Remembering Alberta Parks: An Uplifting Conversation in the Crowsnest Pass (bonus)

This season was made possible with support from the government of Alberta's Heritage Preservation Partnership Program and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Southern Alberta.

Well, I'm in over my head, no one told me trying to keep my footprint small was harder than I thought it could be. Well, I'm in over my head, what do I really need? Tryin' save the planet, oh will someone please save me? Tryin' save the planet, oh will someone please save me?

Welcome to In Over My Head, I'm Michael Bartz. After talking with Jessica and episode one of this season, I decided that I wanted to squeeze in one more conversation, and that was with one small business owner who was inspiring others to connect to the outdoors in a big way.

Hello, my name is Heather Davis and I'm the owner and operator of Uplift Adventures. Uplift Adventures is a guiding company and we offer a lot of different types of guiding. We have professional interpreters, we have climbing instructors, we have backpacking guides as well. So all of our guides are professionally certified. And I think that that is not an overly known thing when people say, oh, I'm a professional guide. It's an entire career. But in the guiding world, we go through rigorous training and exams and we make sure that we're providing a really good service and taking people out as safely as possible. And so we provide that service here in the Croswnest Pass, in Castle Parks and in Waterton. So in the summertime, we offer different things obviously than in the wintertime. We are a year-round operating company. In the winter, we focus a lot more on snowshoeing and we have interpretive programs.

And interpretive programs mean that we're interpreting the natural world or the world around people. And as we go out exploring, so we have one program for example, that's down by Castle Mountain Resort in the Castle Provincial Parks, and we work with the Pi'ikanni Blackfoot people to deliver this program. And we go out under the night sky, we go snowshoeing, we go stargazing, and then we come back and we have a fireside chat with someone from the Pi'ikanni. And we hear and listen to the stories from their perspective of the night sky and just their stories in general. And it's a great opportunity to just open up the table for people to ask questions and feel comfortable asking questions. So that's an example of an interpretive program. And we have one in Crowsnest Pass called the Science Ice Walk. So we go up a frozen creek, so that's kind of our winter offerings. And then in the summertime, they change to more interpretive programs. Some of them are historically based and also nature-based. But then we also do multi-day backpacking trips. We have outdoor rock climbing, we do a lot of different courses. We even provide wilderness first aid courses. So just enhancing people's skills so that they can get outdoors, explore as safely as possible.

And when did uplift adventures start again?

I started Uplift Adventures almost six years ago. Actually, it started in February because I won this tourism award actually, it was an Alberta-wide tourism award. And at the time I was working for our provincial government and I thought I would just have an Adventure tour company on the side. And yeah, super easy, not a big deal. And how much time would it really take? But then I won this award and that award made it very real and it was a really cool award to win. It was $10,000, which is a great Kickstarter for a small business and a promotional video and a business mentor for a year. So it was a really cool award, but that really set the stage and I was like, wow, I really have to start this now. I can't go back on it. And that kickstarted Uplift Adventures.

But I found out that one thing with owning a company is it is a lot of work. So especially when you're trying to start it because nothing exists and you have to create every single protocol, every Excel sheet you have to create a website, you have to create all of this stuff that is a lot of work. So I started it six years ago and it really was kickstarted thanks to Travel Alberta basically. So I knew I wanted to start Uplift Adventures. I had already gone through all the guide training and I have a lot of experience in the guiding world already. And I ran some outdoor clubs as well, and I love connecting people to the outdoors. And so I started Uplift Adventures by applying on this award. And the award is basically you write a business plan and you submit that to this competition, and then they take the top three business plans that they like and Uplift Adventures obviously was selected.

And then you go to a conference and you have to present your idea, you have five minutes and then the audience votes. And the cool thing was is that Uplift Adventures got 75% of the votes. So we ended up winning and it was a really cool thing. And you're standing up in front of a couple hundred people pitching to them what you want to do with your business and how do you do that? And you're just starting off. So you have a vision, but it might not be overly clear yet. But yeah, it was really cool and it was very nerve-wracking for sure, but it worked out.

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And the name Uplift Adventures, how did you come up with that?

That was fun. I couldn't figure out what name I wanted to call the company, so I needed some help. So I thought I would reach out to my friends and they didn't help me that much actually. We had a whole bunch of ideas, but something really needs to resonate with you. And I didn't see my business as being something that was just short-term. This is something I'm going to have to for a very long time. And it's kind of naming a child, you want that child to like it. You don't want that child to have weird nicknames, all that, and it needs to be meaningful. So we went through all these exercises with my friends and still nothing really resonated. So I shouldn't say they didn't help me because they did help me. And one of my friends said, well, why don't we just sit down and look through a thesaurus?

