The Friends of Jasper National Park said that turning 40 was a piece of cake, though the last few years have been tough. | P.Shokeir, photoScott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Some friends should have the biggest birthday cakes. It’s not just to have enough room for the candles; it’s to show how much you appreciate them.

The Friends of Jasper National Park have accomplished so much over the past 40 years that it’s hard to narrow down the highlights, said Heather Aussant Roy, the volunteer organization’s general manager.

“It’s remarkable to think of the award-winning projects, the signature programs and the many partnerships that we’ve been a part of,” she said, listing off the Pyramid Island and the Cavell Meadows Restoration Projects that were great accomplishments for the organization and the start of trail opportunities for the Friends.

Middle age isn’t slowing the Friends down. It now offers more programs and projects than ever, not to mention its popular gift shop in the Jasper Information Centre. Its Summer Trail Sessions and the Winter Trails Project are two year-round trail opportunities that are truly unique in a national park.

Its signature programs (including Junior Naturalist, Historical Tour, Hiking Club, and Full Moon Hikes) all connect people to Jasper each year, Roy continued.

Roy signed up as a Friend even before she lived in Jasper. She did some long-distance volunteering before she moved to town because it aligns with her belief in the importance of connecting with outdoor spaces.  

It was more than 20 years ago when she was first hired in a clerical role. Now she leads a small but sturdy crew that plays above its weight class. She called it “a small organization with a big heart and a lot of drive.”  

“People are often surprised when they find out how few people are working behind the scenes. We have a small staff that is able to do big things. We’re also fortunate to have a keen group of volunteers, a solid membership, and a strong board of directors to help us fill the gaps.”

A personal highlight for her was the raising of the Two Brothers Totem Pole during the Parks Day collaboration in 2011.  

“This was an experience that I personally won’t ever forget. Of course, none of these things could have happened without the great people that make up the Friends organization: the members, the volunteers, the board and the staff. We’re lucky to attract great people that believe in what we do and that want to make a difference in Jasper National Park.”

The Friends started its ruby anniversary at its annual general meeting last week, but that won’t be the end of the party.

Part of its major anniversary membership drive is giving away a luxury train trip for two on the Rocky Mountaineer. Keeping the organization thriving has been tough during the recent pandemic, and so it has a large focus on a healthy, sustainable future.

“It might not be as alluring as some of our past projects but it is just as important – to our longevity and to Jasper National Park,” Roy said.

“The past few years have been extremely hard on the organization and we’re looking to build a sustainable trail – for the organization – moving forward.”

There will be a larger anniversary celebration as part of this year’s Parks Day celebrations in July. Roy said to expect other anniversary surprises along the way as well.

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 01, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta

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