  1. Reverse the policy shift (2012) that created most national parks as three-season national parks, rather than four season.
  2. Consult Canadians about what we would like to see for winter services at each national park.
  3. Understand and recognize that winter is a distinct season and part of our national identity. We celebrate winter as community, families, and travelers. And, we do that in our national parks.

What can you do?

  • Sign the national petition to Parks Canada CEO Alan Latourelle and Environment Minister Peter Kent – SIGN THE PETITION to Restore Winter Services and Four Seasons to all national parks.
  • Ask your MP to represent a formal petition from your community to the House of Commons requesting Parks Canada to rescind the three seasons designation.

World Snow Day at WasagamingWhat are the Issues?

Radio Interview (CDKM, Dauphin) with Manitoba’s Celes Davar (who operates who explains what Occupy Winter is about and why Parks Canada’s decisions to shift national parks to three seasons affects us all. This is not good decision-making on the part of Parks Canada.

The following are important aspects of this policy shift that we are asking Parks Canada to specifically assess and take action on:

  1. Parks Canada has created a policy shift, without consultation with Canadians, that is not consistent with how Canadians use and value our national parks in winter. Recommendation: Reverse the decision to establish three season national parks. Establish a consultative process with Canadians across the country and with local stakeholders to determine how best to re-establish winter services in each national park.
  2. Canada is a country that is distinctly northern, has snow, and has a rich and long tradition of cross-country skiing, watching wildlife, snowshoeing, and various winter events and activities in our national parks throughout the winter months. Recommendation: That we use this distinct geographic and market positioning as part of how we promote the Fourth Season (winter) as a time for healthy exercise and lifestyle, winter tourism, appreciation of Canada’s nature and wildness in winter, and active community celebrations of our national parks in winter. The benefits will include new revenues, new marketing opportunities, and a sustainable educational program.
  3. Our national parks are iconic Canadian places for healthy outdoor activity including self-propelled forms of winter activity and recreation (skiing, snowshoeing, skijoring). Recommendation: Establish a core level of park staff and associated operating funds to create, deliver and market winter recreational services, education, interpretation, and winter science and environmental monitoring. Invite this core group of park staff to collaborate with local community tourism businesses and organizations to explore unique ways that each national park can partner to create and deliver these services with community partners. Empower each park manager to establish appropriate funding and staff for developing collaborative strategies with external partners.
  1. Our annual park admission fees include access to trails, facilities, and winter services that Parks Canada has been providing to us. Access to these winter services was included within the calculation of admission fees to each national park for which each park user pays. Recommendation: Continue to include the costs to provide winter services within park admission fees. Additional revenues in winter should be used to help offset budgetary deficits.
  2. It is very important to recognize that winter visitors are very different from summer park visitors. They are people who love winter sports, skiing, snowshoeing, or wildlife viewing. They are some of the strongest supporters of our national parks, and include urban enthusiasts, as well as many residents from surrounding communities next to national parks who frequent winter trails. They advocate for each national park. Winter visitors come in smaller numbers and they come for very different experiences than summer visitors. Recommendation: Because winter offers Parks Canada a different opportunity to market winter as a distinct season, collect revenues, acknowledge local supporters and advocates, and partner with local tourism businesses to offer “the quintessential winter experience in Canada”, include winter as a distinct season of programming and activities for all national parks.

Response requested:

We ask that the CEO for Parks Canada Alan Latourelle, each national park Superintendent, and the Minister of Environment respond to the above petition and the five actions we have identified in consultation with Canadians. We ask that this consultation and revised decision-making be conducted before June 1, 2013, and that Parks Canada communicate their decisions publicly.

Riding Mountain prairies pulse with life in mid-summer

Recently, we had the pleasure of taking a mother and her daughter on a customized photo safari into Riding Mountain National Park. Late July and August is a beautiful time to experience wildflower blooms. The following is a slide show of some of the flowers and wildlife images of things that you may see at this time of year on the prairies. Rough fescue prairies are one of the most biologically diverse habitats anywhere in Canada. With rich Chernozemic soils undisturbed by any human activities, you will see an ecosystem that has over 30 plant species per square metre in some places. This is the land of wild grazers (herbivores) like bison, elk, and white-tailed deer. Occasionally, moose or wolves or coyotes may also be seen.

PHOTO TIP: Knowing how and when to go, the time of day, lighting conditions for optimal photography, and understanding the habitats and habits of each wildlife species is helpful in being able to photograph or view birds or mammals in the cycle of light and weather each day.

Riding Mountain Fescue Grasslands and Aspen Forests

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Owl watching season

Owls fascinate me. They are definitely a passion of mine from a photographic perspective. But, I think that what I love most about owls is their behaviour. We learn lots from just simply sitting and observing them. This is a time of year when there are three owls that I look for – great gray owls; northern hawk owls; and great horned owls. Great grays and hawk owls are both active during the day time. Because the the leaves are off the trees, they are easier to see. Northern hawk owls can be seen in Riding Mountain during the winter months.