So we sat down with a thesaurus and we started looking through different words and we looked up mountain. And under mountain it had the word uplift because that geological process of the mountains coming together and building many people except Ben Gad, he'll call it up piling, but it's called uplifting. And I thought that that was really great because it encompasses two things. It's dual meaning because uplift is a feeling you get when you're outdoors and you have that spiritual side of it, but then you have that super nerdy side of it, which is me as well. And so that's how it was born.

And I guess maybe at its core, why did you want to start Uplift Adventures? What was the reason for that?

I love mountains. I am a mountain person inside and out. I'm probably obsessed with it. And I really feel that by connecting people to place and by connecting people to the area that they're exploring, they want to conserve it. That really is what it comes down to. And conservation is a huge thing for me. My background is environmental science. I worked as an environmental consultant and then I moved down here to work for Alberta Environment and Parks. And really we're losing a lot of that connection and understanding of the systems that are provided by our natural world and by connecting people and by sharing that with people, I feel like they'll have a better understanding and also want to protect it. And I don't mean protect it to the extent of no one being on the landscape and nothing being able to be possible, but being able to explore and enjoy these places responsibly and with love. And I love Crowsnest Pass and I love this area and it's so underrated. And the more I can share this area with other people and show them how incredible it is, the more I feel like we will want to enjoy these special places.

And what do you love about the Crowsnest Pass?

It's definitely unique. We work in Waterton too, but Waterton, I don't talk about Waterton as much just because it is protected and I love Waterton and all the things that are provided in Waterton, but Crowsnest Pass, I kind of love the fact that there's a little bit more freedom that comes with the designation that exists here. So in a national park, because it's so protected, there isn't as many freedoms and there's good and bad to that mean good because it's a lot more pristine. But being in Crowsnest Pass, it's very underrated. And the history here is incredible. For starters, the history encompasses rum running. It has major coal mine, underground coal mining. That's how the development started really with Crowsnest Pass mean people have lived in Crowsnest Pass past for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. And even that history here is so underrated and a lot of people don't know about the First Nation history here, but there's huge evidence of First Nation people, Blackfoot and the Tanaha and others who were on this land and had camps and hunted. And we find the evidence of it all over the place with arrowheads and vision quest sites. And yeah, it's really, really cool area. So the history here is incredible, but the mountains here are also incredible, and it's part of the Canadian Rockies, which a lot of people I don't think recognize. And I think it's getting to be a little bit more known that it's a part of the Canadian Rockies and it's this area that isn't overly discovered.

And with Uplifted Adventures, you said you're connecting people to the mountains, to these places. Do you have any kind of maybe a quick story that comes to mind of someone who's been part of Uplift Adventures who's maybe had a significant kind of experience?

I feel like that happens often. Yes, it's really cool because I work with tourists, but I also work with locals and I'm very supported by our local community, which I find is a huge compliment because most of the time guides are part of tourism and see people just visiting to an area for a short period of time. But I get to see people come back over and over and over again. And I have people who have lived here 30 years plus or have lived here their whole life, and I take them out and they are just blown away. They didn't even know that these places existed. And there's one lady that I have recently who has had some pretty traumatic things happen to her in her life recently. And she's overcoming those traumatic things and very proud of her. And she is almost in tears after every single adventure. And she's just so I have goosebumps even just thinking about her, but she just is so grateful and she just thinks, wow, I can't believe I didn't know this. And I've lived here for three decades and I didn't even know this existed. But now she gets to know that they exist, so she just is overwhelmed every single time. And I think that that's a really, really cool thing to watch.

And then you said you started this business six years ago and it's a lot of work. What is that like to own your own outdoor tourism company? What does a day look like for Heather?

Yeah, it's all over the place. I think a big change for me was realizing that my schedule is the opposite now of everyone else. So before I would work Monday to Friday when I was in government, I'd be done at four 30 and you go home and you can have your whole evening to do whatever you want and you kind of let go of your day. But I don't do that. And I think over the years I've come up with better ways of managing my time and finding what works for me because it's going to be different for every business owner a day. For me though, there's emails, there's social media, there's planning, there's getting your programs up and going. There is insurance and permitting, and there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work for the actual adventure to just happen. And then there's all of my continuing professional hours and my development as a professional to keep up with.

I just have recently stopped a lot of the volunteering that I did, but I would volunteer quite a bit and I partially did that because I want to give back to my community, but also being a business owner is quite lonely. And when I'm out on trips, that's kind of the benefit of everything I do behind the scenes is I get to go out with people and that's the fun part of it. But all this other stuff, it's quite lonely and it's quite isolating. And so by volunteering, it allowed me to get out and not be doing my work and doing something else, but now my time is just changing, so I have to step back on volunteer roles. So a day is kind of all over the place because your phone can ring in the middle of the day and all of a sudden you have half an hour that you're talking to a potential client and answering questions, and then you go back to answering emails.

