Meet the Restorer: Steve Clegg

5 June 2023General

Have you ever spent time near Chilliwack’s lakes and rivers and admired how beautiful it is at the surface? The water flowing, the waves hitting the shore, the sunlight as it hits the water just right…

 It’s breathtaking, isn’t it?

Have you ever walked past garbage on the beach or trail, left your cans behind, a broken chair in the forest, or some fishing line on the riverside? Have you ever wondered where a lot of those things end up?

Meet Steve Clegg, the Restorer and an active protector of this gift that we call Chilliwack. Steve truly is a jack of all trades. He is a loving father, a Stewardship and Conservation Specialist with three First Nations, an active member of the Chilliwack Search and Rescue team, and in his free time, Steve is a free diver, diving to the bottom of lakes, rivers, and oceans, collecting garbage and debris that you can’t see from the surface. Cool, right?!

 We recently sat down with Steve to learn more about him, his hobbies, and why he is so passionate about preserving and restoring our lakes and rivers.

What is Freediving?

Freediving is the middle ground between snorkeling (floating at the surface and breathing through a snorkel) and scuba diving (diving underwater and breathing with an air tank). With freediving, you take your breath at the surface and then hold your breath as long as you can while you dive down deep below the water’s surface.

In the freediving world, it is common for divers to practice record breath holds. Some hold their breath for up to 3 minutes at a time. But, that’s not Steve’s style. His sweet spot is breath holds for 30 – 45 seconds.

 “In most cases, I can pick up more (garbage and debris) than I can carry in my arms and bag in (just) 30 seconds underwater.”

 Did you catch that?  He can fill his arms with more garbage from the lake floor than he can carry, sooner than he can run out of breath. This staggering observation is just a small testament to the amount of debris that lurks below the surface.

 Where Did It Start for Steve?

From a young age, Steve spent the majority of his time outdoors. Growing up in Ryder Lake, he was always surrounded by forests and streams, which are two of the ecosystems he still has a passion to explore today. He describes himself as a product of growing up outside on Chilliwack’s alpine mountain sides and under the clear waters of our rivers and lakes. Spending his formative years in wild places fostered an insatiable curiosity and instilled an ethic of stewardship to do his part in maintaining the valley’s ecological integrity.

 Steve still spends most of his time in both of those worlds; in the alpine with the mountain goats and underwater with the migrating salmon. 

Where did his passion start and how did he initially get involved in lake and river restoration in Chilliwack?

This goes all the way back to his grandmother, Steve explains. “She was a conservationist before it was a term” he proudly shared, “she spent her years preserving and protecting 30 acres of Chilliwack’s valley bottom.” Now, decades later, the area his grandmother worked so hard to protect is home to some of Chilliwack’s best Coho spawning streams.

From a young age, Steve was inspired by the way his grandmother worked and listened to her share her passion for environmental conservation. It was individuals like her that steered him in the direction of ecological restoration.

“My life, hobbies, and passions are unique,” Steve tells us “When your activities are odd, you end up in odd places”.

 Steve recalls when he was a youth, he would often get asked to go party with friends down at the river. Instead, he would drive down to the river and throw on a wet suit to swim with salmon instead of partying with his peers in high school. He enjoyed spending his time underwater learning about fish behavior, species, and ecosystems which turned into a natural desire to protect them. “That’s a natural transition. When you’re in the aquatic environment and you see litter and invasive species moving in to displace what is supposed to be there, you become passionate about protecting it” Steve explains.

Why is Restoring Lakes and Rivers in Chilliwack So Important to You?

 One of the main statements Steve operates on is “If you can, you should.” He utilizes this mentality in many aspects of his life.

 “I can buy the gear, I can hold my breath, I can enter cold water, I can check my ego and collect garbage and have people see me and be okay with that, so I should. Not everyone can buy the gear and get into cold water in the winter. So because I can, I believe it’s something I should do.” He says “When you know what an ecosystem can be and then see how it currently is, there is no other option than to want to change that and help to restore it.”.

