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Waterton Lakes National Park

Ecosystem Investigator (ESI) Camp


The award-winning Ecosystem Investigator (ESI) Camp is an experiential three-day, two-night outdoor camp offered to Grade 5 students from rural and urban areas across southern Alberta.

ESI Camp Weed Warrior ESI Camp Weed Warrior © Parks Canada

To date more than 1,600 students have been able to experience Waterton Lakes National Park since the camp began in fall 2010.

The ESI Camp teaches students about Waterton’s terrestrial ecosystem. They learn the parts of the terrestrial ecosystem, how those parts interact with one another, and how they (people) are a part of this ecosystem.

Students also learn about First Nations' connections to Waterton and how the area's first inhabitants played an important role in shaping this landscape.

The camp is an opportunity for students to discover all this, while experiencing Waterton in a classroom that has only mountains for walls and a big blue sky as its ceiling!

Cost & Partnership

There is no cost to students to participate in the Waterton ESI Camp partly funded by a generous grant from the W. Garfield Weston Foundation

The Weston Foundation sees the value in helping connect southern Alberta youth to this special place and has funded all bussing, and room and board costs for all participants. This enables all schools and students, regardless of socioeconomic standing, to take part in this amazing experience.

To Attend

Invitations to apply for attending the spring and fall ESI Camp are emailed to schools and their Grade 5 teachers through the school divisions. Invitations to apply go out to schools within three-and-a-half hours' drive of the park. Because applications far exceed the number of spots available, a weighted lottery is held for to determine the lucky classes to attend.

Phone park reception, 403 859-2224 or email Dianne Pachal.

Student Feedback

Don’t take our word for how great this program is. Here are a few quotes from students who have visited the camp:

"The coolest thing I did today was looking for flowers and animal remains. I liked picking the Spotted Knapweed."

"I loved the camp so much, I wish we could stay for a week. All the games, hikes and not to mention the meals were remarkable. The hikes were exhausting but so much fun!"

"I really want to thank you guys a lot. My mom was a little scared but I told her there was going to be people there who will take good care of me."

"I found some fungus called fairy cups."

Waterton ESI Camp Wins Award

Parks Canada’s Waterton Ecosystem Investigators (ESI) Camp won the Emerald Award for Public Education and Outreach at the Alberta Emerald Foundation’s ceremony in Calgary June 6, 2012.

Waterton ESI Camp Wins Award Waterton ESI Camp Wins Award
© Parks Canada / Stéphanie Leblond

The Waterton ESI Camp is a successful outdoor education camp based in Waterton Lakes National Park. Students are taught about terrestrial ecosystems and learn how the different parts, including people, have shaped the landscape.

Staff from Waterton Lakes National Park developed and deliver this program to an average of 450 students in the spring and fall each year. A generous grant from the W. Garfield Weston Foundation ensures that the camp is provided at no costs to the students.

The ESI Camp team from Waterton Lakes National Park (Dee Jessome, Karen Petkau, Lauren Andres, Catherine Reynolds and Pam Murray) were thrilled to accept the award.

An important component of the ESI Camp is learning about First Nations history and culture, and Piikani and Kainai interpreters Angie Provost and Trina Healy were also able to attend the awards ceremony.

The Emerald Awards recognize the excellent environmental initiatives undertaken each year by youth, educators, corporations, individuals, not-for-profit associations, community groups and governments.

Waterton Ecosystem Investigator Camp

Parks Canada and The W. Garfield Weston Foundation Help Students Become Ecosystem Investigators
Camilla Dalglish, director of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation and Parks
Canada's Tracy Thiessen, Executive Director of Mountain Parks
© Parks Canada

On September 22, 2011 it was formally announced that The W. Garfield Weston Foundation is providing $462,790 in funding to support Parks Canada’s Ecosystem Investigators (ESI) Camp for three years. The grant supports transportation, accommodation and meals for all participants.

"We are pleased to announce our support for the Ecosystem Investigators camps during Parks Canada’s centennial celebrations," said Camilla Dalglish, director of The W. Garfield Weston Foundation.

"Our Foundation has supported environmental education initiatives for over 10 years and we are proud to see this work continue through the ESI camp which encourages students to actively contribute to healthy ecosystems. This is a wonderful complement to our Foundation’s conservation of over 30,000 acres in Waterton Park Front, adjacent to this magnificent national park."