If you think of the Friends of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier as a person, it’s college years have been its most tumultuous.
The Friends, which turns 25 this year, has had a very difficult past five years, ranging from financial difficulties, to the two-year-long renovations at Rogers Pass that saw the bookstore there close down, to the catastrophic flood that destroyed the organizations inventory in 2011.
Finally, the Friends just completed a move to a new office and retail space in downtown Revelstoke after being forced to leave its rent-free space in the Parks Canada building late last year.
It’s almost like its parents kicked it out of the home, but for Neills Kristensen, the executive director of Friends, reaching 25 years marks a great milestone for the organization. “It’s one of those milestones that make you or break you,” he said.
He likened it to a marriage – if you’ve made it to 25 years, then its probably going to survive. “You’re through probably the worst parts that happen in the first 25 years,” he said.
“The organization itself has become very strong. We’re growing and the community is starting to figure out who the Friends are.”
Friends of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier was launched in 1987 as a volunteer organization working in conjunction with Parks Canada in Revelstoke. Roger Beardmore, the Parks superintendent at the time, said Jenny Feick deserves much of the credit for getting the Friends started.
She was the chief of interpretation at the time, he said, and she helped solicit interest in the community. A steering committee of Betty Polster, Nan Prittle, Ruby Nobbs and Helen Hammond was formed.
“That whole sense of stewardship has always been there in the community but there was no real vehicle for people to become involved on a volunteer basis,” Beardmore said. “The Friends group was created to provide that opportunity and my assessment of it is it was successful beyond our greatest expectations.”
In Friends’ first year in 1987, it undertook a variety activities like selling topographic maps of the parks, providing guided nature walks, opening a book store and selling CPR rocks taken from the Macdonald Tunnel in Glacier National Park.
Over the years it took on a number of other activities, such as publishing books, partnering in wildlife studies, starting up the Junior Naturalist Program and more.
“It was an opportunity for people to get involved in what the park was about and for people to promote the park,” said Beardmore. “There was a lot of talent in Revelstoke and a lot of people who could contribute.”
Neills Kristensen considers his five years as executive director the hardest in the history of the organization. When the Friends of Banff closed down last year, he and the Board of Directors sent out a statement saying that the local Friends chapter wasn’t going anywhere. “Our board is adamant we’ll stay strong and keep going,” he said.
He said he’s excited about the growth of the organization over the past several years and how it has become more active in the community by hosting events such as the Mountain Roots Film Festival, which takes place Feb. 11 and 12.
He also cited the opening of the Balsam Lake bookstore on Mt. Revelstoke and the new retail space downtown as positives.
He is also excited for the future. He said the organization is looking to obtain funding from the Columbia Basin Trust for a new position that would coordinate different stewardship activities. The position, as he sees it, will help create volunteer opportunities for people, get students involved in the parks and coordinate the Junior Naturalist program.
“They’re not taking away from the employees who work for Parks Canada, we’re enhancing the programs that are provided,” Kristensen said.
The other big event Friends is working towards is the 100th anniversary of Mt. Revelstoke National Park in 2014. The park was founded after the citizens of Revelstoke petitioned the government of Canada and Kristensen sees the anniversary as a great opportunity.
“I really hope the organization will grow with more volunteer opportunities and more opportunities for youth to get involved,” he said.
Repairing the Glacier Circle Cabin was one of the Friends biggest volunteer projects, said executive director Neills Kristensen. Friend of Mt. Revelstoke and Glacier photo