Trail Ambassador Role Puts Biology Student on New Path

Canadian Parks & Recreation Association
/April 18, 2024

Matthew Fernandes initially thought his biology degree would lead to a career as a doctor. But when he took a human anatomy course, he realized that medical school wasn’t in the cards for him. “I really hated it,” laughs Fernandes, who is a student at Cape Breton University. “I was a little lost for a bit.” He decided to switch gears, and took some classes related to plant biology such as plant taxonomy and ornithology, which is the study of birds. Fernandes quickly learned that he loved being outdoors and wanted to use his biology degree in an environmental setting.

When he learned that the Municipality of Cape Breton was hiring a trails ambassador during the winter and spring of 2024, he knew he wanted to apply – and that he would be perfect for the role. Fernandes had this job opportunity thanks to funding from the CPRA Green Jobs Initiative, which is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment Skills Strategy program. As a trails ambassador, Fernandes visited the community’s trails and assessed their accessibility – which often took time, as many of Cape Breton’s trail systems continued to recover from Hurricane Fiona’s destruction in 2022. “There’s still a lot of down trees on some of the trails,” he explains. “There are also some trails, like the Louisbourg trail system, which is really nice, but needs to be re-done because it was pretty much destroyed by the hurricane.” Fernandes also assessed whether the trails could support outdoor winter sports activities and began helping the municipality create a trails map for residents and visitors. “Our plan is to make a trail map that’s easily accessible to people,” he says.

“It would be a one-stop place where people can find all the trails located in the community and lots of information on them.” Ashley Eisan, Outdoor Recreation Program Coordinator for the Municipality of Cape Breton, was Fernandes’s immediate supervisor and says he was a welcome addition to the team. “Having this grant has been a great experience for us. We love when we can find people like Matthew who are self-guided, can get out, get their hands dirty, and do what they need to do,” Eisan says. She adds that the position was particularly valuable for the community, which is still recovering from both Hurricane Fiona’s destruction and the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve been understaffed for a while, and it would have been unfeasible for me to go out and assess these trails,” she says.

“Matthew’s role has been incredibly beneficial for us. We have a beautiful, beautiful municipality and so many trail systems for people to enjoy. It is a full-time job to manage, and having the extra set of hands has been very helpful.” The job opportunity also allowed Fernandes to see how many career opportunities there are in parks and recreation – and has inspired him to pursue a career that gives back to the environment, such as an environmental analyst. Once he receives his biology degree, Fernandes plans to study education. Looking to the future, he has also considered educating the next generation on the importance of parks, recreation, and the outdoors. “It would be great to get kids outside and have them using their senses out on the trail systems,” Fernandes says. “Kids need to learn about and appreciate what we have here in Cape Breton, because I think it can be under appreciated.”

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