By Phil McLachlan
The City of Fernie hosted it’s second annual Fernie On Fire event, raising $1800 for a local organization.
Last year the Fernie Pet Society was chosen by Councillor Dennis Schafer and his committee of organizers. This year, Outdoor Connections, a group heavily involved in outdoor activities with youth in Fernie, was picked.
By the end of October in 2016, the City, the Fire Department and Outdoor Connections had a game plan set for the event. Attending last year as spectators, Outdoor Connections Executive Director, Courtney Haeusler and event organizer, Erich Leidums saw the success of the event and were thrilled to be chosen this year.
“Obviously we’re really grateful, to be picked,” said Leidums.
Many locals could be seen dragging or driving their trees to the Fernie Aquatic Centre, where the relics of the 2016 Christmas season were soon set ablaze. Flames towered above the crowd who stood at a distance as firefighters threw on Christmas tree after Christmas tree, most of which ignited in an instant.
The $1800 raised for Outdoor Connections through beverage, food and raffle ticket sales on the night of the fire, will be going toward the purchase of a yurt for their outdoor forest-school program.
Extra money will be put into the subsidization of their many outdoor programs for youth, allowing Outdoor Connections to maintain a lower and more affordable cost.
For the past ten years, Haeusler has worked as a teacher for school district five, letting loose her passion of working with kids. She recognizes that some children struggle more than others in the school setting, and Outdoor Connections allows her and her partner, Leidums, to use nature as a stepping stool for these youth.
“She just has a passion for working with kids outside,” said Leidums. “She sees them come alive a bit more… You can connect with them and they have the opportunity to learn and grow in different ways.”
Leidums has background in expedition and adventure guiding, and has lead many multi-day river and backpacking trips.
“We make a good combo for pulling this off together,” said Leidums.
Outdoor Connections caters to two age groups. For youth ages 8-13, there is an overnight component involving canoeing and camping with all the necessary gear to survive. Lessons are given in athletics, survival and navigation.
A white-water youth leadership week brings aboard youth between the ages of 13-18. After two days of training and river rescue skills, the group sets out on a three day expedition of the Kootenay River. This is the longest trip that Outdoor Connections offers for youth during the summer.
“I like the life lessons and the growth that happens and the opportunity to reflect when you’re out there on a lake, a river or a mountain; you’re always reminded how small you are and how big things are out there,” said Leidums. “That’s what we try to pass on to the kids as well, an appreciation for the natural world but also a lot of personal reflection in terms of where they’re at as a person with different character strengths and weaknesses and how they can develop and grow.”