In a place as snowy as Fernie, snowshoes can be one of the best ways to enjoy an afternoon outdoors. Wild Winter Tours facilitates that by offering tours of local areas to anyone interested.
The idea stemmed from Lee-Anne Walker, who started Fernie Nature Tours in the early 2000s.
“People were coming to the area and just learning that I was here and they were phoning me informally to take them on guided experiences. It just made me start to think, jeez, maybe there is an interest commercially to do that,” she said.
Walker ran Fernie Nature Tours for roughly a decade. In 2012, after realizing she was breaking even on the profits, she thought it would be a better use of her time to make it an official volunteer endeavour.
“I approached Wildsight and said this matches your mandate of reaching out to community, educating them about this unique, special place and through that awareness, build a community of people who care to conserve it,” said Walker. “They were keen and I donated the business, the assets that I had, all of the equipment, the programs, the contacts and everything to Wildsight.”
Wildsight changed the name to Wild Nature Tours and has been using the tours as a revenue stream. All of the funds raised through the tours are re-invested back into the community through the programs hosted by Wildsight.
“How it works is that people pay to go on the hike and the guides are volunteers, so they are not employees or anything and the revenues go to support Wildsight Elk Valley Branch. People, in a way, are contributing to our local conservation and the money isn’t going to a corporation, it’s going to a non-profit group. And it helps us to off set our expenses and it’s intended to be a revenue stream for Elk Valley Wildsight Branch.”
The program has been successful, with other Wildsight branches starting tours in their local communities.
“They run Wild Nature Tours in Invermere, they run Wild Nature Tours in Golden, and they are considering running Wild Nature Tours in Creston. Out of the five branches, three of them, it’s growing. Communities are looking at starting their own form of Wild Nature Tours,” said Walker.
Wild Nature Tours has grown in Fernie as well, as the service offers hiking tours during the summer.
The tours vary in length, with a two hour and three hour option. All of the equipment is provided, along with a quality lunch and refreshments. All the guides are trained on the ecology of the area and are able to provide information and facts about the area.
“I think what people love about the tours is that they are guided by a local person who knows the area and knows about winter ecology and people are fascinated by going around in the wilderness in one of the snowiest places in the world,” said Walker, adding most people also ask broader questions about the Elk Valley.
“They are curious about how wildlife survive here. They want to know about what people do here for a living and what drives the economy and if you were going to move to Fernie, which part of town would you live in?”
Wild Nature Tours also partnered with Island Lake Lodge. Island Lake provides cat transportation to the Old Growth Forest for a tour, where one of the main features is bears.
“We are not seeing bears but we are learning about bears and that is kind of the focus because it is an opportunity to talk to people about the wild values of this area and how we can support healthy populations of bears and in particular grizzly bears,” said Walker. “Grizzly bears are hibernating at about 5400 feet and above. It’s a good opportunity to talk about grizzly bears.”
For more information on the tours and their availability, contact the Elk Valley Wildsight branch.