Coquitlam's Caitlin Hill will travel 1,400 kilometres down the Fraser River as part of the Rivershed Society of B.C.'s annual Sustainable Living Leadership Program.
Crossing 10 of B.C.'s 14 biogeoclimatic zones, Hill and the rest of the 10-person crew - including guides and facilitators - will begin their odyssey at Mount Robson tomorrow (Thursday).
Hill's interest in ecology dates back to 2006, when she was a Grade 11 student at Pinetree Secondary. While on a trip to Costa Rica, she witnessed the country's abundant conservation efforts, thanks to its debt-for-nature conservation program with the U.S. and various international environmental groups.
"They've really gotten ahead of everybody else because instead of repaying their debts, they've put it back into their country," said Hill, 23.
"I had an opportunity to see all their eco-tourism and all of their conservation efforts while I was there." Later that year on a trip to the Okanagan, she witnessed an entire
wetland area paved over and developed into housing. Incensed by the move, she returned to school for her Grade 12 year and began a land conservation club at Pinetree, which still operates today.
"I had an opportunity to see something really amazing and then come back home and see something really terrible," she said. "I wanted to do my part to stop that from happening in the future."
New Westminster-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly, who founded the Rivershed Society of B.C. and is known for his swims down the Fraser, said the trip aims to create community leaders.
"There's definitely the personal development aspect of the trip, but [the participants] leave with a set of skills that they can use to make their communities a better place, focused on sustainable living as a common theme," Donnelly said.
Hill now works for the Pacific Parklands Foundation, a nonprofit group that preserves and enhances Metro Vancouver's 22 park systems.
Given her past and present roles in conservation efforts, choosing to see the story of the Fraser River first-hand was a natural fit.
"I've always felt like the one thing that separates me as an environmentalist from people like Fin Donnelly and [noted conservationist] Mark Angelo is they've gone out on the rivers and they have that experience - I don't," she said. "I've never done anything like this, but I spend every day sitting in an office fundraising for projects like this."
As part of the three-week-plus trip, the group will traverse vast amounts of wilderness, while taking in demonstrations, tours and other events focused on the river and its surrounding ecosystems.
Stops along the way include a pulp mill tour and a visit to a First Nations village in Quesnel, a Fisheries and Oceans demonstration at Sheep Creek Ridge and a tour of an organic farm in Langley.
The trip ends on Aug. 25 at Vancouver's Jericho Beach.
"Everything keeps coming back to the Fraser, and I've never had the opportunity to get out there and experience it," Hill said. "This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not many people get to go out and experience things like this."
. To learn more about the Rivershed Society of B.C., visit http: // rivershed.com.