Marissa Matthews, who just graduated from kindergarten at Humber Elementary School, and Brady Sparkes, who’s headed for Grade 4 at J.J. Curling Elementary School, were the two winners of a contest held during National Wildlife Week back in early May.
They were among hundreds of kids from the Western School District who visited a wildlife exhibit hosted by the Department of Environment and Conservation at the Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook during the week.
All of the kids had a chance to enter a colouring contest and the two winners were randomly drawn.
The grand prize for the contest was an hour-long helicopter ride into the Newfoundland wilderness, with the hopes of catching some of the province’s wildlife in its natural habitat.
The excursions were supposed to happen before school ended, but a forest fire alert delayed the trips for about two weeks.
The extra wait was well worth it.
Marissa’s trip took her from the Universal Helicopters hangar in Pasadena towards the Gaff Topsails in central Newfoundland.
The trip was only about 10 minutes old when pilot Mike Bannerman spotted two young moose calves prancing through the bush.
Several more moose were spotted as the chopper flew towards the Gaff Topsails and then back over Grand Lake, including Glover Island, on its return flight to Pasadena.
“The moose were really fun to watch,” said the excited six-year-old, whose guests were her 11-year-old brother Mason and her mom Janice.
As the chopper landed, eight-year-old Sparkes was eagerly awaiting his turn with his little brother, six-year-old Brayden, and their dad Jason.
“I’m hoping to see a moose, caribou, goose and bears,” Brady said before hopping aboard the chopper.
This time, Bannerman and Wayne Hicks, a public information officer with the Department of Environment and Conservation, decided to take a different route and headed north from Pasadena towards Gros Morne National Park.
There were a few moose along the way, including a big bull that popped out of the trees after the chopper had landed briefly so the group could get out and survey the landscape.
The scenery alone on this route was spectacular with amazing views of the communities along Bonne Bay and landmarks such as North Arm Hills, The Tablelands and Gros Morne Mountain. The venture was topped off with a fly-over of the stunning Western Brook Pond fiord.
“It’s amazing,” said dad Jason. “There’s so much land up there.”
The hope was to maybe see a herd of caribou and possibly land to get a closer look at them, but not one caribou was spotted on either trip. Hicks said there’s never a guarantee when venturing out to see wildlife, especially when the temperatures are in the high 20s Celsius like they were on this day.
“We thought we were going to see more, but it’s a very hot day and animals are ... having a nap this time of day,” he said after the second trip. “They are not really on the move when it’s hot. We seen 12 moose between the two trips ... We didn’t see any caribou, which was surprising, but I’m sure they are settled down having a relaxing day in this heat.”
The smiles on the faces of the kids and their parents told the story that it was a fantastic day nonetheless.
“I think it was wonderful,” said Marissa’s mom Janice. “It was their first time ever in a helicopter and to see moose from up in the air was a great experience for the kid.”