First major donation accepted.

President of Nature First Ken Hoehn, centre right, accepts a $500 donation from Bow Valley Credit Union on Thurs., Aug. 9.

Airdrie Echo – By Kelsey Yates
Multimedia Journalist

Nature First, a new group in Airdrie advocating for wildlife, recently received their first large donation from Bow Valley Credit Union.

On Aug. 8, Bow Valley Credit Union donated $500 to Nature First’s initiative to purchase land within the City of Airdrie’s 12 Thousand Acre Plan to develop a nature reserve.

“Part of our mandate at Bow Valley is to be involved in the community,” said Vinicio Coco, branch manager of the Bow Valley Credit Union.

“It piqued my interest because I’m personally interested in wildlife conservation, and it fit very well with our philosophy of giving back to the community.”

Ken Hoehn, president of Nature First, has always been in tune with nature since he has spent many years working as a wildlife photographer.

“My job as a wilderness artist has taken me to many places in the world. What I’ve noticed is whether I’m talking about China, Africa, or the Amazon jungle, the pattern of land disappearing for human use is so visible,” Hoehn said.

“The human species takes and takes. In the last 40 years, we’ve lost half of the wild animals and birds on Earth as the human population has doubled.”

Hoehn has lived in Airdrie since 1997, where he’s watched the increasing development encroach on local wildlife and push species, such as the meadowlarks, further and further from their natural habitat.

“The grassland habitat is the easiest to develop because it’s flat, but the grassland species are suffering more and more because of that,” he said.

“It’s happening all around the world, so it seems daunting.”

Gathering the funds to purchase land for a large, preserved natural green space is expected to take several years, at least.

“We have a lot of fundraising to do before we’re anywhere near that stage. This is a long legacy project. It will take awhile to get there, but we’ve already made some great steps since we got up and running on April 22,” said Hoehn.

“In the future, it’s possible that our model could be adopted by other communities.”

As the City of Airdrie works towards becoming the first Blue Zones community and the healthiest city in Canada through the Smart Cities Challenge, Hoehn sees having a natural green space suiting that vision.

“Our Mayor’s goal is making Airdrie one of the healthiest communities in the nation, and we see our initiative fitting right in with that,” he said.

Hoehn added he would like to see a green space near senior housing.

“Having a large space where [seniors] can go for a walk and touch nature would be a very, very different experience than sitting in the apartment all day long doing jigsaw puzzles.”

Nature First also hopes the future park will be recognized enough to receive provincial park status.

“The potential to be a regional or provincial park is there, and that would really service the entire province,” Christine Callaghan, Treasurer for Nature First and Bow Valley Credit Union representative.

At airdrieFEST on Sept. 8, Nature First members will be on-site with a booth to answer any questions from local residents.

“That will be our first public interface with the community, and we’re hoping that a lot of folks will come by to say hi and consider joining our movement,” said Hoehn.

To support Nature First, Hoehn suggests buying a membership. Members will receive updates on volunteer opportunities and be able to attend board meetings.

Memberships cost $5 for youth, $10 for seniors, $20 for adults, and $50 for families all on an annual basis.

The first 100 people to purchase memberships will have their names appear on the park plaque as founders, whenever the future park opens.

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