Learning from nature

A lesson in the rolling hills of Elk Glen

It’s common for the rest of Canada to pass off the country’s prairie provinces as lacking in topography, but Elk Glen in the rolling Manitoba hills defies this common misconception.

Elk Glen is a lush natural area that neighbours the southern boundary of Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park. It spans 1,596 acres (646 hectares) and is defined by its hills and a wide variety of habitat types, including forests, wetlands and prairies.

“Almost 75 per cent of Elk Glen is covered with trees,” says Patrick Loewen. “The remainder of the area is comprised of prairies, former pasture lands and wetlands.”

Nature as a teacher

Patrick is a teacher at the Waywayseecappo Off-Campus School. The school has partnered with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) to offer education programming on the Elk Glen property.

“We’ve been going out there [with students] for two years now,” says Patrick. “We’ve hiked along some of the trails, and in the winter we explore the property by snowshoe. The students and I enjoy coming out here quite a bit.”

By learning from and on the land, the students from Waywayseecappo First Nation have the opportunity to connect to their traditional roots and culture, reflects Patrick.

“Our students have embraced outdoor learning; they seem to be really connecting to this area,” he says.

“They embody the land and it becomes a part of them. It gives them a sense of belonging.”

Lifelong learning

Patrick grew up in Lynn Lake, Manitoba. Living in the northern part of the province, he spent time in the bush, hunting and trapping on the land and fishing in its waters.

“I spent a large part of my childhood in nature and have connected with it my entire life. Anything that involved nature, I was all in. I always wanted to be outside,” he recalls.

The lessons he learned from the land growing up are the teachings he now shares with his students when they visit Elk Glen.

“This area is close to Waywayseecappo First Nation, so it’s in their roots,” he explains. “There was a time we were out snowshoeing and one of the students led the way and navigated along the trail. He instinctively and intuitively led the pack. This is the kind of stuff that happens when we get out on the land.”

Riding Mountain Natural Area

The Riding Mountain Natural Area is home to wildflowers, aspen parkland, highland evergreens and a lowland eastern hardwood forest. Large mammals roam the area’s rolling, forested hills, meadows, valleys, lakes and wetlands.

An interesting classroom

Elk Glen is home to myriad habitats. To the north, there are mixed-wood forests, tamarack fens, swamps and marshes. As you move south along the trail, aspen forest emerges with scattered prairies and bur oak savannah. This area is divided by a small stream with wetlands along its floodplain.

“The trail wraps around and there’s a spot on the property where you’re surrounded by oaks and aspens, looking down at a very lovely, little wetlands area,” describes Patrick.

“It’s difficult to pick a favourite spot here, as there is so much variety to see.”

Kevin Teneycke, regional vice-president of NCC’s Manitoba Region, echoes this sentiment. He too finds himself enamoured with all that this area has to offer.

“Elk Glen is a wonderful example of the diversity of habitats in the Riding Mountain Natural Area. A visit to the property provides the opportunity to experience the various forest types, fescue prairie and wetlands that are found there.”

Elk Glen is part of a network of protected areas that includes Riding Mountain National Park. In addition to providing habitat for large mammals, such as elk, the property also supports at-risk birds, such as Canada warbler and olive-side flycatcher.

Learning about the importance of this land is helping the students of Waywayseecappo Off-Campus School connect to this vital nature area and foster a deeper relationship with nature. “Learning from the land is a symbiotic relationship,” says Patrick. “We’ve been able to incorporate and teach traditional studies in the classroom better by getting out onto the land. We can’t wait to get back out there.”

Before heading out to Elk Glen, please contact the Manitoba Region at 1-866-683-6934 to obtain permission and coordinate your visit.

Species to Spot

– beaver
– black bear
– bobolink
– Canada warbler
– elk
– grey wolf
– moose
– olive-sided flycatcher
– white-tailed deer

Photo Credits (Top to bottom): NCC; NCC; NCC; NCC; Chelsey Clem; Dean Mullin.


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