And then we have staff too. So when I decided to hire staff, then there was a whole protocols that I needed to develop. I have an entire employee handbook so that the other guides can have their expectations put out, they know what to do, they know what to do in an emergency, we have a duty officer that they have to report to. So there's all of these protocols that are constantly being revised and changed. So yeah, the day all over the place, but by setting what I want to get done in a day helps because otherwise I could get sidetracked so fast.

So you're connecting people to the mountains here in the Crowsnest Pass, and that's great. I think I was just thinking if someone wants to connect to the mountains or nature where they are, would you have any advice for them?

I think one of the coolest things about nature is the small things. The small things are typically the ones that are undervalued and underrated, and we don't see it the same way as the big things. So when you go out and you go into Waterton and you see a big grizzly bear, you're like, wow, that's amazing. But sometimes I bend down and I look and I see a spotted saxifrage, which is a really tiny flower, and it has these little dots on each pedal, and it looks like someone just came and painted each dot onto that pedal. It's that small little thing that I just go, wow, this is really cool, and how this exists and why it exists like this. And basically it is to attract pollinators and nature is created all of these beautiful little tiny things that go so unrecognized until we sit there and we actually look and appreciate it.

And then just being curious, right? Be curious. Maybe pick up a book, a guidebook mean, obviously, I want to say go on a guided trip because our guides will provide people with a lot of knowledge, but not everyone can always afford those opportunities. So even picking up a book on the area and following your trip by going through that book is a really cool way of experiencing it a little bit more. And taking those times to really stop and look around and try to notice things that you wouldn't normally notice and ask the people around you what they notice. Because my guests always notice different things than I notice. And I think that that's really, really cool.

Yeah. So Heather, earlier on you talked about how some of your work involves kind of learning about some of the history in the Crowsnest Pass, and that's important. Yeah. I guess overall, why is history important to learn about when we want to appreciate and protect nature and our parks?

So history is all around us. History is everywhere. When we're exploring in the outdoors, whether it's looking at First Nation history or the early settlement history, even a lot of our mountains are named after early expeditions, so history is everywhere around us. And by going out and understanding the heritage helps us appreciate where we were and where we are now. And that's what I really enjoy about the history and the history of this area. And when I look at the mountains, and I know the mountains are named a certain way now, meaning they historically probably had previous names, and I would love to find out what they are, but I look at it as part of the history that brought us to where we are. And I appreciate that because it wasn't always look like this. And history also helped protect some of these areas.

The First Nation people really protected these areas and really took care of these areas. And then we just see that transition that happened over time and with Crow's Pass as well. It helps me understand a lot of the dynamics that exist in Crowsnest Pass. I mean, the history of coal mining was around for about 80 years in Crowsnest Pass, and a lot of people that have lived here for multiple generations are still very attached to that underground coal mining. And there was a lot of tragedy that happened during that time. And the people who did work in the underground coal mines were very proud people. It was very hard work, and they're very proud. And so it helps me appreciate those people because I can understand where they're coming from and I wouldn't have that empathy, I think is the right word for them if I didn't know that history.

Was there anything else you wanted to say before I stop recording around the work you're doing and our parks and all that stuff?

The other thing that I really want to say was where Uplift is going. So I've talked a lot about conservation and mean, the whole idea of me starting uplift from the beginning was yes, to connect people to the outdoors, help people feel confident in the outdoors, but also to start rebuilding some of these historical things that have happened on our landscape. So some of the projects I worked on in government were to do with the amount of disturbance. So usually human disturbance, disturbance, meaning could be a cut line, a well site, a mine, a road, a trail, even realistically, we have more disturbance on our landscape than it can deal with its ecological values. We worked on that a bit in the government, and unfortunately there's not a lot of funding to do that work. So I would really love to bring that into tourism. So my ultimate goal with Uplift is to start doing large-scale tours where I am picking people up in Calgary, taking them through the Canadian Rockies, and there's a bit of that adventure portion of it, but then they get to come and work on actual conservation projects. And some of that might be sustainable development. So sometimes to help with an area, it might need a bridge, for example, but to start building that and building what I call conservation tourism, that's the ultimate goal.

In Over My Head's Remembering Alberta Parks was produced by Michael Bartz with production assistance from Shinichi Hara. Special thanks to all the guests who gave generously of their time and expertise.

I'm trying to save the planet, oh will someone please save me?

This season was made possible with support from the government of Alberta's Heritage Preservation Partnership Program and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Southern Alberta.

Remembering Alberta Parks: An Uplifting Conversation in the Crowsnest Pass (bonus)
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