The Fraser River starts small in the Valemount/Mount Robson area and flows 1,400 kilometres to the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s so beautiful and untouched. The water is powder blue called rock flower, from the glaciers,” said Leanne Reich, who was one of eight participants in the Sustainable Living Leadership Program (SLLP) who canoed/rafted the length of the river in August.
SLLP is sponsored by the Rivershed Society of BC, founded by Fin Donnelly, MP New Westminster-Coquitlam, who swam the length of the river in 1995 for awareness of the importance of the health of the river. The Fraser River basin, made up of 34 linked, interdependent watersheds, drains one-quarter of the province and is the largest salmon river in the world.
“They call this the trip of a lifetime and it was,” said Reich, an Okanagan College student who is in her third year of environmental studies. She was selected for the trip on the basis of her essay, community work in the environment and her planned project on water conservation in the community. The trip took place from Aug. 4 to 28, with no-trace camping and vegetarian meals. There were two facilitators with the participants taking turns acting as leader. They continued their environmental studies at their “classroom on the water,” and met people in a variety of environmental careers as they stopped along the way.
“We met farmers, city workers, fisheries workers, and a documentary filmmaker. It opened my eyes to a lot of avenues I hadn’t thought about,” said Reich, who describes herself as always having been a “play-out-doors girl.”
“We lived the sustainability part of the program in everything we did. It made me become a vegetarian because of the environmental impact of eating meat and the food crisis in the world. I learned so much about the river. I had no idea so many eagles called the river home. We saw a lot of bear and moose, we were the visitors in their territory. It was so peaceful.”
The quiet of the upper reaches of the river contrasted with a night spent camping under the Port Coquitlam bridge near the end of the journey.
The team members were able to rescue a big dog which had fallen in the water and become stuck in the mud and return it to its owner.
They canoed for most of the time for up to 44 kilometres a day and did some hiking. Eight days were spent on a raft made from Second World War pontoons, the only vessels allowed to go through the Hell’s Gate area.
“We tried to imagine what it must have been like for the first explorers like Simon Fraser, not knowing what was around each bend in the river,” said Reich.
“Everyone we met was very friendly and interested in what we were doing and encouraged us. It was an incredible experience. People should not hesitate to apply for the program; it is definitely worth trying for.”
SLLP is open to B.C. residents ages 19-35. For more information about the program and the Rivershed Society see www.rivershed.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 604-808-1515.