Together, Growing a Greener Wood Buffalo
For decades, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) public has been uniting together to take on positive initiatives to beautify our local surroundings.
Adopting parks, community clean-ups, anti-litter campaigns, graffiti awareness and interactive recycling events are just a few of over a dozen programs implemented throughout the year by the municipality to encourage others to enhance the region’s curbside appeal and reduce waste.
RMWB Community Strategies Coordinator of Community Strategies, Jillian MacDonald, explains how civic pride is what makes our region beautiful and why it’s important for others to take part and go beyond the visual appeal of greener public spaces, gardens and parks.
“Community beautification is about growing,” says MacDonald. “It’s about growing community capacity and respect for the place we call home. Keeping our communities clean and beautiful adds to home values, helps attract business development, and improves a neighbourhoods reputation overall.”
Having grown up in Fort McMurray, MacDonald cares for the environment, and improving her carbon footprint is something she holds a strong passion for. According to MacDonald research shows that a beautiful community is one of the top ways for people to gain an attachment to their territory. As stated in the RMWB’s Municipal Development Plan, “by building attractive, livable communities that offer a high quality of life, we can foster a sense of home and belonging that will attract residents to settle in the region for the long-term.”
“With such a huge population of residents settling in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo from other places, this is extremely important,” says MacDonald.
And residents are taking action. They take action by getting involved with locally organized events like the Highway Clean Up, Spring and Fall Clean Up, the Business Block Challenge and many more. They are also making efforts on their own; RMWB Communities Strategies Coordinator, Alanna Bottrell, explains how one of the numerous volunteers took action on her own clean-up initiative, after taking a run in her neighbourhood, and now her running path is litter-free.
“I met a lady last year who is an avid runner,” Bottrell says. “When she noticed some litter along her route, she simply called us and we were able to put together a clean-up package for her right away. That evening, she invited her children to join her on her run and they all picked up the litter with the supplies that we provided.”
Bottrell, like MacDonald, also encourages others to volunteer by stating that taking ownership of your community can leave residents with a strong sense of pride.
“Wood Buffalo might not be your hometown, but it is your home,” Bottrell said. “Whether you’re on a three year plan or you’re a third-generation McMurrayite, you should invest in the community because every action counts.”
Some may be unaware of all of the opportunities available to help out and is why MacDonald explains how education is important. The municipality has implemented “Lesson Plans” for grades one through eight to encourage local educators to promote and inform students in the region.
Every fall season, MacDonald coordinates the EnviroMENTOR program, a program that pairs high school students (The Mentors) with grade four classrooms. In 2013, thirty-five high schoolers logged over 800 volunteer hours educating close to 400 students.
“The Mentors teach the (younger) students lessons on civic pride, graffiti awareness, litter awareness and the environment,” she said. “At the end of the program, students make environmental promises to help minimize their environmental footprint.”
This spring, the municipality will be hosting their third annual Amazing Waste Race from April 22 to May 30, where schools of the Wood Buffalo region will compete using their skills in environmental stewardship and awareness, particularly including litter prevention. From submitting environmentally impactful poems to cleaning up their school yards, students can take part in a variety of challenges.
“The objective of the race is to accumulate as many points as possible for your school by completing environmental tasks during the six weeks of competition,” said MacDonald. “The school to place first is awarded $2,500, second earns $1,500 and third $1,000.”
With plenty of programs available in the municipality, residents can continue to keep our spaces green in multiple ways. Bottrell shares one of Fort McMuray’s best kept “zen-like” secrets and how pulling weeds way seem like a small chore to some, but it can go a long way.
Avid green-thumb gardeners, taking part in the RMWB Community Garden program, enjoy the sun and delicious home-grown vegetables at Helen Pacholko Park in Thickwood Heights. And they pour hundreds of hours into the garden plots each growing season, alongside of the RMWB Parks team.
“Everything about the park has been a wonderful surprise,” says Bottrell. “The best thing about Helen Pacholko Park is that it’s a real labour of love. While you’re there, you should sit under the very best picnic tree in all of Wood Buffalo.”