Thompson Rivers University

Blazing a trail for a future with fossils

September 8, 2022

Visitors to McAbee Fossil Beds look over the ancient site, home to a wide variety of fossils.

Trust your instincts and you may discover trails to unexpected places — at least that’s what happened to TRU’s Jada Glen, fourth year Bachelor of Tourism Management student.

Jada Glen

Jada Glen

As a high school student in 100 Mile House, she was drawn to a career in the tourism industry but was also pushed in other directions. After completing two years of a Bachelor of Arts degree, she decided it was time to listen to her gut.

“I finally was like, ‘No, I want to do tourism.’ I hadn’t changed my mind,” says Jada, adding she is thrilled with her choice of program. “Tourism brings together many things I’m passionate about and allows me to share the experiences I find with others in a way that makes them feel connected and passionate as well.”

With generous support from local organizations, Glen shared one of those experiences recently when she led a pilot tour to the McAbee Fossil Beds Heritage Site, home to an abundance of diverse, high-quality fossils including insects, fish, flora and fauna. The site is east of Cache Creek on Secwépemc land. It is owned and managed by Bonaparte (St’uxwtéws) First Nation.

While the site is not currently open to the public, trail builder and tour guide extraordinaire Adrian Lewis is confident his work with Bonaparte (St’uxwtéws) First Nation will soon open up many trails and learning opportunities for visitors. Lewis hails from the Nisga’a and Tsimshian Nation, but has been living and working in the Secwépemc territory for six years.

“My goal is to have a full trail system of about 15 km,” he says, adding the venture will expand cultural and traditional knowledge of Bonaparte people. There are no trail signs yet, but they are marked out and Lewis anticipates the site will include trails for all manner of adventure seekers and fossil hunters as well as picnic tables, a kiosk, an info centre, expanded restrooms and a redesigned parking area. “This is just a start.”

Dean of Adventure, Culinary Arts and Tourism Doug Booth

Dean of Adventure, Culinary Arts and Tourism Doug Booth

Partnerships lead to progress

Glen pitched the tour idea as her end project for one of David Carter’s tourism management classes. Carter is the founder and director of TRU’s Innovation Lab, which provides experiential learning opportunities as well as mentorship and funding to students. Students develop business ideas through the semester and then pitch them to a panel of judges. This spring, Glen’s pitch was one of two chosen for further development. Following her successful pitch, she received mentorship and support. Financial resources for the program were provided by Tourism Kamloops and the Economic Trust of the Southern Interior (ETSI).

Glen says choosing the fossil site as her entrepreneurial venture came from her experiences as a child.

“I really connect to this because my dad and I would often search for fossils growing up, and we’re so lucky to have something so well taken care of in the area,” says Glen.

Fossils from McAbee Fossil Beds

Fossils from McAbee Fossil Beds

Over the summer, Glen forged a partnership with the Bonaparte (St’uxwtéws) First Nation to have access to the fossil site. On Aug. 25, Glen’s pilot tour took flight for 13 lucky attendees. Carter acted as driver for the day and Lewis led the group on an informative walk along a couple of the newly constructed trails.

TRU’s Dean of Adventure, Culinary Arts and Tourism Douglas Booth was one of those in attendance.

“The pilot tour to McAbee Fossil Beds was a resounding success,” says Booth, adding it was a first-class event that included lunch at a picturesque spot overlooking Kamloops Lake prior to arriving at the heritage site. “We all felt privileged to experience this dramatic ancient and living environment firsthand, and thankful for our generous guides and hosts.”

Mentor key to success

After successfully hosting the pilot tour, Glen is now working to fine-tune her business plan while finishing her degree and she hopes to run tours to the site within the next year or two. She credits part of her success to the mentorship she received.

Adrian Lewis

Trail builder Adrian Lewis

“I think the reason I was able to develop this so quickly into a running pilot was due to the mentorship I received from John Zubak at Kamloops Innovation Centre,” she says. “He provided excellent advice and was always available to answer any questions or concerns I had. He was extremely supportive, and I owe a lot of my success to his guidance.”

With the Tourism Innovation Lab fully operational at TRU, student-led businesses are more likely than ever before to make the jump from idea to accomplishment, fulfilling a long-held goal of Carter, who has been teaching at TRU since 2011.

“We want students to become more entrepreneurial. We want them to start businesses that will add more experiences and more opportunities for tourists and locals in Kamloops,” he says.

“This was the first time we’ve had a student from the last year who went into our summer program, who got some of the funding, used her time, money, energy and the other resources and mentorship that we have gotten to a point where she might start this business. That’s really what we’re hoping to do and Jada did such a great job this summer and she’s been working so hard — it was fantastic to see that example.”

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