Adventurer and environmentalist plants local roots

By William McGinn

I have never set foot outside North America unless parts of the Caribbean count. Whereas Kara Ashley, 25, has been to Thailand, Italy, Hungary, China and the Czech Republic, and many more places. She also divides her time among Lindsay, Iqaluit, and Colorado. Her father, Paul Ashley, says all her travelling – much of it on her own — scares him half to death.

Kara is many things. She is an adventurer, environmentalist, businesswoman, teacher and caretaker. Her childhood, alongside her parents, and younger siblings Brandon and Olivia, was anything but ordinary.

Paul, who is now a professor at Fleming College in the Fish and Wildlife Technician Program, worked for the Canadian Wildlife Service, and for 20 years he managed 10,000 acres of land at the ecologically sensitive Long Point National Wildlife Area, a skinny finger of protected land jutting into Lake Erie that is home to many rare plants, reptiles, and amphibians.

Kara was home-schooled by her mother and would often help her father and the researchers with hands-on work, between hikes, canoeing and kayaking. When Paul looks back on his data sheets, some of them are in a 10-year-old’s handwriting.

When Kara was a preteen, her family moved, all the way to Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Baffin Island. After moving, she went into the public school system, and in high school she not only started an environmental club but was able to get David Suzuki to visit.

“Over the years, feeling connected and held by the Earth has influenced my ability to be resilient in very stressful times,” Kara said. “I think one of the most devastating beliefs that we could have as humans is that we are separate from nature, meaning we are not a part of the intricate web.”

At 18, she single-handedly ran a coffee shop in Inuvik, Northwest Territories. Then she went on the first of her many solo travels, including to Jamaica, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. After getting an Adventure Guide diploma from Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, she discovered a program at Naropa University, in Colorado, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree concentrating on environmental studies and peace and conflict studies.

In Colorado she took to rock climbing and worked in a summer program — Nature Highs — for youth struggling with addictions. She is looking to expand it into Iqaluitnext year.

When her father moved to Lindsay in 2013, she began visiting him every summer. They enjoy boating together on the Trent Severn Waterway and Kara has also created Kara’s Nature Camp. While she has worked with children for over a decade, this is the first time she will be running a program herself. The family owns a small homestead on Kenrei Road, where she will give young campers daily access to a yard, orchard, vegetable garden, art shed, pond, family of chickens, daily campfires and field trips to nearby Ken Reid Conservation Area.

Kara said she is hoping her nature camp is successful enough to run for future summers in Lindsay. “I’m really blessed to be able to get along with kids very well and to be able to provide a space for them where they can feel safe and loved.”

“I’m just immensely proud of what she’s accomplished,” said Paul, “and the people she’s already influenced is pretty amazing.”

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