How our volunteers are lending their hands to build a natural legacy

Birders at Baie Verte (Photo by NCC)

Birders at Baie Verte (Photo by NCC)

April 12, 2015 | by Erica Thompson

There is a 200-acre (80-hectare) Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) nature reserve a few minutes from my house. I walk there at least once a week; more often if I can. Here, maple upland forest rolls down the Niagara Escarpment, changing to cedar and fern, on the way to the Noisy River. It is a place much cherished by the people in my community. A winding trail braids along the bottom of valley, used by people of all ages for walking, trail running and Nordic skiing in the winter months.

There is little evidence of human activity within the nature reserve, but if you look carefully, you'll see remaining touches of the volunteers who actively care for this special place. Hand-made bridges cross the creek in three places, trails are cleared after windstorms and near the pond, you can see hundreds of willow and dogwood stakes gathered then planted in effort to vegetate a new stream channel and improve water quality downstream.  

It is a natural demonstration of the appreciation people have for this place. I am grateful for the work of community Conservation Volunteers who make the time to care for their special places across Canada for the benefit of us all.

This week is National Volunteer Week (April 12-18), dedicated to both recognizing the important contributions Canadians make to the places we live as well as the positive impacts volunteering brings to the lives of the people who do it. Each year, more than 13 million Canadians dedicate countless hours to causes that mean the world to them. Whether you volunteer for your local minor hockey association, at your senior’s centre or for your local nature organization, volunteerism has the power to impact many lives, including our own, while strengthening our communities.

Volunteers at Musquash Black Beach trail lookout (Photo by NCC)

Volunteers at Musquash Black Beach trail lookout (Photo by NCC)

National Volunteer Week has a long legacy, originating in 1943 to draw attention to the critical contributions women made to war effort on the home front. The initiative was revived in the 1960s to celebrate the growing engagement of civic participation across the country.

The spirit of volunteerism is a key ingredient to daily operations at NCC. Thousands of Canadians volunteer alongside NCC conservation staff every year to help care for some of our country’s most important natural places through our Conservation Volunteers program. Events are designed to help NCC care for our lands, while offering a blend of new experiences and new skills development for our volunteers, all set to the backdrop of Canadian nature.

“We look at Conservation Volunteers events with the Nature Conservancy of Canada as adventures — we get to see new places, meet new and old friends and learn more about the natural world,” say NCC volunteers Barb and Steve Collier. "We also get to do work we have never done before. If you think natural places are important, you need to become a Conservation Volunteer."

Volunteers at the 2014 Severn Woodland garlic mustard pull event (Photo by NCC)

Volunteers at the 2014 Severn Woodland garlic mustard pull event (Photo by NCC)

Conservation Volunteers events may include removing invasive weeds, improving trails, shoreline cleanups, tree planting and surveying species, to name a few. At CV events, volunteers can pick up new skills and hone old ones. For example, butterfly counts and bird inventories put observation (and listening) skills to the test. Some will learn trade skills as they repair a boardwalk or build a nest box for the first time.

All the while, new friends are made, knowledge and experiences are shared.

My first job with NCC was working on the volunteer program then known as Volunteer for Nature; a program run in partnership with Ontario Nature. That was almost 15 years ago. Today, NCC's Conservation Volunteers program hosts events from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland and I continue to be moved by the commitment and care our volunteers bring to conservation projects. Our volunteers help us care for our properties, an in turn, we build educational and skills building opportunities into our event days. Our hope is our volunteers will take home both a sense of accomplishment as well as discovery and knowledge.

Regardless of whether your passion is nature, sports or education, the gift of lending a hand and time has the power to change a community, change a country and even change the world.

Check out the exciting volunteer opportunities in your area this coming spring and summer as Canadians celebrate annual National Volunteer Week. To learn more visit

Erica Thompson (Photo courtesy of Erica Thompson)

About the Author

Erica Thompson is NCC's national director of conservation engagement.

Read more about Erica Thompson.

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