Scout Island staff move forward with COVID-adapted nature programs this summer

Scout Island Nature Centre in Williams Lake is typically home to many popular programs in the summer months. (Angie Mindus file photo)Scout Island Nature Centre in Williams Lake is typically home to many popular programs in the summer months. (Angie Mindus file photo)
Sarah DickensSarah Dickens
Mackenzie MagnowskiMackenzie Magnowski
Cassandra AbelCassandra Abel
Jacob JohnsonJacob Johnson

By Sarah Dickens

Special to the Tribune

Despite the hindering effects of COVID-19, the Scout Island Nature Centre summer students are dedicated to offering an adapted version of the nature programs this year. Staff are in the midst of implementing safe guidelines and rules to conduct the well-loved and interactive lessons for small family groups of all ages.

“We will provide a COVID-safe environment for families to learn about bugs, birds etc. and enjoy the outdoors,” said Sue Hemphill, executive director of Scout Island Nature Centre.

Caregivers and their children can sign up to partake in a two-hour session outside with the teacher naturalists, which will include games, as well as hands-on learning and exploring. The offered programs are free of charge, but interested families will need to register ahead of time.

Read More: Some of Scout Island’s rich history revealed in new book

Sessions will begin the week of June 8 during the time periods of 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 6 p.m. on weekdays. For more information, members of the community are welcome to call 250-398-8532 or

It is still undetermined whether or not the July-August Nature Fun program will be made available for young children. The staff are encouraging the community to check Facebook and Instagram regularly for updates about what is being offered throughout the summer, as well as any other information regarding trails re-opening or recent wildlife sightings.

Besides teaching the nature programs, the staff are also devoting themselves to taking care of the nature house, including general maintenance and feeding of the creatures. There is still much cleanup to be done due to the flooding that is blocking many of the island trails, and the staff are passionate about doing what they can to help make these available to the community again.

“It’s going to be a different look and feel in terms of programming, but it is still very exciting and refreshing to be able to work with our enthusiastic summer students,” education coordinator and leader of the Stream to Sea program Bill Gilroy said.

In such an uncertain and changeable season, Scout Island is prepared to be flexible with plans. However, they are committed to fostering an educational and memorable experience for families of Williams Lake as the summer continues to unfold.

Read More: High water has city staff, Scout Island volunteers scrambling to keep up

Scout Island Nature Centre has prepared brief introductions as follows:

Jacob Johnson

Jacob is thrilled to be joining the staff at Scout Island for the first time this summer, and brings a curious enthusiasm for learning about all aspects of nature and wildlife.

He was raised in Williams Lake, and has recently returned home from Prince George after completing his first year of studying biology at UNBC. Jacob is interested in a career in environment and health, and finds his work at Scout Island to be a rewarding way to further pursue this passion.

“I love the fact that I’m learning so much at work,” Jacob said.

He has already enjoyed meeting many of the volunteers and employees at the nature centre, and is looking forward to spending the next few months with them.

“It’s amazing to see how much all the people and volunteers here genuinely care about Scout Island and everything that’s going on,” Jacob said.

Jacob’s main focus this summer will be teaching about birds, reptiles and amphibians, and, his personal favourite, beavers. Besides monitoring the beaver dams at SINC, Jacob is anticipating a summer of hiking, biking and kayaking. When he’s not enjoying the outdoors, you can find him happily watching reruns of his favourite TV show, The Office.

Cassandra Abel

Cassandra is another hardworking and eager addition to the team at Scout Island, where she is undertaking most of the outdoor maintenance and landscaping around the nature centre and walking trails.

With her job being so hands-on with plants, Cassandra has picked up a lot more knowledge about different phylum species, and is incredibly thankful for the opportunity to work in such a beautiful environment

“I can really just appreciate the scenery as I work,” Cassandra said. “Scout Island has such a great atmosphere.”

In addition to weeding, planting, and taking care of general clean-up of the grounds, Cassandra is researching the painted turtles that are common to certain areas around the island.

“I’ll be doing a lot of monitoring of their numbers, size, how they respond to different temperatures and where it is best to find them,” Cassandra said.

Cassandra has just graduated from UNBC with a bachelor’s degree in health science, where she majored in community and population health. In the fall, her tentative plan is to continue her studies at Thompson Rivers University for an additional three years in hopes of becoming a respiratory therapist. During her down time this summer, Cassandra plans to kayak, play her favourite sports, and paint.

Mackenzie Magnowski

With her ready smile and energy, Mackenzie is a bright new member of the staff at SINC. She is the marsh and plants specialist this summer, and has thoroughly enjoyed the fact that much of her work takes place outside.

Since starting at the nature centre, Mackenzie has gained much more understanding about wildlife, especially from her boss, Sue Hemphill, and fellow employee, Bill Gilroy.

“I didn’t fully appreciate how rich the ecosystems surrounding Scout Island were before working here,” Mackenzie said.

Besides helping the SINC team craft unique ways to offer programs, Mackenzie will also be collecting data on ospreys this summer, and hopes to discover some new information about traits that are specific to birds of prey. She is excited to take this knowledge and include it in her teaching.

“I’ve already been learning a lot about the plants and animals of our area and am starting to figure out how I can share that knowledge with the community,” said Mackenzie.

Mackenzie is happy to have finished her first year of general studies at Trinity Western University in Langley, where she discovered an interest in sociology, and plans to return in the fall for another year. Besides enjoying the outdoors, Mackenzie hopes to fill her summer with playing her fiddle and training her dog.

Sarah Dickens

Sarah is returning to her position as a teacher naturalist after her first summer at Scout Island in 2017. She has recently graduated from Trinity Western University with a major in English and a minor in Media and Communications, and is hoping to pursue a career in the writing and communications field.

Sarah is in charge of teaching about the ocean tank and terrestrial bugs, and is working on building different displays at the nature centre. She is enthusiastic about the chance to interact with members of the community again in an outdoor setting.

Besides teaching and caring for the critters at SINC, Sarah is in charge of posting updates on social media platforms about the nature centre and what the staff are getting up to during the day.

“This summer is definitely going to look different,” Sarah said. “But I’m excited to be a part of Scout Island’s goal to keep instilling an appreciation and curiosity about nature in the community.”

Sarah plans to return to Langley, but is happy to enjoy one last summer in her hometown. She hopes to catch up on all the hiking and road trips that she missed out on during the studying of her last academic year.

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