Bala’s captivating recreation of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, complete with farm animals and choirs of angels, is at risk of disappearing following the retirement of three key volunteers.
Bala’s Trek to Bethlehem started as a one-off event for Bala’s 125th anniversary, but it was so popular that it quickly became an annual tradition coordinated by volunteers. Patricia Gidley, longtime board chair for the Bala Trek, committed to her position until the 150th anniversary of Bala last year, leaving the role vacant ahead of the 2019 trek planned for Dec. 7. The other vacant positions are captain of the community centre and set coordinator. The Bala Trek Board held a meeting at the community centre on May 27, hoping to fill the three essential positions. The roles were not filled, but local Eva Moore volunteered to head up a working committee to come up with recommendations for the future of the trek. The board is holding a meeting at Bala United Church Hall at 7 p.m. on July 11 to hear the working group’s recommendations as well as public input on the issue.
While the event is a local favourite, it doesn’t just appeal to locals, Moore said. The trek attracts visitors from around Muskoka and beyond, drawing crowds of 1,200 to 1,300 people.
“They come up from Toronto and all points south just to go to the trek,” Moore said. “It’s beyond the town of Bala. It’s an event that has built a following and bus loads of people come from Huntsville and Gravenhurst and Barrie and various other places just to go through.”
The trek is looking for candidates with organizational skills, passion, understanding and empathy as well as strong leadership skills. Though the role of chair may seem daunting, Gidley has offered to share knowledge from her years of experience by mentoring the new chair.
In addition to the chair, the trek is seeking a captain for the community centre to oversee the area where guests gather, register and start the trek, as well as a set coordinator to manage the sets, ensuring set pieces are in place for the trek and broken down at the end. The positions are volunteer roles with some expenses covered.
Moore said that unless volunteers are willing to step up and fill the roles, the event can’t go forward. She fears that the beloved trek will have to disappear for people to realize the true value of it.
“It’s been here for 25 years and people take it for granted,” Moore said. “They love it. They love bringing their kids. But the key part is that somebody’s got to get it to that stage.”
Join the Bala Trek Board at Bala United Church Hall at 7 p.m. on July 11 to share your thoughts. For more information or to express interest in volunteering, contact Eva Moore at 705 641 2949 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Bala’s Trek to Bethlehem