The Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation (GRPF) and Lives With Less Plastic are among this year's recipients of Alberta Emerald Awards.
The Emeralds were established three decades ago to showcase those who raise the bar in addressing local, regional, and global environmental and climate issues. Cochrane area innovations have been recognized multiple times in different categories over the years.
GRPF won the land category in recognition of 10 years of grassland education. Since the park was established in 2011, the foundation has made it a priority to educate adult and youth visitors alike about its fascinating and fragile grassland ecosystem.
"From the very beginning, even the careful planning of pathways was done with the idea of creating a minimal disturbance in the park while still being able to offer visitors a chance to walk through these grasslands, because they are disappearing across the province, and across the world," says GRPF executive director Sarah Parker.
In a normal year, Parker says 5,000 students visit the 3,200-acre park and partake in one of three programs.
"Explore Grasslands is one of those programs. What we do is take the children throughout the park, we talk about how grasslands were used by Indigenous people long before we were here, and we also speak to them about the ecology of grasslands."
That same insight is provided to those participating in their golf cart and bike tours. There's also interpretative signage throughout the park.
"Most people don't understand that grassland ecosystems are as diverse as the Amazon Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, and they're disappearing at the same rate."
Parker believes they've been able to reach "tens of tens of thousands" of people over the years.
The $2,000 grant that comes with the award will be used to help fund the park's ongoing vegetation management program.
She says the park has a working cattle ranch and is fortunate to receive financial assistance for its grasslands education program from the Alberta Beef Producers. It doesn't currently have a sponsor for its expensive and expansive vegetation program.
Jade Janzen and Lives with Less Plastic won the youth category. It's a youth-led nonprofit organization that aims to educate people and provide resources to help them reduce their individual and collective environmental footprints.
Just one of their targets is the elimination of single-use plastics.
They've developed extensive educational resources. This year they've made 25 virtual presentations in classrooms across Canada.
"We're not just Alberta anymore," says founder Janzen. "People all around Canada are seeing us and are reaching out, which is an amazing thing."
They have many ongoing and new projects specific to Cochrane.
They're in the midst of establishing an elementary and middle school group, and she looks forward to the day when in-person presentations return.
"Those kids have so much energy. They're very passionate, and just being with them is an amazing thing."
In partnership with others, they are aspiring to introduce solar energy at Bow Valley High School.
"Through Bow Valley, we've been able to partner with Integrated Sustainability, who was also shortlisted for an Emerald Award."
"The opportunities that have been opened up to us since we got this award are just super amazing."
In part, the prize money will be used to expand upon their t-shirt bag project. With materials donated by the community, they create the bags, then lend them out at borrowing stations at stores in the community. Janzen says they are hoping to establish more stations.
The 15-year-olds' eyes were opened to the Emeralds two years ago when she attended an awards ceremony with a delegation from the Alberta Tomorrow Foundation, of which her mother is the executive director.
"To be honoured with these amazing groups, businesses, and people in Alberta is such an honour."
The Cochrane-based Alberta Tomorrow Foundation was also shortlisted in the public engagement and outreach category.
The Confluence project won the infrastructure award. The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Woodpecker European Timber Framing, and a family partnered to construct a one-of-a-kind home in the Waiprous area. More on this to follow in a separate story.
Nearly 400 award recipients and 900 finalists have been recognized by the Emerald Awards in 30 years.