Visitors to central Alberta’s Painted Warrior Ranch leave different people than when they arrived.
Owner and operator Tracey Klettl said people — many from outside of Canada — from all walks of life have come to her ranch to learn about Indigenous culture and outdoors skills such as tracking, hunting and learning to live off the land.
“The biggest thing is having people reconnecting with the land again,” said Klettl, who has run the ranch located 25 km south of Sundre with husband Tim Mearns since 2012.
“It’s so people never lose that understanding of how important the land is to us. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s really important we bring people back to the land.”
For many visitors, the experiences they have at the ranch leave a lasting impression as they head back to their digitally connected day-to-day lives.
“That’s probably the most rewarding part of our job,” says Klettl, who has Cree and Mohawk roots from the Jasper area. Her Saskatchewan-raised husband is of Saulteaux and Scottish ancestry. “We see people from all walks of life coming in here, and there’s a real disconnect.
“It seems to me like people find us because they’re looking for this re-connection. And I think every program we run, whether it’s a guide training program or a tourism program, people are leaving changed.
“They’re rediscovering their roots. It doesn’t matter where they are from. They are rediscovering this connection to the land that they’ve been seeking and to feel more grounded.
“Another thing too is the bridge of understanding that they’re building, and that’s really important for us.
“We’ve been fortunate to meet people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and different cultures. And I think what is really beautiful when you’re sitting around a fire at night and you’re talking and realizing how alike we all are in the most important ways,” she says.
“People leave with a new understanding of our Indigenous past, and some of things we have gone through, but also how alike we all are.”
“That’s important because I think that’s how we all move forward together.”
About 150 people a year pass through the ranch and participate in its programs. On the tourism side, the horseback riding, archery and wildlife viewing programs have been big draws. Klettl brings her experience as a nationally ranked archer to that program. She was part of Team Canada at the world competition in Austria in 2011 and has won many national titles.
More experienced horseback riders can improve their wilderness riding skills with a back country equestrian boot camp and an equestrian first aid program.
Wilderness survival and outdoor cooking programs also cater to the adventurous or to those who hope to turn guiding and outfitting into a career. Mearns, an experienced tracker and hunter, brings his skills to those kinds of programs, which include interpretive guiding and hunter education sessions.
Both Mearns and Klettl are certified instructors in all of the fields they teach through a variety of national organizations.
For many activities, one-day programs are available and the business also hosts business retreats and workshops.
The pandemic meant international visitors dried up this year. However, home-grown client numbers are way up this year.
“We’ve seen a lot more regional people this year. We actually had a way busier year than we expected, which is kind of cool.”
During winter time, Painted Warrior Ranch offers wildlife viewing tours, snowshoeing and other activities. Archery and horse riding continue in an indoor arena.
“Kind of our focus is to get people more aware of our winter programming because there is so much more we definitely have to offer in the winter.
“Especially in the snow it’s a lot easier to see the animal tracks so much more clearly. There’s winter medicine where we can point out plants and things we would have used.”
For more information go to www.paintedwarriors.ca.