Victoria, British Columbia – It’s not every day you’re invited to meet a real-life mountain man or given the opportunity to venture into the heart of the mountains to learn about grizzly bears and bull moose.
Naturally, when the invitation appeared, I felt compelled to meet Wayne Sawchuk and learn more about this humble wilderness hero, his quest to protect a rare parcel of wilderness in the heart of the Canadian Rockies and the expeditions he guides. We got acquainted over a cup of tea, and I had the distinct impression my life would never be quite the same.
I’ve signed on for one of his summer expeditions in August, traveling through the sacred land known as the Muskwa-Kechika. The expedition will be a first: Wayne will be leading an organized trip for a group of youth and family members into what he refers to as the “Wild Heart of Canada’s Northern Rockies.”
A handful of noted and committed conservationists have banded together to organize the trip to help increase awareness surrounding this pristine land and to nurture a strong bond between children and nature. I became involved as the parent of a 10-year-old son who loves wildlife and the outdoors, thanks in part to the fact that I am committed that he not suffer what author Richard Louv calls “nature-deficit disorder.” (For more, see “Saving Our Children From ‘Nature-Deficit Disorder,’” from the November/December 2006 issue of GRIT.)
In his national bestseller Last Child in the Woods, Louv convincingly presents a case for a relationship between an increase of technology (over nature) in our children’s lives to an increase in conditions such as obesity, depression and attention-deficit disorder. As Louv writes, “Nature-deficit disorder is not a formal diagnosis, but a way to describe the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.”
If our children aren’t exposed to nature, how are they going to understand it, love it and care about it? Essentially, the mandate for the Muskwa-Kechika trip is twofold: protecting our sacred wilderness spaces and healing our children.
The MK is one of the most remarkable wilderness areas in the world, spanning an area in northeast British Columbia one and a half times the size of Switzerland. Due to the dedication of several people, including Wayne, its wilderness management model is the envy of the world and is proving quite successful.
The MK encompasses 16 million acres of land with varying levels of conservation, preservation and land-use practices. Found in the Northern Rockies and Cassiar Mountains, the area is named after two great rivers that flow through it: the Muskwa and the Kechika.
“It has more species in greater abundance than anywhere else on the continent, and that makes it of global importance,” Wayne says. In the early 1990s, he was instrumental in plans to protect the region. In 1993, the MK Management Area Act was officially established by legislation.
Having been raised in the area and having worked on the land as well, Wayne is driven by a vision of humanity co-existing peacefully and prosperously with nature. He values the role education plays and knows what it takes to bring government, industry and other stakeholders to the table. Ushering change into the future will be in the hands of our children, and now they have the extraordinary opportunity to experience true wilderness. Wayne, who has been guiding horseback expeditions, base-camp experiences and artist camps in the MK since 1985, will lead these trips.
For seven days, youth ages of 10 to 16 will travel through the region’s forests and rivers, getting up close with grizzly bears, moose, caribou, big-horn sheep and other creatures. They’ll travel by horseback, learning to care for the horses, and they’ll camp under the stars in tents or tepees. Accompanied by a family member, the youngster will cultivate a lifelong bond with family and the outdoors. Time will be guided, allowing for the freedom and wonder found in exploration. Among many activities, participants will build fires, hike, fish, canoe, identify wildlife and trees, take a morning yoga class or opt for a pursuit such as drawing, reading or imagining. A base camp complete with a cook, sauna and lake for swimming will have a large tepee set up for nightly gatherings.
The family wilderness experiences are designed to instill in children a caring for nature by facilitating an opportunity to experience and enjoy the wilderness of the Muskwa-Kechika.
“It is one of the few remaining places in the entire world where a fully functioning wilderness ecosystem of this complexity and value still lives and breathes as it always has,” Wayne says.
Trips will be running during the first two weeks of August, departing from and returning to Fort Nelson, British Columbia.
For more information on the MK and expeditions, call 250-759-4993 or visit the website www.MuskwaKechika.com.