Discovery And Wonder At Ontario Parks
“I see a turtle,” shouts my 7-year old son in excitement pointing into the water. “Oh and there’s another one!”
It is a beautiful spring day and we are standing at the edge of the aptly named Turtle Pond at MacGregor Point Provincial Park, which is located on the sandy shores of Lake Huron, looking at Painted Turtles. Our guide, Rachelle, is showing our group of excited kids and adults some of the interesting things to be found out in nature at Ontario’s many beautiful parks.
As we walk along the wooden boardwalks and explore the marshes, the kids work through their Discovery Activity Books — first playing nature Bingo and later searching for and identifying frogs.
Rachelle is the Discovery Program Coordinator for the Southwest zone and she is giving us a preview of the popular — and free! — Ontario Park’s Discovery Program. Today we are at MacGregor Point but the program runs in 70 parks across the province.
Some parks, like MacGregor, Algonquin and Killarney for example, run enhanced Discovery programs with a full team of Discovery staff led by experienced naturalists and interpreters.
Other places, such as Wheatley, Silent Lake or Earl Rowe, run Exploration Station Discovery programs led by one or two student Discovery staff members. Both types of programs are interesting whether you’re a first time visitor to a park or have been coming for years. Click here for a full list of parks that offer programs in each category.
What can you expect with a Discovery Program?
“I love nature and I love connecting people to our beautiful parks around the province,” Rachelle tells us when she introduces herself.
That is the mandate of the team of Discovery Rangers who run the Discovery Program: to connect us to nature, to inspire us to have a deeper appreciation of the environments protected within each park and to highlight interesting natural features.
Discovery Rangers are the storytellers of Ontario Parks.
In the parks with enhanced programs, Discovery staff offer things like guided hikes, children’s programs, theatrical evening programs and even canoe hikes. The programs are tailored to best highlight the natural features of each park. At Murphys Point, for example, staff offer guided tours of the Silver Queen Mine — hard hats and all. Most programs are offered throughout the summer but check each park’s page for specific information.
In parks with Exploration Station programs, you’ll often find staff manning informative tables where people can learn about different features of the park, pick up Discovery Activity Books and explore on their own. Sometimes parks will have equipment (like the nets we used during our outing) that can be checked out and used for exploration. Different themed programs are offered on different days and parks will have schedules available so you can see what’s coming up throughout your stay.
Why does Ontario Parks run the Discovery Program?
A big mission for Ontario Parks is to conserve and educate — the discovery program touches on both mandates. While looking for frogs and snakes and water bugs, Rachelle taught the children how to be gentle with creatures, how to identify them, how not to disturb certain environments. As we were looking through one of the wetlands, Rachelle pointed out salamander eggs in a very cool green colour and explained to the children why it would be a bad idea to disturb the area around the eggs.
It goes back to the philosophy that we will conserve what we understand and love.
The Discovery Program is nothing new. In fact, it has been around for 77 years, starting in 1944 at Algonquin Park. The park hired a zoologist from the Royal Ontario Museum to deliver interpretive hikes for visitors and the hikes were such a huge success that the program was adopted on a wider scale. Today, Ontario Parks hires 300 Discovery staff to engage with visitors at 70 parks across the province.
** Disclaimer: This program was run by and operated by an Ontario Parks Discovery Ranger. When exploring on your own, please always stay on marked trails and do not disturb the wildlife. If you’d like to know what is possible, just ask the park staff — everyone is always happy to help you explore the park in a way that is safe for you and the wildlife that lives there.
Have you ever attended a Discovery Program at Ontario Parks? We’d love to hear your about your favourite programs!