Research and communication analyst, Ontario parks

Andrew McDonald sitting in a kayak holding a turtle and smiling. 

Andrew MacDonald (MA Recreation and Leisure Studies ’19) came to Waterloo as an undergraduate studying geography and environmental management out of a love for the natural environment, and a desire to find a career outdoors. Throughout his studies, his specific direction shifted like a forest path, eventually leading him toward a parks option.

For his undergraduate thesis, he proposed and piloted a park app, and then entered a Master’s degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies, where he evaluated the app’s potential.

Andrew McDonald talking to a lady with silver hair at an event in front of his research poster.


Today, Andrew works for Ontario Parks, and has developed the first Ontario Parks smartphone application for the Pinery Provincial Park. He says his work is rooted in the famous words of Congolese forestry engineer Baba Dioum: “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

“Humans like to think we’re disconnected from nature, but our survival depends on having a natural environment with its ecological integrity intact,” MacDonald says. “All aspects of parks – camping, campfires, recreation activities – allow people to build connections to the environment.”

While many think park visitors should disconnect from electronics, MacDonald says, “Some people put their phones away in parks, while others have no problem with using them.” His now-award-winning app provides an opportunity for the latter group to use technology in a constructive way. Not only does it provide park information and educational content, but it also allows visitors to submit information to park staff. Among the app’s citizen science projects is one where visitors can sign out bat detectors to look for these critically endangered animals, sending coordinates to park staff.

MacDonald has had countless similar experiences where visitors are engaged in a park program and have an a-ha moment – when they recognize that a salamander or snake is more important than they had realized. He adds, “Ultimately, parks are there to protect ecosystems, but they also benefit people by helping us connect with the environment.”

Originally published in our Fall 2019 News to You alumni magazine.

University of Waterloo