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In conversation with Naturefriends: GŁnter Abraham | Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria
© Foto Fugler/Graz

Since the beginning of July 2017, Günter Abraham has been on duty as Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria. He followed Reinhard Dayer, who has led the association very successfully for 44 years.
In conversation with Andrea Lichtenecker, Günter talks about his motivation for his commitment to Naturefriends and his future plans.

You look back on a varied career. What motivated you to apply for the position of Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria?
Günter Abraham: I have spent a wonderful childhood in Styria, a beautiful Austrian region. My parents have always been living in tune with nature and have shared their enthusiasm with us children. Naturefriends inspire me as a movement, which has dedicated itself to the preservation of the environment as well as to sports activities in nature. In my previous professional activities, I have been working on sports and environmental issues. Both topics are of great interest to me. When the vacancy of the position of Managing Director of Naturefriends Austria was announced, I knew I had to follow my passion and applied for it!
Within the international family of Naturefriends, Naturefriends Austria is the association with most individual members. In times when many other Naturefriends associations are struggling with declining membership numbers, Naturefriends Austria has succeeded in keeping membership numbers at a stable level. Nevertheless, Naturefriends Austria also faces major challenges –  what are your priorities for the next few years?
Günter Abraham: When I took over the position, I set myself some goals: I would like to make Naturefriends more attractive for all generations, especially the young ones. From my own experience I know how important it is to raise children's awareness of nature and nature conservation in their early years. I have often witnessed how much fun kids have when discovering and exploring nature! I will emphasize competence-oriented learning – learning outside, in nature and with nature.
In addition to cooperation with schools, a main focus of my work will be the preservation of alpine infrastructure. In Austria, Naturefriends take care of approx. 15,000 km of hiking trails and about 140 Naturefriends houses. The effort of maintaining this enormous network is almost unimaginable.
 New climbing and bouldering halls, innovations in the technological field, educational offers for environmental and nature conservation issues, as well as modern methods in managing Naturefriends houses shall secure that membership in our association is desirable. We will achieve these goals through team spirit and cooperation!
Naturefriends are often perceived as a leisure and hiking association only. Formulating political positions is of different importance for the national associations of Naturefriends, and the topics vary from social policy and free trade to free access to nature for everybody. What are your ideas for the political work of Naturefriends?

Günter Abraham:
We will continue to stand up for free access to nature for all population groups, irrespective of their financial circumstances. Conflicts between recovery seekers and landowners occur quite often. With our brochures and articles in various media, we will continue to communicate the legal basis and place demands whenever it is necessary. Thus, we stand up for the opening of all forest roads for mountain bikers – a legal standard that has already been reached in many neighboring countries!
Naturefriends will continue to safeguard the interests of people and nature. Free access to nature, including free access to the Austrian lakes, shall not be restricted but must be extended!
Naturefriends’ “Berg frei!” is a strong manifestation of rejecting all attempts to restrict the free access to nature.
In your first speech as Managing Director, you used a very beautiful African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together with others.” Team spirit is not only a central element of Naturefriends’ activities, but also the basis of cooperation within the international Naturefriends movement. What does internationality in relation to Naturefriends mean for you?

Günter Abraham: I am a committed European. I believe that international cooperation in a united Europe is a particularly important task. Just as we work together in families, local groups and communities, I would like to have cooperation of Naturefriends on the international level – in order to pursue our path together.

  (July 2017)
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