Research in Action: Wabakimi partners with Lakehead for research and experiential learning

Published in The Chronicle Journal, Saturday, April 4, 2020.

Students canoeing in Wabakimi - view of their backs

For over 20 years, Dr. Tom Potter, Professor in Outdoor Recreation, Parks, and Tourism (ORPT) at Lakehead University, has maintained a working relationship with Wabakimi Provincial Park.
More recently, Alexa Haberer, a Technologist in the ORPT program, has also been involved.
Each year, Potter and Haberer facilitate two-week research journeys for about a dozen third year undergraduate students in the ORPT program.

The journeys are the culminating project for their field exploration course. The trips have three main learning goals: expedition planning and preparation, which they undertake throughout the year; gaining experience in remote back county travel in the northwest ecoregion; and fostering first-hand data collection.

“I am extremely grateful to the staff of Wabakimi Provincial Park who have been highly supportive of our work over the years,” said Potter.

Shannon Lawr, Park Superintendent, Wabakimi Provincial Park, along with Shannon Walshe, Park Biologist, work with Potter and Haberer to identify the types of data collection that students could do to benefit the park, as well as canoe routes through the park that need attention. For example, students might document evidence of caribou, conduct a population study of beaver, identify and document plant species, or evaluate the state of campsites and portage routes.

“The students’ research and recreation-based activities, linked to our canoe routes, fill information gaps in terms of park operations and resource management,” said Lawr.

“The partnership with Lakehead also ensures the next generation of paddlers contributes to Wabakimi’s future and builds understanding as to why it is such a treasure,” he added.

Hannah Terejko, a fourth year ORPT and Natural Sciences student from Brantford, Ont went on last year’s trip, and echoes this sentiment.

“It is one thing to hear about a park and how amazing it might be, but to get to know it and connect to it like it is home creates respect, and drives the motivation to maintain its health,” she said.

Following the journeys, students compile comprehensive research reports that they present to the park. Through the students' detailed investigations, they make meaningful and unique contributions to park planning and management. They also expand their own vision and knowledge of the cultural, recreational and biological aspects of the park.

“It's a joy for me to watch students organise and conduct their data collection, and revel in their research accomplishments as they travel through some very challenging areas and environmental conditions,” said Potter.

During the trip, students are accompanied by qualified guides, including Lakehead faculty or staff. When possible, park staff members join the expedition group, too, which gives the students a chance to learn from someone working in their field. The experts, however, encourage students to lead. Students plan out their roles for the trip, rotating between leader, navigator, chef, head researcher, and assistant researcher positions.

“Everyone gets a chance to do everything, so each gets a chance to let the leadership skills they’ve developed over the program shine,” explained Haberer.

When asked about what she will take from the experience, Terejko reflected on these leadership skills.

“Being able to work with others and take initiative where it is needed, even in small tasks, can be more help to the group than it might seem, and is a great skill to bring into future jobs and careers,” she said.

Potter also noted the unique opportunity for not only hands-on learning but personal growth.

“Their projects encourage them to struggle more, see more, learn more, and appreciate more. And, they get to learn how challenging, exciting, and useful research can be,” he said.

Photo description: Lakehead University Outdoor Recreation Students in Wabakimi Provicial Park summer 2019
Photo credit: Hannah Terejko
Story written by: PhebeAnn Wolframe-Smith
Story published in Chronicle Journal "Research in Action Series" April 4, 2020