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Ontario volunteer’s fly-by brings new appreciation for wetlands on his home turf

Volunteer Tom Cybolsky sees his local waters and wildlife from a new perspective, on an aerial ride-along over DUC conservation projects

May 23, 2018
Ontario volunteer Tom Cybolsky, in the air with DUC staff.
Ontario volunteer Tom Cybolsky, in the air with DUC staff. © DUC

“I still shake thinking about the trip,” says Tom Cybolsky.

It’s been months since Cybolsky accompanied a DUC engineer on an aerial inspection of 18 projects in northeastern Ontario. He still gets a thrill when he recalls the experience.

“People don’t realize the beauty we have up here,” says Cybolsky, a dedicated DUC volunteer and lifelong resident of Iroquois Falls, Ont. For 30 years, Cybulski has fundraised for DUC to protect this rugged, evergreen-rich landscape and waterfowl haven.

DUC staff conduct aerial inspections by plane or helicopter to maximize the number of projects they can see in a day. In the north—where projects can be hundreds of kilometres removed from one another and hard to access—these bird’s-eye-view inspections are essential.

DUC engineer Steven Mack was scheduled to do an aerial inspection last fall with a project partner. When that person was unable to make it, Mack’s manager reached out to Rob Watson, who leads DUC’s events and volunteer relations in northern Ontario, to find a volunteer who could fill the seat.

Watson’s choice—Tom Cybolsky—was easy. “Tom has been and continues to be a very passionate volunteer,” he says.

Cybolsky jumped at the opportunity.

Seated in a Bell 306 helicopter, with a headset perched on top of his DU ball cap, Cybolsky saw the land and waterways around his home in a whole new way. “I’ve been born and raised up here and there’s lots of areas I got to see that I’ve never seen before. It was unbelievable,” he says.

Cybolsky spotted “all sorts of wildlife” including moose, geese and families of trumpeter swans. He saw many of the wetland projects his years of fundraising helped realize.

DUC constructed many projects in this part of Ontario around the same time Cybolsky began volunteering. The majority of these projects include water control structures, installed to increase the size of existing wetlands and provide more waterfowl habitat.

Three decades later, infrastructure at these projects needs updating. Fundraising efforts by dedicated DUC volunteers like Cybolsky, gifts from generous donors, and donations from local industry, are providing the resources DUC conservation staff need to restore them.

“We rebuilt two projects, and have four more planned this coming year,” says Mack.

Feet back on the ground, Cybolsky is happy to share his experience with everyone he meets, inspiring others with his newfound understanding of the scope of DUC’s work.

“Every time I see somebody they ask me about it,” says Cybolsky.

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