Recognizing Lee-Anne Walker: A legacy of environmental stewardship

Recently, we recognized Lee-Anne Walker and her incredible contribution to environmental education at a CBEEN Environmental Education Expo in Fernie. Below is an excerpt of the tribute to Lee-Anne by many that resulted in a standing ovation and tears – a lifetime of achievement well worth recognizing!

Lee-Anne Walker co-recognized by CBEEN and Wildsight recently at Environmental Education Expo in Fernie.

When Lee-Anne moved to the Elk Valley 30 years ago, she fell in love with the Elk River through fishing, and her love drove her to think about the water quality necessary to support both the fish and human communities that depend on the Elk River and its tributaries. And so began Lee-Anne’s lifetime commitment to connect people to nature in order to protect it.

As a BC Park’s Interpreter, Lee-Anne witnessed the wonder and inspiration of kids and adults learning about the natural environment. Armed with this knowledge and passion, in 2001, Lee-Anne led the creation of Wildsight’s (then called the East Kootenay Environmental Society’s) first curriculum-linked environmental education programs, the Magic Basin Field Trip. These programs have evolved to include our full suite of programs, that collectively have taken more than 70,000 kids outside!

Through all of her work and in all of programs, Lee-Anne embodies and inspires a trues conservation ethic.

Lee-Anne has always had a deep love of water and in 2008, she was a key driver in the creation of the Know Your Watershed program. A CBT program managed and delivered by Wildsight, Know Your Watershed connects students to their watersheds, taking them on a trip through their community’s water cycle, collaborating with local water stewardship groups and water managers. Know Your Watershed is offered to more than 50 classes per year throughout the Columbia Basin.

Recognizing that environmental education is just as important for adults as it is for kids, Lee-Anne started Wild Nature Tours, an eco-tourism business that took tourists on nature snowshoe expeditions. After years of operating this business, Lee-Anne saw an opportunity to streamline efforts and donated her business to the Wildsight Elk Valley Branch, where it continues to run and offer interpretive tours while generating funds to run local programs for Wildsight.

And if that wasn’t enough, Lee-Anne’s true love, the Elk River, inspired her to form the Elk River Alliance, which she still runs today. The Elk River Alliance filled a need in the local community, offering an opportunity to engage citizens in the ongoing monitoring of their local watershed and understand the impacts sustained from intensive industries, like coal mining and forestry, and recreation. By cultivating a group of committed volunteers, Lee-Anne is inspiring individual actions and support for larger policy changes that recognize the true value of clean water for both fish and human communities.

“I, like many others, have been so incredibly fortunate to have you as a mentor, teacher, and a true friend. If I have tried to carry the torch, it is because you helped ignite the fire- a passion for educating about our natural world, a belief that what we value is worth protecting, the empowerment to dream big and work together to bring this kind of learning to a whole new generation of future stewards.” ~Monica Nissen, Wildsight Education Program Manager

Lee-Anne had been threatening to step back from her role with Wildsight for a few years so even with all the warning, last year when she actually did, it caught us off guard. LeeAnne, you are missed at Wildsight, but your legacy will live on forever through each child that experiences one of our education programs and each new educator who learns the proverbial ‘ropes’ of nature education and interpretation. Your are a true leader and an inspiration to us all.