Farewell But Not Goodbye

Woman paddling at sunset, with Paddle in the Park Contest logo in forefront.

Farewell But Not Goodbye

A (very) personal message from Fiona

How It Started

Several years ago, a very important conversation took place between a couple of friends. A conversation that turned into, not just an exchange of ideas, but a multiple year journey that ended up being an adventure for more than just the original two.

For those who do not know the story, the Paddle In The Park Contest originated with an infographic I had created for Badger Paddles’ social media marketing. It was titled, “Our Biosphere, Biology & The Bureaucrats… 7 Important Reasons Why You Should Spend Time In The Wilderness Everyday “ and was a list of seven arguments as to why we should all spend time in nature daily.

Preston and I were mutually convinced that more people needed to become aware of this wildly important information contained in Badger’s new graphic. So one afternoon, and many hours on the phone later, we devised a hidden canoe paddle concept as a means to bring attention to all the studies and details presented in the info-graphic and motivate more people to go on wilderness canoe trips.

That was the day the Paddle in the Park campaign was born.

Fiona and Preston - The Early Years

How It Went

Over the years, through the PITPC, I had the honour to work with some of Ontario’s most renowned outdoor leaders. One such person was the legendary Hap Wilson; an award winning artist, photographer, and author of multiple books. He is also the cartographer who gave us the bible of Temagami canoe routes – effectively helping to save areas from overdevelopment by industry. His advocacy and words actually helped inspire the original info-graphic and the 9(+1) expanded version that the PITPC still uses today.
 
Another Great was The Happy Camper himself, also known as the funny but informative Kevin Callan. Kevin is not only an accomplished author, speaker, and videographer, but he is also the original hybrid version of the loveable Martin Short and the instructive Les Stroud – all rolled into one heck of an canoe guy. The PITPC would definitely not have been the same these past years without him.

One of my most favourite Kevin Callan memories caught on film...

There have actually been a number of paddle hiders during the course of the campaign, besides the usual characters such as Hap, Kevin and Preston. That list includes regular paddle hiders Mike and myself (Badger Paddles), and Andrea Wilson (Canoe Guide, Cabin Falls EcoLodge proprietress, a good friend, and love of Hap’s life).

We also hosted a few guest paddle hiders such as renowned outdoor author Connor Mihel, and former paddle-finder turned hider, Doug Gordon. Later, we had Gayle Labuz from Sometimes Eventful join our small team of paddle hiders after years of being a self described PITPC “fan girl”.

The one thing our paddle-hiders all had in common, besides their love of the outdoors of course, was their belief in the message behind the Paddle In The Park Contest. I am grateful to all of them.

Chris Hocking finding his first paddle in 2013

For me, one of the more memorable stories that was shared with us was told to Preston by two brothers. The two siblings were convinced they knew where a hidden paddle was on a portage trail just off Lake Opeongo (Algonquin). Thus, they decided to ride their mountain bikes on the logging roads to the portage they were looking for. However they were unable to locate the hidden paddle. One of the brothers insisted it must be at the next portage on the other side of the small lake they had come to. Without a vessel to carry them across the water, the more hopeful brother decided to swim the “short distance” to the next portage. As you can imagine, it took much longer and more energy than was predicted. (Distances always look closer than they appear across bodies of water, don’t they?!). Finally the waterlogged brother finally made it to the portage across the small lake. But sadly, no luck. Riding back empty handed, the brothers wondered if someone had already come across the hidden paddle and they were too late. A couple of weeks went by and the men soon learned that the paddle was in fact right where they suspected. Unfortunately for them, the swimming adventure had proved too much. The poor waterlogged brother was so exhausted by the end of it, he was unable to do a thorough search of the portage trail. Unable to quickly spot the paddle after he had made the brave crossing, he still had to swim back! In the end, the paddle was instead found by the famed Chris Hocking, who had never been to Opeongo before but ventured there because - and only because - of the Paddle In The Park Contest. This was also the first time Chris found a paddle for the PITPC. He later became one of our most prolific paddle-finders with 2 winning claims and 2 more finds, resulting in Kevin Callan fondly referring to him as his ``arch nemesis``.

How it went (continued…)

Throughout the years, together we have hidden an estimated 40 paddles in the wilds of Ontario. Remarkably, each and every one of these coveted wooden treasures was found and claimed. Sometimes by an expert-level paddle-finder. Sometimes by a novice paddle-seeker. Sometimes by someone who just happened to stumble upon a mysterious socked parcel in the forest, marked with a tag telling them they had just won the very paddle they were holding in their hands.

During that time we also evolved beyond hidden paddles with a family friendly Paddle Points contest. An event where many of you have honoured us with your personal stories and photos, shared your families with us, and included us as part of your annual outdoor summer fun. We have even had the pleasure of watching some of your children grow up over the seasons in the submitted photos. During the course of the contest we have definitely followed your travels with interest and excitement.

