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Did you know that Fernie has a Water Smart Ambassador? Neither did I up until a month ago when Claire McFee posted some information on FernieFix.com. I was happily surprised, and even more surprised when I met Claire to learn more about her and this position. Why, you’re asking? Because she’s 24 years old, but don’t be fooled – she’s passionate, smart, and you’re going to be hearing from her this summer if your sprinkler is on all afternoon.
Claire is originally from Winnipeg. She went to university straight out of high school in Newfoundland, and found general studies hard to sit through. She left school and headed to Lake Louise, following her heart to the outdoors. After nearly two years she found Fernie, moving here in 2008. Not long after, Claire and her mom were trying to decide what she was going to do with her life. “We were looking at a variety of schools and programs, knowing that I loved fishing and wildlife, including Lethbridge and Castlegar,” she remembers. She chose Lethbridge’s Renewable Resource Management program and soon found out that the University of Lethbridge is number one in environmental sciences in Canada.
Having just finished her first year, commuting between Fernie and Lethbridge, Claire admits that it’s “pretty heavy”, identifying plants, soils, rocks, animals – “the basics”. Regardless, after just three months in the program, she realized that she was in the right place. “It’s inline with what I want to do and I knew I was going in the right direction,” she says.
Her first summer off, she applied to the City of Fernie. “I wanted something to do with the environment. Having worked in kitchens since I was 13, I was looking for something more specific to my diploma. I applied to multiple locations, but it’s awesome having a job here.” When Allan Chabot saw the program Claire was completing, he asked if she might be interested in something more specific to her education. The answer was a quick yes, and presto - Fernie has its Water Smart Ambassador!
“Basically I’ll be going around to the public educating people on outdoor water conservation specifically, but also indoor water conservation. This will including sprinkler assessments,” she says. The City wants to see where they can cut back on usage as there is a huge peak during the summer of water use. “Most soils get soaked in 20 minutes, sometimes water is wasted by sprinkling side-walks etc. I want to point people in the right direction. If they’re putting in a garden I can suggest drought tolerant plants or test their soil to suggest watering advice,” she adds. This is all part of an initiative set out by the Columbia Basin Trust that includes 22 communities to reduce water consumption in the Basin by 20%. Each community has its own goal, and Fernie’s is 20% by 2015.
This summer you’ll see Claire biking around neighbourhoods, talking to people, attending events and the farmer’s market. Be friendly, use her knowledge, ask for advice and take what she says into consideration.
“Even if I just get people to think about water conservation I’ll be happy. We live in an area where there is an abundance of water so people don’t make the connection. But making people aware of its importance is a big step,” says Claire.
1. When did you arrive in Fernie and what brought you here? Three years ago. We lived in Lake Louise and wanted to move somewhere else. We did a tour through the interior and Fernie was the one place that just popped. There was work, some friends lived here, and the ski hill and fishing didn’t detract from it.
2. Where did you first live in Fernie? In the Airport, we’ve lived there since!
3. What was your first impression? Just thought it looked like Golden or any other town on the highway, but once we drove to the downtown area we were amazed. It reminded me of downtown Winnipeg and its core of older buildings.
4. What keeps you in Fernie? The people, fishing and the activities. The scenery – I’m a Prairies girl and find myself staring at the mountains.
5. Do you have a favourite Fernie memory? We were going up to Silver Springs, hiked all the way up to go fishing and this massive army plane just came flying through the valley at the same level as us… it was pretty crazy.
6. What is your favourite time of the year in Fernie and why? I like the changing seasons, the spring and the fall… spring because I know I can go fishing soon and the fall because I love the changing colours and it reminds me of home.
7. Where do you see Fernie in 5 to 10 years? I’m not too sure. I know that it will grow, but I think it would take a lot to lose its small town charm.
8. How do you start your day or what is one of your daily rituals? I wake up early and take my dog for a walk to the river in James White Park every morning. And when you can actually see the sun, it’s nice to see the sun rise!
9. Tell us something people might be surprised to learn about you. When I was a little kid I was a Highland dancer. We had all the gear – kilt, socks, family tartan and went to competitions. It made me fall in love with bagpipes and learn about my heritage, which made me proud to be Scottish. I think people who know me are surprised to learn I used to dance.
10. Quote to live by: When the well is dry we know the worth of water. Benjamin Franklin.