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Adaptive Travel and Bison Viewing in Alberta, Canada

By Christina Beckmann

Posted: February 13, 2023


"One day I was out skiing with a friend, I was new to adaptive sports at the time, and we’d just had a stellar day out on the hill. He turned to me and thanked me, and I said nonchalantly, ‘oh it was nothing.’ My friend stopped me, he stared me dead in the eye, and he ‘No. It was everything," says Steve Holly, of Adaptable Outdoors.

Steve is one of the featured subjects in a new film, "All Among the Bison: An Inclusive Vision for Tomorrow" directed by award-winning Montreal-based filmmaker Duncan McDowall.

Steve and his wife Sara are the founders of Adaptable Outdoors, providing opportunities for people living with disabilities to experience the benefits of outdoor recreation. Growing up in the U.K., Steve’s career started far away from the uninterrupted prairies of Canada he now calls home. Back then he managed jewelry stores. Eventually, in a dramatic career switch, he decided to earn a degree in Wildlife Conservation and Zoobiology that brought him to Canada. While completing an internship in grizzly bear management and carnivore research he fell in love with the Canadian Rockies and the Canadian woman who became his wife.

It was his volunteer work with Rocky Mountain Adaptive in Canmore and CADS-Lethbridge, another adaptive skiing organization, however that revealed a lack of summertime programs for people living with disabilities, and led him to start Adaptive Outdoors with Sara.

Steve and Sara have joined forces with Cody Spencer, whose dedication to bringing bison back to the plains to support climate restoration offers a unique opportunity for Adaptable Outdoors clients. Cody says, "This isn’t just animals grazing in a beautiful landscape. This is about a return to balance in one of the most remarkable and precious ecosystems. We’re re-igniting a sense of interdependence and connection for the people who live in this area, and for those who come to visit - something so many of us have lost in our modern life.”

Cody grew up in the Milk River-Sage Creek area of Alberta, and his herd of bison can be found just north of here in Coaldale on the banks of the Oldman River. In a region threatened by a fast changing climate and industry, Cody is working not only to re-introduce bison, but also to open the experience to visitors.

Out here on Alberta's western border with British Columbia, visitors can experience some of the most extensive native mixed grassland, silver sagebrush and ephemeral wetland habitat in Canada. Unlike much of Canada’s prairie, here one finds the prairie uninterrupted; it is known to be the most extensive and biodiverse grassland landscape on the glaciated plains of North America.

Protected for generations by its isolation and by grazing patterns that have perpetuated the richness and diversity of the native grassland, Cody and other long time residents however observe that these factors are changing rapidly, inspiring new urgency and creativity to reach new audiences to help protect the area.

The documentary film explores the interdependence between The Prairies and bison, reflecting on the way each has historically sustained the other. Grasslands of the past were maintained by the wild bison and elk that grazed upon them: these large mammals trimmed the grasses through their feeding, and their hooves stirred the soil, pushing seed for native grasses and forbs and dead plants down into the ground to create new life.

Grasslands today are threatened by encroachment, loss of animals such as bison, and our warming climate. The regeneration underway in Alberta offers a microcosm of what is needed overall to restore our climate: connection, balance, understanding. Our climate problem is a symptom of our imbalance and loss of understanding about our interdependence with other species and nature.

Cody, Sara and Steve's stories come together with an inspirational message about the importance of balance and living in harmony with nature that resonates for travelers and climate advocates. 

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