Jim Potton has been in love with nature and the forest since high school. Since then, he has shared his passion with his family and the community.
On Oct. 28 Potton, 75, was honoured by being named to the Order of the Buffalo Hunt by Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger for his work with the Manitoba Forestry Association’s Envirothon.
"I was deeply honoured, and almost a little embarrassed because there are so many people who work on this project," said the Whyte Ridge resident of 25 years. "We have a committee of 18 to 20 people."
Potton grew up in Plainfield, Wis. and now holds a dual citizenship. Before becoming a U.S. Air Force pilot for two years, Potton took a high school course called conservation biology.
"That’s where I really sort of got bit by the conservation bug," Potton said before laughing at the unintentional nature pun.
What really cemented Potton’s interest in nature was a when he was sent to Trees for Tomorrow, an outdoor education camp.
"Kids from all over the states were there, it was only three or four days," Potton said. "I was plucked to go to that, in Grade 10."
But despite his interest in nature, Potton was soon off to university with the idea the only good jobs were in engineering, so that’s what he took and focused on chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
"I wasn’t really happy," said Potton, who then transferred to the University of Minnesota to focus on forestry.
"It was actually my wife who influenced me more than anything," Potton said, "She said ‘you know you’re really wasting your time in chemistry.’
"She thought I should transfer into forestry, or wildlife, or something of that nature," Potton said.
In the end, Myrna Potton was right. Her husband loved the wilderness too much. He soon took a job as a National Park Ranger. The job took him to Hawaii before he eventually returned to Minnesota to finish his master’s in forestry. He then moved to Canada, where jobs for recreational planners were opening up.
Potton worked for six years in Manitoba before moving to Alberta for eight, later returning to Manitoba to become the Director of Parks. The Pottons have been here ever since.
He was soon contacted by the Manitoba Forestry Association to set up educational centres in northern Manitoba. After seeing the association at work, he decided to sit on its board of directors.
From there, he and a team put together the Envirothon in 1995 after seeing it in action in Nova Scotia, Ontario, and throughout the U.S. This year, the Envirothon included 50 teams from 25 different schools in Manitoba.
"I categorize it as environmental academic Olympics for high school students," said Potton. "From the start I just thought it just had unbelievable potential for youth."
The Envirothon includes teams being tested and giving a presentation on environmental issues to a panel of judges. Many times, Potton has seen teams from Manitoba make it to the North American competition.
Since that initial year, Potton has served on the Envirothon’s committee as chair and vice-chair, with Myra volunteering any way she can.
"The Forestry Association has also had a big influence on the family," said the father of three and grandfather of five. "Especially on our grandkids, who really see the value, and gosh they just love the outdoors."
That makes Potton one proud grandfather.