Every single photo submitted was inspected by either Preston or myself. In 2017, our “intern” Nathan Miller took on some of the verification duties as well. Looking back, I know we all felt the same thing when going through the photo verification process: inspired.

Andrea and Fiona - Portage Queen Paddle

#RewardsAreOutThere

Many years, photos, and videos later, I must say I never dreamed the topic of that heartfelt conversation that started it all would become such a focus and one of the most important loves of my life. Your stories and adventures bring me so much joy.

It has also been such a complete and utter joy to work with Preston (and everyone else) on this recurring campaign. It actually brings tears to my eyes whenever I reflect on it. Truly, I cannot thank Preston enough for his professionalism, his eclectic experience, and his overall excellent character. He has become a good friend… a best friend. A cherished mentor. I am beyond grateful for his time, his wit, and our wonderful camaraderie.

Really, to say it has all been an adventure is an understatement. Those who have reached out to us all along have all expressed praise for the PITPC. The support has, indeed, been overwhelmingly positive.

Our sponsors have always been incredible as well, and I hope you all take the time to patronize their distinguished establishments and support their wonderful products and services. We could not have done any of it without them.

We also could not have done any of it without you. Your passion and willingness to come along on this wild journey with us grew beyond anything than I could ever have predicted. Real friendships were made, and somehow along the line, even a community emerged.

Fiona with Paddle-finder Jeff Bardell

How It’s Going

That all being said, it is definitely with a somewhat heavy heart that I must announce the following news. Effective immediately, I will no longer be involved in the day-to-day organizational work of the Paddle In the Park Contest.

Not because I don’t still believe in the PITPC and everything it does to get people to spend more time in nature. But because the workload has been a constant focus of my life every summer it runs. Sometimes to the detriment of my own personal projects and responsibilities.

Fortunately, demand for Badger has grown in recent years and I have become much busier with the business end of custom paddle making. As well, as the main caregiver for our adult son Makobe, I can no longer afford the time needed to see the Paddle In the Park Contest through as a main contributor.

Not to say that the Paddle in the Park campaign has not been a wonderful triumph and source of great personal fulfillment for me. Because it has been truly magical.

Thankfully, I will still get to see that magic every time I view your smiling determination and the bright eyes of your children completing the photographed tasks. That triumph will still be felt every time I catch sight of your sun-kissed faces proudly displaying your Paddle in the Park flags or the hidden paddles you found.

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what I have learned over these past years is that the experiences and stories behind the all the PITPC photos are, indeed, priceless.

Where It’s Going

Looking to the future, both Mike and I fully support Preston’s plans to continue the Paddle in the Park campaign. Not only owing to the fact that it would be disappointing to many of you if the PITPC did not come back. But because more than ever, and especially with everything going on in the world, we still need to be aware of the importance of our parks and conservation areas. We still need to help ensure our wild spaces are there for our children and their children’s children.

Filming with Evan Holt of traversing.ca

Also, given that while most of us now know about the benefits of nature for our own health and mental wellbeing, many of us are still are not actually spending enough time “Out There”.

Consequently, while going forward Badger Paddles will no longer be involved in the day to day organization of the Paddle in the Park Contest or its campaign, we will still be wholeheartedly supporting and sponsoring the Paddle in the Park initiative. We still believe only good things can come from continuing to motivate people to get “Out There” and reap all those rewards.

We will also still continue to supply Preston and his new volunteer crew all the paddles and tags they will need for hiding. Maybe we will even get to hide one or two – if Preston lets us. 😉  You will probably still even see some guest-posts from me here and there via the various Paddle in the Park Contest social media channels. Either way, Mike and I still hope to see you all around the Paddle in the Park adventure trail.

As some of you are aware, I have often referred to the PITPC as the best advocacy campaign disguised as a contest that there ever was or ever could be. Because that is what the PITPC is and will always be to me. The most fun way possible to educate people while providing a bit more incentive to spend more time in nature. In all honesty, I will miss being such a big part of it.

Message continues below….

So on that note, a big ol’paddles up and thank you to everyone who shared their time and their adventures with me through the Paddle in the Park Contest. I hope you will all continue to honour and support the work of the PITPC, and participate in this year’s campaign or by volunteering.

Regardless, I do ask that you please keep sharing all the scientifically proven reasons why we need our earth to stay wild for future generations, and keep getting “Out There” as much as you are able. Because you just never know where one of those elusive Badger canoe paddles may be hiding and, most importantly, you should always be finding ways to spend more time in nature. 🙂

Good luck, and all the best to everyone!


Fiona Westner-Ramsay

Co-founder of the Paddle in the Park Contest
Badger Paddles… for those who dig the water.

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