 How Did You Get Involved in the Places You Volunteer?

Steve tells us that these groups and interests that he is a part of didn’t happen because of a simple Google Search. It’s all been an organic process of pursuing his interests and doing activities that have turned into meeting people of similar mindsets and creating those connections.

 “We’ve found ways to play together, first and foremost, and then to work together secondarily! It has truly been through a process of passion and has proven to be a spectacular formula for forming awesome friendships and relationships”. Rather than finding a place to fit in, the groups he’s joined have always been passion-led first.

Genius if you ask us!

Outside of his work professionally, he finds himself volunteering with organizations and non-profit groups, often spending his time giving back to the community in various ways. Some examples include the Rotary Club of Chilliwack, Fraser Valley Conservancy, Fraser Valley Watershed Coalition, Fraser Valley Invasive Species Society and Chilliwack Search and Rescue.

 When we asked which he enjoyed the most, he mentioned that volunteering with Chilliwack Search and Rescue is one of his favourites. Helping people in their time of need, and “spending time with a curated group of talented and compassionate people” is one of his biggest passions.

 What’s one thing we can do as locals and visitors to impact our lands and community more positively?

 “The standard that you walk by, is the standard that you accept.”

 Steve explains that “When you walk by a bag on the ground, or the can on the beach and don’t do anything about it, you are showing your kids and those around you that that’s okay and that is what you accept for your community and environment. But if you take the time to think about changing the standard that you accept when you see garbage on the ground or someone degrading the environment, you could be the one to  step in and make that change and be the one that helps to recalibrate our collective values”.

 What are the main things you find when you do your dives?

 Common things:

  Cans and Bottles

  Flip Flops/Footwear including Cowboy Boots

  Fishing Gear

–    Tires – from the old Cultus Lake docks

  Hair ties/hair elastics

–    Sunglasses

–    Paddle Board & Boat Paddles

–    Plastic Picnic Items & Takeout Containers

Odd things:

  Tons of electronics

  Phones (most of them they’re able to return to the owner)

  Drones with footage still on them

  Wedding rings

  Religious statues

  Portable speakers

–    Tools including Cordless Drills

–    Bathing Suits and Clothing

 What’s the deepest you dive?

“50 feet has been the deepest, it’s pretty dark down there”

 How many dives have you done in Cultus Lake?

“Hundreds. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. It became a very dedicated thing during the pandemic.” During the pandemic lockdown, Steve met and connected with another local diver named Clayton. “I just came across Clayton’s Instagram one day and saw he was also freediving and collecting trash! I just thought, ” What a match!”

 Check out some examples of just how much they collected together from single dives.

 

Anything else you’d like to share with locals and visitors?

 “Slow down. Have some outdoor time that isn’t destination based, make it experience-based. Sit in the forest. Look at things up close. Spend time getting to know this place and you’ll find fascinating things and grow a passion for it.

The more you learn about it, the more you’re connected to it and the more you’ll feel protective of it.”

Steve believes that “your trip to Chilliwack isn’t a checklist. It should be steeped in experience and done at a slower time scale and a deeper appreciation for what is around you and what you are within. The slower you go, the more that you see and the more you want to come back.”

 As Steve says, ‘You don’t need to be an environmentalist to make a difference. You just need to be someone who cares.’

 WANT TO JOIN THE CAUSE? JOIN US & HELP RESTORE CULTUS LAKE!

On Saturday, June 24, the public is invited to meet Chilliwack resident and passionate environmental steward Steve Clegg, as he and a group of trained divers cleanup Cultus Lake, during the “Meet the Protectors: Restoring Cultus Lake’s Hidden Depths” event organized by Tourism Ch’illiwack. This event will be held in conjunction with Cultus Lake Day, a full day of fun and activities, organized by the Cultus Lake Park Board.

Get involved!

Time: Saturday June 24th, 2023

Location: Main Beach, Cultus Lake (Gazebo A – next to main Beach Boat Rentals)

Don’t forget to sign up to volunteer HERE.

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