Two of Collingwood’s expert outdoor enthusiasts have banded together to offer an adventure the whole family can enjoy.
Created by Kevin Johnston, owner of OSM Adventure Travel, and Sarah Ney, founder of The Wildlings Camp, the Family Forest Program is set to launch early 2020.
“We’re really excited about this,” said Ney. “We both have similar skills to offer, except I work with children and Kevin works with adults.”
“So we decided to partner up,” added Johnston.
The program is designed to engage parents and children by encouraging them to explore the outdoors and share with each other what they encountered.
Using the Niagara Escarpment as their classroom, Johnston and Ney will spend half a day teaching families valuable backcountry and bushcraft skills they can hopefully integrate into their own adventures.
“It’s an opportunity for families or groups with kids to expand their knowledge — or non-existing knowledge — and build confidence,” said Johnston.
Upon arrival, Johnston will take the parents on a hike around the chosen conservation area. The parents will learn backcountry skills, from using technical equipment and water preparation, to leadership skills and in-field risk management techniques.
While the parents are exploring the area, the little ones will hang back with Ney and learn about conservation values through the natural environment and different ecosystems available, as well as basic bushcraft skills like how to build a fire.
“I really focus on the conservation aspect with the kids because my whole thing is, if they love it, they will protect it,” said Ney.
By the time the parents get back from the hike, the fire is built, the meal is made and the program finishes with a big fire-cooked feast for the whole family.
“The main takeaway we want is for the parents to be excited to tell their kids about what they learned, and the kids to be excited to show their parents,” said Johnston.
Through the Family Forest Program, Johnston and Ney hope to give both the adults and the young ones a sense of confidence in nature so they can apply the skills they learned in their own adventures. The duo dreams families will be able to use these skills to plan their own outdoor excursions and feel confident and comfortable doing so.
“It’s a gateway,” said Johnston. “There are so many opportunities, not only in Collingwood but in Ontario and further, to do day trips and overnight camping trips, but in order to do that you have to have a set of base skills.”
Ney and Johnston met exactly where you would expect them to: In the woods, walking their dogs at Pretty River Valley Provincial Park.
Johnston has extensive expertise in the outdoor tourism industry, and while Ney is new to the field, she comes from a scientific background in engineering that has helped her learn a lot about the environment.
“What’s great about doing it with us is that there are always going to be people who ask questions. We want that. So depending on the group, we may have people who are more experienced than others, but together we have the background and expertise to customize and alter the program depending on the needs of the group,” said Johnston.
Both Ney and Johnston are able to adapt the program to fit the needs of the families. They are committed to being flexible and asking the families what they want to learn, because the duo is confident in their ability to teach those skills, no matter what.
“It’s selling a sense of accomplishment. We live in an era where there is not a lot to feel accomplished about anymore,” said Johnston.
“Everything is done automatically for you. Especially with children,” Ney adds. “So for us, it’s all about the process. Completing the process will give them confidence.”
“Either way, you’re so tired by the end of it. You smell like fire and you’re covered in dirt, but it’s awesome,” Ney adds.