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The Volunteer

Turning frustration into action and education

Preventable environmental damage stings. A collective wince spreads through town when we hear about the growing tally of litter, bear charges and ill-prepared hikers. The feeling of discouragement is tangible, and it’s so easy to feel helpless or overwhelmed by it. Finding a way to channel my own frustration into productivity felt impossible. Enter WildSmart: a local organization designed to educate the public about wildlife coexistence and reduce negative human impact. Their Wildlife Ambassador volunteer program began in 2007, and it has been gaining momentum each season.

We chat with folks at trailheads about how and when to use bear spray, and remind them to keep dogs on-leash and not to pick flowers or go off-trail. We’ve helped with directions, handed out baggies for packing out garbage and intercepted people feeding birds. Our goal is to make a small difference in the way people interact with the environment, while remembering that most of us didn’t know any better when we first started recreating here. It’s an enormous privilege to gather the knowledge that we often take for granted (of course you shouldn’t throw rocks off Ha Ling), and not everyone has had easy access to the relevant information, or the time to learn it.

Volunteering for WildSmart has entirely changed my perspective from disgusted to optimistic; people are good. They’re eager to learn, and they appreciate these places, too — they just need to know how to show it.

Maryn Simrak (she/her) is a Bow Valley based landscape, adventure and commercial photographer, learn more at