Charitable Choices: Kevin O’Callaghan of Pacific Parklands Foundation

Pacific Parklands Foundation acts as a catalyst to unite the community to improve, sustain, and expand Metro Vancouver Regional Parks. For this edition of our Charitable Choices series we spoke with Kevin O’Callaghan, President of Pacific Parklands Foundation, to find out more about what they do.

Charitable Choices: Kevin O'Callaghan of Pacific Parklands Foundation

Describe your charity/non-profit in a few sentences.

Pacific Parklands Foundation is the only registered charity dedicated to the conservation and enhancement of Metro Vancouver’s regional parks. We provide the additional financial support needed to realize special projects and initiatives that fall outside of what government funding can provide. We work to make our regional parks as good as they can be.

What problem does it aim to solve?

Although we have a wonderfully vibrant regional park system that focus on providing access to wilderness spaces and experiences, there is so much more that can be done. Here are a few examples:

· protect our parks from invasive species;
· conserve and restore important wildlife habitats;
· educate and empower youth to become environmental leaders;
· ensure our parks are accessible to everyone;
· improve and grow park facilities and infrastructure;
· connect people with nature;
· build a strong future for regional parks.

When did you start/join it?

I joined in 2009 as a board member and became president of the Foundation in 2020. However, Pacific Parklands Foundation has been around since January of 2000. Over 20 years ago, a small group of people passionate were asked to be part of the creation of the Foundation to protect our green spaces for future generations. With a focus on raising funds and awareness for the lower mainland’s regional parks, this group of individuals came together with the common goal of bridging the gap between what government provides and what our parks need.

What made you want to get involved?

I’ve always understood the importance of wilderness for the health of our community and the maintenance of Canadian culture. My passion for the environment landed me in a career of Law with a focus on aboriginal, regulatory, and environmental issues. Living in North Vancouver, my family and I spend as much of our free time in the outdoors as possible – much of it running and walking in Capilano River Regional Park. The regional parks are a local and accessible way to connect with nature and our community. It was an easy decision to join a board that would allow me to share and communicate this love for the regional parks with others. I feel lucky to play a part in protecting and enhancing our local nature.

What was the situation like when you started?

Soon after I became president of the Pacific Parklands Foundation, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I learned quickly that this was a time when people needed parks more than ever. They provided a space to safely connect with friends and family, get some exercise, and take care of our mental health. They became an escape back to normalcy when it felt like the world was full of uncertainty.

During this time, regional parks saw 16.5 million visits in 2020 – an increase of 38% from 2019, when there were 11.9 million visits. We can only expect those numbers to keep up in 2021.

We were eager to adapt to the new normal. We did this by switching to online connections in a series of webinars (Nature Connections, Bedtime Stories, etc.). We partnered with Grouse Mountain to create non-medical face masks where the proceeds went back to regional parks. Our sister organization, CTS Youth Society, had their youth camps adjusted to fit COVID-19 health protocols as we knew that youth needed the outdoors more than ever. We also had a “Regional Parks Snap & Share,” event, where park visitors used the iNaturalist app to take photos in nature and win prizes. Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 threw us a curveball, but we adjusted and made it work- and came out on the other side with some great new partnerships.

How has it changed since?

Just in the past year, we have grown tremendously. We partnered with film industry leaders, Creative BC, in our first ever REEL Earth Day Challenge, where the film industry raised $165,000 for projects in the regional parks. We took time to focus our fundraising efforts with a new Fund Development Manager, and our board members have been working hard to define our strategic plan. We have also funded countless bus trips to regional parks, restoration projects, invasive species pulls, wildlife habitat revivals, and youth scholarships.

What more needs to be done?

Our 13,614 ha in 23 regional parks, 2 ecological conservancy areas, 2 regional park reserves and 5 regional greenways are precious ecological treasures that must be protected and preserved for future generations. It is our responsibility to ensure that they remain strong and healthy, not just for our own sake, but for the plants, animals, and birds that call them home. Without our help and protection, our parks and the animals and plants that live in them, face many threats. Rapid urbanization, habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change all pose urgent threats to our parks. With pressures on our urban wild spaces growing, ensuring our parks are well funded and protected is more important than ever.

How can our readers help?

They can make a direct, positive impact on regional parks by donating at this link.

We welcome a variety of gifts, from monthly donors to memorial benches, legacy gifts to bequests. Your donations help enhance and protect our regional parks for current and future generations. We also encourage people to volunteer in the regional parks with Metro Vancouver- perhaps we can even help fund your project with one of our program grants!

Do you have any events coming up?

EcoBlitz in October 2021: An environmental stewardship event with the goal of restoring, enhancing, and protecting Metro Vancouver Regional Parks.

Giving Tuesday – November 30, 2021: After Black Friday and Cyber Monday comes… Giving Tuesday! A global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world.

Night Quest in March 2022: With a bit of magic, secrets of the forest will be revealed at the annual Night Quest event in Pacific Spirit Regional Park. Join Metro Vancouver Park Interpreters and the Pacific Spirit Park Society to celebrate the wonders of nature at night.

Where can we follow you?

Website | Facebook | Instagram

PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?

CTS Youth Society! CTS Youth Society is a non-profit organization that aims to connect every youth in Metro Vancouver with their natural environment, their community, and each other through life-changing outdoor experiences (in the regional parks!).