By Conor Mihell
As if canoe-trippers needed another excuse to get out in the wilderness, Ontario's Badger Paddles has come up with another good reason to get outside. In June, three well-known paddlers hid six Badger Paddles in Ontario's Algonquin and Killarney provincial parks and the network of waterways known as Temagami. According to Badger co-owner Fiona Westner-Ramsay, the Paddle in the Park Contest rules are simple: If you find a hidden paddle, it's yours to keep.
Westner-Ramsay and her husband and business partner, craftsman Mike Ramsay, conceived the contest as a way to raise interest in wilderness tripping. Westner-Ramsay trolled scientific journals and has listed nine reasons why humans need contact with the natural world, ranging from better sleep, sharper cognitive skills, disease-resistance and improved self-esteem and relationships. "The benefits to being outside in a more natural environment has rewards that go beyond what we could have ever imagined," says Ramsay-Westner. "It's in our nature to be in nature, and to deny our nature is unnatural."
We caught up with Ramsay-Westner to learn more about Badger's game of wilderness hide-and-seek.
CanoeKayak.com: Where did you get the idea for Paddle in the Park?
Fiona Westner-Ramsay: I am greatly influenced by those who have had an educational or environmental motive to their work, people such as Kirk Wipper and Hap Wilson. When I was researching content for an infographic for the Badger blog, I came across some really interesting scientific studies that proved the benefits of spending time in nature. From better brain function for a better night's sleep, to the politics of using our parks and other wild spaces, I thought it was truly important that everyone know there are rewards in spending time in forests and parks, and we need to make the effort to do that.
Basically, it made me think about ways that Badger could help spread the word and reinforce why it was so important. Then it just came to me! What if we were to hide a paddle—a concrete example of a reward for visiting nature? While I felt this was a great way to build on the work from those I admire, and not sure how the idea sounded, I ran it by my good friend Preston Ciere—a well known outdoor blogger and cut from the same cloth as those from the paddlesport industry from whom I am inspired. Since he was so excited about the idea and all the reasons for doing it, I asked him to partner with us. Together, we felt that if we did it right, we'd get people "Out There", and they'd definitely be rewarded for doing so.
Who's doing the hiding? How many paddles and where?
There are three hiders: Hap Wilson, environmentalist, artist, author, cartographer, guide and eco-trail builder. Hap has hidden a paddle somewhere in Temagami. Kevin Callan, author, presenter, teacher, ambassador to the wilderness, TV personality. Kevin is hiding two paddles in Algonquin during his "Once Around Algonquin" canoe trip. One of the paddles Kevin hid was found last weekend. And Preston Ciere, blogger and portageur extraordinaire has hidden three paddles, one in Killarney, one in Temagami area, and one in Algonquin. The paddle Preston hid in Algonquin has also been found. Six Badger Paddles in total have been hidden.
What are the rules of the game?
The rules are pretty simple. If you find a Badger Paddle along the portage trail this summer, tied to a tree with a tag marking it as a Paddle In The Park Contest paddle, then you get to keep it. Plus, when you tell us you found the paddle (pictures and stories fully welcomed!) we send you more great prizes from our incredible sponsors. Also, because we know that not everyone is able to get into the specific parks where the paddles are hidden, we wanted to make sure to encourage others to follow along at home to know about the all the rewards and reasons for getting out there, too. So every time a paddle is found, we will also randomly choose a winner from our website entries for another great prize pack to be shipped to one lucky paddler! Besides the paddles, prizes include gear items such as bear bells, emergency canoe repair kits and other paddler treasures like signed copies of books by authors Kevin Callan, Laurie Ann March and Hap Wilson.
Why did you choose Temagami, Algonquin and Killarney parks?
Simply put, those are the areas that our volunteer paddle hiders were traveling this summer. However, we chose these areas specifically because we wanted to reach the most people, and these are the most used canoe camping parks. But more importantly, these areas would offer participants a real chance at experiencing everything nature has to give us, and far enough away from our busy lives for us to truly unplug and focus on the rewards for getting "Out There".
How does all this fit into your mission at Badger Paddles?
Badger is about respecting all of our friends, be they two-legged, four-legged or more—as well as our natural world. For us, it is about advocating for the power of self-propulsion and getting people to connect with the wilderness. Kirk Wipper once said, "An interest in the wilderness means getting there, and getting there means canoes." With Badger, we want to keep on helping to get people out there in a respectful and traditional way. There truly has never been a greater need for humans to unplug from our virtual existence and reconnect to our natural world. As long as we are at the helm, Badger will always find creative and interesting ways to keep people engaged in or thinking about the wilderness. We can't help it: We just really dig the Earth!