Environmental awareness and a commitment to conservation can begin at any age.
Just ask six-year-old Ryan Marques of Bradford West Gwillimbury.
Ryan, the winner of a 2021 Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority Healthy Community Award, began picking up litter in his neighbourhood parks and streets when he was only four.
His family - mom, dad, little sister Sara – live in the Grand Central Subdivision in Bradford, where both Ryan and his sister attend St. Angela Merici Catholic School.
Ryan was first introduced to the concept of taking responsibility for litter by his grandmother, says mom Cheri.
“On one walk, my mom brought a plastic bag with her and picked up garbage along the walking path and in the park. That’s all it took to get Ryan started, picking up trash,” she says.
It became something that he wants to do, a regular part of his walks.
“When Ryan is at my mom’s, they walk the path from Northgate to Breeze, and usually into Davey Lookout Park. Ryan and my mom picked up trash along the way and down into St. Teresa of Calcutta Catholic School,” Cheri explains. “Just a few weeks ago, Ryan and my mom picked up trash in the soccer field behind the school, and said they found so many facemasks discarded by people.”
In fact, the whole Marques family picks up litter, bringing along gloves and garbage bags for family walks – along the path from Aishford to the stormwater pond on Langford Boulevard, along West Park Avenue behind The Beer Store and Tim Hortons.
“I also purchased a ‘reacher-grabber’ tool that Ryan has learned to use… It’s much safer to pick up coffee cups, cup trays, plastic straws, water bottles and plastic bags,” Cheri says.
It makes Ryan sad to see the trash left behind by careless people.
“He says, ‘Oh my – look at the garbage! Can we go and pick garbage?’” says his mom. “Ryan tells us he likes to keep our paths and parks clean to keep the world safe. He says the animals will die if we don’t keep things clean.”
Ryan would like to be “a police officer or a zoo keeper” when he grows up. “Either way, looking after people and animals is important to him,” notes Cheri.
The young environmentalist was recognized with the Healthy Community Award, presented virtually on Nov. 25 in an online LSRCA meeting that saw a total of 29 ‘Watershed Hero’ awards presented, recognizing a wide range of conservation efforts within the Lake Simcoe Watershed.
It was the 39th year for the awards, but “the first year we are having this event virtually,” said LSRCA Chief Administrative Officer Rob Baldwin, noting that last year’s awards were cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. “The individuals and groups recognized today are truly watershed heroes, raising awareness about watershed issues.”
Marques, Baldwin noted, was “one of the youngest recipients” ever presented with an award by the LSRCA. “Thank you, Ryan - you are an amazing young man!” he said.
The award was “presented” by Vice Chair and BWG Councillor Peter Ferragine. “Congratulations to all of the award winners. Thank you all, and keep up the amazing work.”
“We have some outstanding people who have come together to protect the watershed,” said CEO and Chair of the LSRCA Board of Directors Wayne Emerson. “We like to think of them as environmental heroes. Their selfless actions deserve recognition and serve as a reminder about the positive impact our activities can have.”
And heroes can be as young as six.
He was “so surprised that he received a Healthy Community Award. He was so excited when it arrived in the mail and he saw his name on it,” she says, adding, “Our family will likely continue to pick up all year, wherever we walk and hike. It would be awesome if everyone would carry their trash home with them or to the nearest receptacle, instead of littering.
“It’s how I was taught, and it’s how I’m teaching my kids as well.”
It's a lesson that Ryan has learned well, and is sharing with his community.