By Carol Patterson
Pinery Provincial Park is one of Ontario’s busiest and has one of Canada’s best citizen science programs to add fun and meaning to a weekend of camping, hiking or biking. But beware, there’s an ulterior motive. “I want to turn people from users of parks into stewards of parks,” explained Alistair MacKenzie, the park’s Natural Heritage Education Supervisor.
When I was 16 I decided I would become a forest ranger; when my mom pointed out I didn’t like bugs or cold weather I settled on accounting, eventually ditching it to become a travel writer. My teenage desire to help wildlife blossomed in my middle-aged soul as I fell into the Pinery Park citizen science program with the enthusiasm of someone discovering chocolate for the first time!
If you’ve got a budding scientist (or bored adolescent) in the family, pick up the Pinery Information Guide and try several science activities, including:
Become a bat detective
You can borrow a bat detector and listen for the nocturnal clicks of nearby bats. This one was my favourite as it can be done near the campfire with a glass of Pinot Grigio in hand!
Try reporting species at risk
Pinery Provincial Park may have some of the world’s best sunsets, but they happen atop rare and fragile Oak Savanna and Coastal Dune ecosystems. “It’s a habitat at risk, and because of that a lot of species here are very rare,” noted MacKenzie. Knowing what species are active in the park helps biologists so download the ‘Explore Pinery’ app for your techno-savvy offspring and let them record sightings of flora and fauna. For those that like gore you can even report road kill!
Take pictures for PhotoMon finder
At several PhotoMon stations in the park encourage your little shutterbug to take landscape pictures and submit them. Picture taking of the same landscape over time helps park management. “All these pictures don’t cost me a dime. We use a software program that turns them into black and white, and then we count the pixels. We then show change through time,” expounded MacKenzie.
Be a bee wrangler
Bumblebee populations are declining, but your detailed-orientated son or daughter can help by taking pictures of bees, uploading them, and learning to identify them. With fifteen different bumblebee species in Ontario, the challenge of this citizen science project will provide plenty to talk about over dinner.
Join the future naturalist program
For teens that want to stay at the park forever, enrol them in the Future Naturalists program. They’ll learn natural history and get a simulated job interview, handy so they don’t live in your basement until they’re forty.
Self-explanatory but looking after green spaces is part of park management and even the youngest traveller can help here.
Pinery Provincial Park has one of the most extensive citizen science programs I’ve encountered, and it can add a new dimension to your family visit. MacKenzie said, “It’s a great way for people to give back to the park.” I think it’s an even better way to entertain young travellers and recapture your own youthful enthusiasm.