The Whanganui Summer Programme, once a Department of Conservation initiative, was taken over in 2008 by an informal trust set up for the purpose. Volunteers took over after DoC said its 2007 Summer Nature Programme was the last for which it would be wholly responsible. DoC may have pulled out of the programme, but many of the people who helped run it remained.
"It had developed such a strong following in the district that a number of us who were involved at that stage were determined that it wouldn't die," says Jim Howard, who has been involved from the beginning. "Half a dozen of the key ones got together and formed an independent charitable trust to keep it going and maintain the same sort of programme. They were such a wonderful bunch of enthusiastic individuals."
Jim says some of the older ones are now starting to "fall by the wayside" with some already gone. Names like Wendy Pettigrew, among others, and lately, Ian Bell. Jim and the others felt it was time to do something to recognise those who were left and those who had passed. Jim also mentioned Ridgway Lythgoe who is resident now at Broadview Rest Home in Mosston Rd.
Last Thursday, some of the programme's volunteers were honoured by the Mayor, Hamish McDouall, with a small celebration in the council chambers.
"The whole idea was to give thanks to those who have been involved over the years, and to give recognition to them," says Jim. He says Mayor Hamish was very supportive of the group, having been involved himself and been a participant in some of the trips. "He thanked those who were there, and those who have participated over the years, which is what it was primarily about."
Jim says the future of the Whanganui Summer Programme looks bright.
"I'm delighted, quite frankly. There were several new ones there who I hadn't met before, and one or two I have had contact with." Jim singled out Paul Mahoney from DoC. "He was on one of the trips that I was leading a couple of years ago, one of my favourite trips, on the Taihape-Napier road out to the Springvale bridge. I met him on the bridge.
"Paul Mahoney has taken that trip over."
Paul is DoC's manager of historic heritage, is based in Whanganui but covers a large DoC administered area.
"He offered to become involved and has become a very positive leading light among the newer guys who are coming on board. He's brought a number of like age and like mind along with him.
"This function [on Thursday] would have given those new ones a bit of an extra lease on life and encouraged them on their way. I would say the future is very sound."
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Jim was one of those, he says, who were enthused with the programme and what it was doing, and willing to help out where possible. He says that really applies to most of the programme volunteers. "Just people who want to do what they can in their own area of expertise to help out."
Jim has now resigned from active involvement in the programme but remains a staunch supporter and he hopes he'll be able to participate in the "odd trip, now and again."
He says there is no formal structure to the group — "Just doing our own thing, coming together under a loose sort of leadership, and Dave [Scoullar] is doing a great job in that area. I'm enormously grateful to see the way he has picked it up and is running with it and is very positive."
Jim would like to see a history of the programme written up, with all its people and achievements.
"It would be very impressive."