By Tom Sheppard
The Friends of Keji will contact members of parliament and the prime minister's office to remind them that the position of the organization is that once federal finances improve, it wants the park to be open all year again.
At its regular meeting last week, the decision was just one of many made by the Friends group, which oversees the largest volunteer effort among national parks in the entire country. The FOKA meeting was held at the Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute in Kempt, instead of at the park, as for the first time since the group's inception the Kejimkujik Visitor Centre is closed.
The meeting was held prior to the annual Keji Volunteer Banquet, held in the Legion Hall in Caledonia a weekend ago. I didn't get to the banquet, but I understand that it was quite the affair, with volunteers being honoured for over twelve thousand hours of work in the park in 2012. Volunteers do everything from working with Blandings turtles and other species at risk to acting as campground hosts when the park is open for camping, currently less than half the year.
Anyone can belong to the Friends of Keji, which is how many get their first taste of volunteering at the park. To give a sense of what the group does, I want to describe how the meeting covered a lot of ground:
A letter was received from Leah Veinot, daughter of electrician John Veinot, thanking the group for the bursary it gave her to go to university; the bursary is awarded to students with leadership abilities and who are involved in outdoor activities.
Money was received from the Annapolis Field Naturalists society, which recently disbanded and turned over the money it had in its accounts to the Friends of Keji.
The group took on a new provider for wireless internet in the campground area, one which promises better service to campers.
The names of nine students whose employment at the park is handled by the Friends of Keji was read and discussed; the students worked both in the species at risk activities and in the coastal restoration field.
Two of the operations run by FOKA to raise funds for its activities - the food concession at Merrymakedge and the By the Mersey Gift Shop in the visitor centre were discussed to determine how to make them more popular and profitable.
Friends of Keji also operates the firewood concession at the park, and provides newspapers and ice.
The campground host program run by FOKA was reported to have been full this season and will be full next; the hosts camp at Kejimkujik when it is open and offer services and information to campers. A meeting of all of the campground hosts was held after the FOKA meeting.
The group, in cooperation with the Nova Scotia Community College, is recreating an old time cabin at the park, called Willbowill, which was originally located at Peskowesk in the park. The intention was to use the cabin for camper accommodations, but with Keji now closed for so much of the year an alternate use may have to be found.
Reports were given on a number of the events sponsored each year by FOKA, including the annual birthday celebrations, held on the first weekend in August. On that weekend the group puts on special events, including a campground barbecue competition, where campers enter their favourite foods cooked at the campsite to be judged for prizes.
The group is also responsible for the pumpkin festival held on the Thanksgiving weekend, were Keji is unique among parks in Canada in that it is chock full every Thanksgiving weekend. It sponsors a cross country trail run, as well, and an annual photo contest with a variety of categories, to give visitors to the park a chance to display their best shots. FOKA also provided close to $6,000 for upgrades to the Mi'kmaq encampment facilities at Merrymakedge this year.
The Friends of Keji was involved in the hosting of other events this past season, including Canada Day activities, Mi'kmaq celebrations later in the month, a Dark Sky weekend in August (Kejimkujik is a Dark Sky Preserve and has built observation facilities where sky viewing and lectures are held), a canoe festival in late August and a Keji's Got Talent show on the Labour Day weekend.
The organization is a perfect fit for those who love the outdoors and camping. Those wanting to join should contact the organization's chair, Norm Green, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Normally, they would call the park, but the park is, for now, closed.
- Tom Sheppard can be reached at email@example.com