How to watch for owls

What is involved in looking for owls? A good pair of eyes – knowing what to look for, and learning to look at the landscape to distinguish the shape of an owl; being out at the right time of day for nocturnal owls (great horned owls, or spring arrivals of saw-whet or boreal owls); having a pair of bright field binoculars and a spotting scope; a field guide – either book or electronic editions; and being warmly dressed. Often, you are standing outdoors for short periods of time. By being warmly dressed, you’ll be able to persist and watch.

Great_gray_owl_Riding Mountain_©Celes Davar

Great gray owl in spruce

Here is a photograph of a great gray owl I noticed, as I was driving along. It swooped low across the road and then up into a spruce tree. If I had not noticed its flight, I likely would not have noticed it in the tree. It is very well camouflaged.

Earth Rhythms creates small group photo safaris to learn how to use your digital camera in new ways. Along the way we spot birds, photograph tracks, and share stories about Riding Mountain wildlife. Bring your family or friends. Combine it with a stay at a local resort or a visit with friends in the area. Call us at 1.888.301.0030, or visit Earth Rhythms online. Happy owling!

Making bread, biodiversity and spring bird songs

I am baking some fresh bread today.  A new recipe, using organic whole wheat flours from Prairie Seasons Bakery, a delightful café and bakery in Neepawa, Manitoba. In a recent search for the town to host Manitoba’s Homecoming in 2010, Neepawa received 14,000 votes, and has been awarded the grand prize of hosting Manitoba’s official 140th birthday on May 12, 2010.  Neepawa is on the road to Riding Mountain National Park. I highly recommend stopping at Prairie Seasons Bakery right on main street for a very nutritious sandwich featuring breads made with organic, local grains and local produce.  The coffee is great too.  Oh, so are the amazing baked goods.  Stock up on your way to Wasagaming Campground.

As I made my bread today, the mourning doves, clay coloured sparrows, chipping sparrows, robins, rose breasted grosbeaks and house wrens were all nattering or singing loudly.  We live not more than .5 km from the boundary of Riding Mountain National Park, a place of great biodiversity in the southern part of Manitoba, Canada.  

As I sat, drinking my coffee and waiting for the yeast to develop in the bowl, I was reading from David Suzuki’s new book The Big Picture – reflections on science, humanity, and a quickly changing planet.  I met David briefly last week in Nashville where he gave, to a standing ovation, one of the most inspiring morning talks as he introduced Al Gore to more than 500 of us from Canada and the US , who are officially trained as Climate Project presenters, participating in the Climate Change Summit.

In his chapter on “Getting to Know the Joneses” (about biodiversity, and knowing our neighbours in nature), Suzuki identified that 1,200 bird species worldwide are currently facing extinction (2004 study from Birdlife International), with some 200 on the critical list.  Why?  Largely because humans are affecting their habitats.  “Converting prairie grassland to farmland, for example, has resulted in a 60% decline in native prairie bird species”. 

Why does the protection and enhancement of bio-diversity matter?  Because on a large scale, the diversity of life on Earth underpins many of the ecosystem services that we need to survive (producing oxygen, cleansing our water systems, cleansing our air, storing carbon that prevents global warming).  Faced with a growing population of some 6.7 billion people, there has been an explosive rise in demand for energy, land, resources, and the planet’s bio-diversity is declining.  “A diversity of life has proven to be a key element of evolution and the resiliency of life on Earth over long periods of time, even through periods of great change.”

We are at an unprecedented time in the history of the Earth.  Humans are altering the earth at the same or greater levels of magnitude as geologic change – except that we are doing it in flash or a wink in geologic time, not over eons.  And, it’s impacts are being seen all over.  

I want to save the Earth.  I know that I cannot do that.  But, I want to.  And, my frustration as I kneaded out the dough that became my bread and listened to spring symphonies that reflect the presence of such biodiversity of life on Earth, was that we have a lack of leadership and action within our country right now, to address our climate change challenges.  

Our adventure company Earth Rhythms is dedicated to helping travelers experience this bio-diversity. We contribute to the Nature Conservancy which saves habitat; we live in an R-2000 home that we designed and constructed and was designed by us to have a low ecological footprint, and minimal impact on the land.  We are helping to create programming for our fall festival Sonics and Sojourns, which will celebrate bio-diversity, educate youth and adults about our emerging low carbon economy, and provide opportunities for anyone to experience nature in the fall.  I am doing a very small part to move my life towards saving the Earth.

I want to see our Canadian federal politicians making a positive contribution to the Copenhagen Climate Treaty in December by setting an aggressive target for reducing CO2 in Canada.  The US has taken a mighty step forward by creating a new climate bill (Waxman-Markey bill) that has set an ambitious and achievable 83% reduction in CO2 over 1990 levels by 2050.  

Come on Canada – let’s start putting the heat on our Canadian politicians to get with it, to create a policy environment that restores our global  leadership that we have now lost; that reflects a realization that our long-term economic health is directly linked to our long-term ecological health.  Let’s get down to making new bread, featuring prairie grains that reflect a commitment to restoration of prairie diversity, where the presence of spring bird songs will continue to mean that we have saved the Earth, together.