Behind the scenes: from curious camper to Discovery staff at Lake Superior Provincial Park

Today’s post comes from Jordan Welch and Kelly Taylor, Discovery Program staff at Lake Superior Provincial Park

We have all been asked the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

We tend to make the decision based on the experiences we have. For some, it’s school; for others, it’s travel. Perhaps even friends and family help in deciding a career path. We went outside.

Passion into profession

As children, we dreamed of turning our passion into a profession and becoming Discovery staff at Lake Superior Provincial Park.

Lake Superior Provincial Park – Coastal Trail

So many things influenced this dream. Our love for the park began with family vacations that provided us with many fond memories, and our hearts continue to grow fonder still.

We both grew up in southern Ontario, going for summer camping trips to Agawa Bay campground and, surprisingly, never meeting until we both were working as Discovery staff here at Lake Superior in 2017.

Trail at Lake Superior.

Our journey from being young explorers to park interpreters (a.k.a., adult explorers) goes like this. We spent summers surrounded by the wild and rugged natural world of Lake Superior Provincial Park. It fueled our love of the outdoors and drove our curiosity for the natural and cultural heritage of the area.

It was the spark that inspired the dream: summers working for Ontario Parks.

Meet Jordan

My name is Jordan. This is my fourth season working for the Discovery Program. My father is an outdoor enthusiast and has a special relationship with paddling.

Before I could even string a sentence together, he strapped me into a lifejacket and plunked me into a canoe. I quickly followed my dad’s lead and fell in love with travelling by water. My mom is especially attracted to the challenging hikes and rewarding lookouts, and the photo ops that come with them.

Jordan at a very young age on the beach at Agawa Bay with her father.
Jordan and her dad at Agawa Bay

When my family wasn’t loaded (dogs and all) into our red canoes, we were trekking through the dense forest, cameras in hand, determined to complete every hiking trail Lake Superior Provincial Park has to offer.

Before I knew what Discovery was, my parents were my nature encyclopedias, and are the reason I have such a deep love for the wilderness. I peppered them with questions about plants, animals, and everything in between, and in return, they taught me paddling strokes, photography techniques, and how to use a field guide!

Jordan and her younger brother on the ground investigating moose scat.
Jordan and her younger brother and moose scat

While we spent most of our vacation out and about in the park, I can clearly remember attending countless evening programs and guided hikes led by park Discovery staff. I stared in awe at the naturalists in their professional uniforms, standing confidently on the amphitheatre stage. They looked so excited! I got to know a few of the returning senior staff members and vowed to be like them when I grew up.

Meet Kelly

My name is Kelly. This is my third season as part of the Discovery Program. I began camping at the Agawa Bay Campground when I was three years old, with my parents and older brother Joey (also working at Lake Superior as part of the maintenance team).

Kelly and older brother Joey standing on a log on the beach at Old Woman Bay.
Kelly and older brother Joey at Old Woman Bay

The park was always my first choice when asked where I would like to go for a summer vacation. I spent much of my childhood exploring Agawa Bay Campground and many of the trails throughout the park.

I found a love for northern Ontario through exploring the stunning natural landscape of Lake Superior Provincial Park. From pebble beaches to forested trails, and the many programs I insisted on attending to learn more about the natural and cultural heritage of the park, I was always entertained.

Kelly, Joey, and their mom, standing among the tress hiking in Lake Superior Provincial Park.
Kelly, Joey, and their mom hiking in Lake Superior Provincial Park

The staff was knowledgeable and kind when you had questions for them and were eager to share their passions with visitors. I began to know the faces and names of returning Discovery staff and found myself forming lasting friendships. Their love for the park, and the outdoors was contagious and I knew from the first program I attended that Discovery was the job for me!

The first steps

As avid program and event attendees, we became very familiar with the public-facing aspects of Discovery, as well as many of the returning staff members. A certain few stick out in our minds who always seemed to be out doing programs. We loved how dedicated and excited all the staff was about the park, and it inspired us to become that dedicated and excited ourselves.

