Everyone has heard of Jasper and Banff National Parks here in our own backyard, but what of the other 46 National Parks? A virtual pivot for TELUS World of Science Edmonton this past year allowed us to introduce experts and bring content from further afield to students in our province.
Meet Kathryn Walpole, she’s a: Resource Management Officer in Nahanni National Park Reserve!
Sitting at a picnic table last year at Boulder Creek Campground in Jasper National Park, I listened to a fellow camper recount the tales of an epic canoe trip she did many years past. I barely noticed getting eaten alive by mosquitoes as she described the trip that culminated at the Cirque of the Unclimbables where granite spires rise out of the lush alpine meadow and the South Nahanni River surges over a drop of twice the height of Niagara Falls at Náįlįcho (Virginia Falls). She had the incredible opportunity to visit Nahanni National Park reserve, a landscape of outstanding geological and natural processes, a wide range of wildlife and the homelands of the Dehcho Dene.
It encompasses 30,000 square kilometers, is a designated UNESCO world heritage site and is home to the South Nahanni Canadian Heritage River. The Dehcho First Nations welcome adventurers to Nahʔą Dehé, land of peaks, plateaus and wild rivers. www.pc.gc.ca/nahanni
What is your Favourite part of the park?
So hard to answer! Nahanni is such a vast and varied wilderness. It encompasses mountains, plateaus, big rivers, alpine tundra, poljes[MP1] (unique flat fields found in karst areas) and boreal forest. For me though, the most alluring features in Nahanni are the thermal springs. There are many springs within Nahanni but only a few of them have tufa[MP2] (rocks formed by deposits of minerals in the spring), best known are at Gahnįhthah Mįe (Rabbitkettle Springs)[MP3] .
What is the best project or study you’ve gotten to work on?
In 2019, I got to be a part of a team that surveyed the only known populations of Nahanni Aster [MP4] (Symphyotrichum nahanniense). There is very little known about this wildflower species, but what we do know so far, is that it only grows at thermal springs with calcium carbonate formations in Nahanni National Park Reserve - those magical springs with tufa.
What is your favourite part of your job?
To no one’s surprise, field work is the best part of my job. I feel incredibly fortunate that my job allows me to work and explore in such a spectacular place. Nahanni is remote, so for most of the work we do, the only way to get there is to fly, often in a helicopter. Seeing the landscape from the air is unbelievable at times. It never gets old for me!
What do you love about Science?
To me, science is exploration and technology, it is all of the tools that we use to do that. My favourite piece of science/tech equipment is automated recording units (ARUs). ARUs can be programmed to record at certain times each day or night and at certain times of the year and can then be set up in the field and left for an extended period. These devices are our ears in the forest! They allow the resource conservation team to gather large amounts of data on forest bird communities, or bats which can then be analyzed with specialized software, which can tell us a lot about species diversity and the overall health of forest communities in the park.
What kind of advice do you have for emerging young scientists?
So, my advice to women and girls in STEM is, find someone who inspires you, ideally someone who has walked a similar path to the one you are on. Work with them if you can, learn about their journey, start up a relationship and maintain it for as long as you can. In my experience, people love to share what they have learned along the way and want to help you on your journey. My mentor has helped me in all kinds of ways, including sharing job postings, reviewing a major assignment for me when I was in university, acting as my reference for countless jobs, or providing a gentle kick in the butt when I have needed a push to work harder!
Are you also interested in working in Conservation and Science jobs in Parks Canada?
Learn more about STEM careers in Parks Canada and many of our exciting projects by visiting: https://www.parkscanada.gc.ca/en/nature/science