“Fall”ing into a new role at Sandbanks

In our “Behind the Scenes” series, Discovery Program staff across the province share a backstage glimpse of their favourite programs and projects. Today’s post comes from Carlin Thompson, Assistant Discovery Leader at Sandbanks Provincial Park.

When summer transitions into fall at Sandbanks Provincial Park, many campgrounds are closed for the season. Park Store and Discovery Centre hours are reduced, and snow fencing is placed along our popular beaches in preparation for whipping winter winds.

This year, as camping visitation waned and summer staff headed back to school, I was preparing to tackle a new challenge for the Discovery Program.

After decades of educating and entertaining campers with summer programs, Sandbanks’ Discovery Program is thrilled to refocus our efforts this fall to become a more active community partner with our local schools.

A shift in understanding

Sandbanks staff doing dunes restoration workI have personally witnessed fifteen summer seasons come and go as an employee of one of Ontario’s busiest parks.

Having grown up across the road from Sandbanks, my family and I took many sunset walks along the beach and had picnics at the site of the old Lakeshore Lodge. I went to the local high school (and skipped classes on sunny June afternoons to spend time with my classmates at the beach!).

However, it wasn’t until I began working at the park and attended a program that I truly understood the value and complexity of what was in my own backyard.

View of beach at Sandbanks.

That’s why I’m so excited to engage local children by connecting with classroom teachers to expand on the summer programs we have always offered.

As an Ontario Certified Teacher myself, and a local supply teacher, it has been amazing to reach out to my colleagues and invite them out of the classroom and onto the beach!

I have been fortunate to connect with eager educators who have become collaborators in creating hands-on programs with strong curriculum ties.

Restoring the dunes (with a little extra help!)

One of my favourite projects this fall has been including school groups in dune restoration, which is regularly undertaken by Discovery staff.

School participating in restoration program.

School participating in restoration program.During the busy summer season, in their haste to scramble along the beach, visitors often blaze new trails through the foredunes, stomping on the ground cover that effectively holds the sand in place. As a result, erosion by wind, rain, and eventually snow can alter the formation of the dunes.

One of my fall responsibilities is to identify those areas most vulnerable to erosion.

To do that, I hit the beach!

When I say “hit the beach,” I want you to imagine steel-toed boots and binoculars rather than flip-flops, bathing suits and a good book. But it doesn’t suck! Exploring the dunes on a beautiful fall day, soaking up the bright sunshine with Lake Ontario breezes kissing your skin and birdsong filling your ears – it’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

School participating in restoration program.

After the damage has been assessed, we go about the business of restoration with the planting of Marram Grass, a dune-specific plant which is uniquely adapted to survive and thrive in a constantly shifting sand environment. 

It’s always a satisfying job, but this year, it was made more satisfying by the school children who joined me in my efforts.

School participating in restoration program.

Inspiring the next generation

After weeks of communicating with teachers, writing lesson plans, and preparing the site, I found myself — Marram Grass in hand — eagerly awaiting the arrival of a big yellow school bus from my alma mater.

School participating in restoration program.

I’ve always felt the responsibility of reaching young people for the environment, but on that cool fall morning, I was hit with a new realization: quite possibly the greatest impact I can make is to inspire area children to connect with the park that I love, to become good stewards, and maybe even future Sandbanks employees!

Connect with other parks offering Discovery School Programs

Discovery Rangers are available at numerous locations across the province to deliver school programs in our parks, in your classroom or schoolyard, and via videoconference.

Designed to enrich and extend the K-12 Ontario Science and Social Studies Curricula, our school programs provide first-hand experiences that promote inquiry, problem solving, active learning, and responsible citizenship by connecting students directly with Ontario’s natural and cultural heritage.

To inquire about Discovery School Programs available in your community email us.