After exploring and becoming knowledgeable Lake Superior Provincial Park visitors, we both decided it was time to take our undying love for natural and cultural heritage to the next level. Applications were submitted!

Our dream job

During our first weeks as Discovery students at Lake Superior Provincial Park, we were looking forward to jumping head-first into this exciting world of programming and interpretation. Little did we know we would be spending our first seasons as Discovery students acting as sponges for new information.

Jordan at Trapper’s Trail for a Children’s Wetland Program. Seen are two children exploring the display table with the water in the background.
Jordan at Trapper’s Trail for a Children’s Wetland Program

We were immersed in a job that consisted largely of quiet listening and observing, and we could not have been happier. When we finally began creating our very first children’s program, we quickly realized just how much time and effort went into the development of a high-quality Discovery Program. Props don’t grow on trees, you know. From developing a strong theme to writing a script to gathering all the necessary resources, programming is (literally) a full-time job and has many moving parts behind the scenes.

Jordan (Serius), Kelly (The Sun), and other Discovery staff preparing for a night sky program posing for a photo.
Jordan (Sirius), Kelly (the sun), and other Discovery staff preparing for a night sky program

Beyond creating programs, we became deeply familiar with the natural and cultural heritage of Lake Superior Provincial Park. With this new knowledge, exploring the park on our time off became more meaningful. We began to share our knowledge with our colleagues, friends, and family outside of work time. Now that is the kind of “work” we like to take home with us!

We made the right choice

After a few years of working for Ontario Parks, we can honestly say that we made the right choice. As a senior park naturalist and a very experienced assistant park naturalist, we act as mentors and role models for the new students starting their journey with Ontario Parks.

Jordan and Kelly, standing behind a table, running a Discovery Program about backcountry camping.
Jordan and Kelly running a Discovery Program

We have both homed in on specific topics we are especially passionate about. For Kelly, a love for all things raptors and sharing the importance of protection and conservation of the natural landscape. For Jordan, paddling the endless waterways in the backcountry and sharing the limitless recreation opportunities.

Recently we both participated in specialized training with the National Association for Interpretation to become Certified Interpretive Guides. Through this training, we gained a deeper understanding of what it means to be an interpreter and how important interpretation is in Ontario Parks.

Kelly standing on the shores of Old Woman Bay.
Kelly at Old Woman Bay

Through our years in Ontario Parks, the most important thing we have learned is that there is always more to learn and therefore more to share.

Dear future discovery staff

As interpreters, we take pride in our ability to inspire visitors and peers with our dedication and passion toward the natural and cultural heritage of Lake Superior Provincial Park, and all of Ontario. We love sharing our knowledge with the public and providing them with the power to apply it to their lives outside of the park.

Kelly, Joey, and their dad at the lookout on the Orphan Lake Trail
Kelly, Joey, and their dad at the lookout on the Orphan Lake Trail

We wish to inspire young campers, and to have them consider Ontario Parks as a career pathway, or to simply further explore the natural and cultural landscape of Ontario. We want to show everyone that you can find joy and inspiration anywhere if you slow down and take a moment to look around. We could not be prouder to be able to shed light on this joy and inspiration that exists right here in our backyard.

As park staff were our role models, we aspire to inspire and evoke the same excitement and enthusiasm from our future Discovery employees.

The take-home

If we can offer one piece of advice to young campers, it would be this: you can create a career out of your passion.

Ontario Parks offers a wide range of summer employment opportunities, not only in Discovery, but in campground maintenance, interior maintenance, gate staff, and warden.

You don’t have to work in parks to be passionate about the outdoors. If you are curious, enthusiastic, and willing to gain a deeper understanding of natural and cultural heritage, you can create a lasting connection with Ontario’s landscape, which can be just as rewarding and memorable.

Kelly and Jordan hiking together on their days off
Kelly and Jordan hiking together on their days off

We are inexplicably grateful for the opportunity to live our dream, and we thank YOU for giving us countless reasons to stay excited about interpretation.