By Steve Hubrecht 

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Columbia Valley resident Tracy Flynn has won this year’s Ellen Zimmerman award.

The award, named after  the renowned environmentalist, is presented annually by East Kootenay nonprofit group Wildsight and recognizes the efforts of residents of the Upper Columbia River region in environmental conservation and education.

Flynn received the award and a piece of pottery by Golden potter Barry Johnson last week in a small ceremony in Wilmer, involving about a dozen people on May 27.

“I’m pretty surprised,” said Flynn, describing her humble reaction to winning the award. “You don’t think about awards when you’re doing volunteer work, and there are so many other people in the valley doing great things that I feel are more deserving of recognition than I am.”

Flynn and her husband retired to the Columbia Valley 15 years ago, and Flynn immediately immersed herself in all sorts of volunteer endeavours, most of which have an environmental flavour.

She joined the Summit Trail Makers Society (SMTS), the Columbia Valley Greenways Trail Alliance, Wildsight (where she is now president of the Invermere chapter’s board of directors and leads the Rocky Mountain Bighorn Conservation and Biodiversity program) and the Fairmont volunteer fire department (“it helps keep me fit and active. All the hiking is good for your legs, but being on the fire department means you lug around heavy things and that’s good for you too,” she said). 

After a visit from her brother who is involved in water conservation on Vancouver Island, she helped found the Columbia Lake Stewardship Society. She works with the East Kootenay Climate Hub, volunteers on the Columbia Valley Recreation Planning Initiative, and helped local youth interested in environmental advocacy set up Columbi-YA, which later launched the David Thompson Secondary School (DTSS) Climate Action Club. 

In her spare time she manages to regularly attend municipal and regional government meetings, where she encourages local leaders to pursue greener policies, and also campaigned to protect a neighbour’s water source when it was threatened by logging.

Flynn’s environmental ethic was inspired by spending plenty of time outdoors as she grew up in remote  parts of northern Alberta. Her father was a forester and later opened a fishing lodge.

“We were always outside, all the time,” Flynn told the Pioneer.

Flynn studied engineering before she married and had kids. As she raised them, she worked as a swimming instructor, picking a job she knew nothing about but which fit with her kids’ schedules and allowed her to be active.

 “There I was doing my Bronze Medallion and Bronze Cross courses in my 30s.”

Later, when her parents got older, she and one of her brothers took over the fishing lodge which had grown to also become a seasonal camp for energy sector workers.

She was struck by how much the lake and the lodge had transformed since she was young. 

“It was pristine when we first got there, but it changed,” said Flynn. “You get very busy with work, with kids. That’s how life is. Then when the kids were grown up, and we sold the lodge, it felt that in some ways the world had gone by and that I was finally able put my head up. And I realized just how much the world had changed. I thought ‘I need to help if I can’.”

Flynn and her husband cut back on plastics, changed some of their habits and purchased an electric vehicle. Still, she wanted to do more.

“I wanted to do something on a larger scale. If you become part of an organization, you have a bigger voice, and you also have the chance to teach others. So that’s what I did,” she said.

Today, Flynn has five grandchildren and says they help inspire her.

“I want to know I tried my best to make a different future for them.”

Flynn’s Wildsight colleagues feel she’s done an excellent job in that regard.

“It was thanks to her doggedness that there is now a large buffer of natural environment around the water source to protect it. If she wasn’t literally sitting at the site meeting with the loggers and asking them to defer the harvest for a couple days, the drinking water source would have been damaged,” said Wildsight Columbia Valley conservation coordinator Jenna Schulof in a press release, speaking of Flynn’s work.

“Tracy’s dedication to finding ways to protect important ecological values on the landscape is something Ellen really would have appreciated,” added Wildsight member Joan Dolinsky.