Protecting and enjoying the outdoors.
Those are the two main pillars of the Nature League vision.
It's a social club, a fundraising charity, a group of mostly retirees. It is a community.
Previously incorporated as the Senior League Endowment Society of Collingwood, the Nature League has grown to include more than 130 individuals and retirees who seek ways to conserve and protect the environment, all while promoting partnerships in a social atmosphere.
“It’s about fresh air and socializing, with an awareness for the environment as the bottom line,” said Rose Feaver, the current president of the Nature League.
For $40 a year, a membership to the club includes seasonal weekly outings, social events, pot luck dinners, educational seminars and participation in fundraisers “for the environment.”
“We do everything through fundraising,” said Migs Baker, the former president of the Nature League and still an active member. “It’s a bit social, and a bit environmental.”
In the spring and fall, the club embarks on organized educational walks through the Georgian Triangle’s varied flora and fauna, and in the winter, they head out snowshoeing through local trails that have transformed into a winter wonderland.
This past week, club members set out on the last snowshoe trip of the season. Despite the first flakes of an upcoming snowstorm starting to fall, 22 eager members showed up to participate.
“I’m surprised by how many people turned up,” said Judi Shepherd, who organized the outing. “Especially this week, because we had to change the venue last minute.”
The chatty group greets fellow members as they bundle up and strap on their snowshoes. Shepherd has been a member at Osler Bluff Ski Club since the 1960s, and when she got denied entrance at another local snowshoeing spot, she decided to finally explore Osler’s winding trail system with her fellow Nature Leaguers.
“I live right on a trail system so I have never gotten the chance to explore these trails,” said Shepherd. “I thought today would be the perfect day.”
And, according to Feaver, that’s what the club is all about: Exploring new and beautiful places right in our backyard with like-minded individuals.
“Many of the Nature Leaguers are long time members and were originally more interested in environmental issues,” continued Feaver. “As the club grows with younger retirees, it is becoming more social — the hikes, Soup's On, fundraising dances, and so much more.”
Shepherd corrals the group as the snow starts to pick up. With big smiles on their face and eyelashes full of snowflakes, the Nature League disappears into the woods for about an hour, catching up on recent activities and excitements in each of their lives.
Gary Cauthers brings up the rear, designating himself as this week’s “sweeper.” Cauthers and his wife, Lois, have been members of the league since the early 2000s and do their best to attend every weekly outing.
“This is the only organized group that we belong to up here, but we love it,” said Cauthers. “The people are very genuine, they really care about things.”
“That’s the best part,” he continues. “We see a lot of the same people at other events. It’s a nice feeling, being connected.”
Over the years, the Cauthers have been a part of “a lot of good things” the Nature League has done for the community. To date, the club has raised over $40,000 in financial support for numerous organizations, including Elephant Thoughts, the Blue Mountain Watershed Trust, the Bruce Trail Conservancy, the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority, and many, many more.
Most recently, the Nature League donated $1,500 to the town trails fund to help with signage from funds raised at a Fall Fling dance late last year.
“It’s all things to do with preservation, conservation, environment and nature,” said Cauthers.
Afterwards, the group heads for “soup’s on” at one of the member’s houses to share a warm meal after their adventure. Each week, a different member coordinates the walk while others coordinate lunch — which typically consists of soup or chili, and of course, wine.
“Soup's on is the best part,” said John Steele, one of the club’s newest members. “We have met so many great people.”
In the warmer months, lunch is held picnic-style on the hike or at a local restaurant near whichever trail system the club is exploring that week.
“It’s a special group of people,” added Cauthers. “I think maybe because of who we are or why we exist, but no one brags about where they worked or what they did before retirement. Some senior groups are like that, but not this one.”
“Because most of us in the league are retired or moving to retirement, it’s a great way for us to give back to our community,” she said.
In addition to local organizations, the league also supports secondary school students. Since 2004, $11,500 has been awarded as “Student Environmental Awards” to 40 local high school students, and since 2013, 17 students have been sponsored to attend the Ontario Nature Youth Summit.
“I think, in general, retirees are joining clubs in Collingwood as many are new to the area and wish to meet people with similar interests,” said Feaver. “Someone said to me on the hike last week, it’s so wonderful just to be outdoors, socializing and generally keeping active and fit.”
Feaver is happy to have found the club a few years prior. While she is still getting her bearings as president, so loves figuring out new and exciting ways to bring awareness to the group — and the environment.
"For me personally, I am inspired many of the members who are 80-plus!" she continued.
For more about the Nature League and information on how to join, visit the website here.