LEWISTOWN - Every group has a beginning, a starting point from which anything could happen. Even forming the group becomes a matter of seized - or missed - opportunities.
In 1977, a teacher and birdwatcher named Marilyn Miller found herself wishing there was a local group of kindred spirits with whom she could discuss her love of the outdoors. She spoke with Alma Winton, a fellow member of the American Association of University Women, who was also interested in birding.
"I told her if she would start a group, I would be her first member," Miller said.
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
Naturalist writer Marcia Bonta signs books and speaks with members of the Towpath Naturalist Society after its meeting Monday evening in Lewistown. Bonta delivered a special program ‘Living in the Ridge and Valley’ during the meeting.
Winton seized the opportunity. And so, the Towpath Naturalist Society was born.
The group had 15 charter members that year. Miller said it became evident very quickly that the group could not be only about birds. Many members agreed, citing examples of discussion topics or presentation subjects.
"We've had everything from wildflowers to people who have hiked the Appalachian Trail end to end, to birds, to snakes, to mushrooms," Ken Longfield, the society's immediate past president, said. Longfield originally got involved with the society through his wife, who is a biology teacher at Mifflin County High School.
"It's a learning experience," Betty Longfield said, adding that as an educator, it's nice to be educated from time to time. "I've learned the bird calls and been on trips with them. It's a wonderful group of naturalists."
The society celebrated its 35th anniversary at 7 p.m. Monday, with a special guest speaker and refreshments ranging from cake to dandelion jelly.
Marcia Bonta, author of nine nature, history and guide books, addressed the group in a presentation entitled "Living in the ridge and valley." She first spoke to the Towpath Naturalist Society in 1980, returning in 1988 and finally in 2012 as part of the anniversary festivities.
"Most of the clubs are bird clubs and such. This one is more broad in nature," Bonta said, adding that people should understand and appreciate the nature in their own backyards instead of searching for it somewhere they may only ever see on television.
"If people appreciated nature more, they might not trash it as much," she added.
The society meets six times a year between September and May, and goes on field trips regularly. Its mission is "to explore, study and enjoy birds, animals, plants and other natural resources of central Pennsylvania, to be aware of state, national and worldwide issues and activities regarding protection and conservation of our natural heritage."
One does not need to be a teacher or an expert to become a member. In fact, many of the Towpath Naturalist Society's members are just interested in nature. Peg Silks, who has been a member of the society for about 30 years, said she's "just an outdoor person like most of the people" in the society. Silks is a former president and currently serves as the society's secretary and membership chair.
The society is actively looking for members.
"It's a very informal group, for all ages, men and women," Miller said.
While anyone can join the society, many society members stressed the importance of sharing nature with members of younger generations.
"Nature is there," Irene Arseniu, former charter member, said. "We need to teach young people to appreciate it."
For more information on the Towpath Naturalist Society, call Diane Ruth at 667-9776.