Western Michigan NCTA Award Recipients


Trail Maintainer Award Recipient - Jim Charvat

The NCTA Western Michigan Chapter nominates Jim Charvat, a 12-year member of NCTA, for the 2017 Trail Maintainer Award, because of the impact he has had on the North Country Trail through Kent and Newaygo Counties. The NCTA in Kent and Newaygo Counties covers 136 miles of trail, a large portion of the trail is through the Manistee National Forest.

Jim has his own section of trail to maintain and takes great pride in maintaining that section, north of Newaygo, in the Manistee National Forest, in addition has been a faithful trail crew volunteer over the past 12 years.

As a trail maintainer, Jim typically drives 45 miles from Grand Rapids, one way, to his section, not just the three times minimum a year, but more like three times a month, and has contributed well over 1000 volunteer hours maintaining and on trail workdays. The hours he puts in are not just to get the work done, but also, to take pleasure in hiking the trail, enjoying what he sees. Jim's section of trail boast beautiful virgin white pines and the Bigelow Creek, which he takes pride in sharing with others.

In addition, over the years, Jim has contributed to most every aspect of trail design, building and maintenance. He can navigated unchartered woods looking for the best trail layout, tows in the tool crib down narrow two tracks, helps supervise the crew, demonstrates use of tools and stays late to see that the job is finished to standards of the National Parks. He has built bridges large and small, constructed boardwalk and built puncheon. I wish I could tell you how many miles of trail Jim has helped to construct! He has led hikes for the chapter and attend our chapter social events as well. He is a great ambassador for the NCTA!

Jim has attended most of the Chapter workdays in the past decade and classes in trail maintenance. He is known for his positive demeanor and hard work which includes maintaining the mobile tool crib by keeping it organized with the tools sharpened and cleaned. The mower, too, is always tuned up and ready to go. He reports that if it’s broken, he tries to find a way to repair it without buying new, even if it means looking far afield, as it recently did, when he found what he needed in St. Paul, MN.

We are delighted when Jim shares his knowledge of woodland plant life. He has taught us to recognize different kinds of plants and trees, and to know which plants are wild edibles. On one recent workday, upon Jim’s encouragement, the volunteers tasted Spring Beauty and Trout Lilies which were growing along the trail.

His enthusiasm and narrative are drawing points to bring volunteers out for work days. He notes how much people are really not ‘seeing’ as they are on the trail. But, as they do begin to see the differences in plants, they can appreciate the intricate differences in them. Jim has a similar enthusiasm for trees. He is an active part of the Michigan Tree Champion group, traveling the State to see the largest tree of each species. He speaks of these massive towering trees with an awed reverence. "They have stories to tell!"

Jim is a teacher/mentor who uses his gifts to continue to make the North Country Trail emerge as a premier entity of the National Park Service.

Distinguished Service Award WMI - Chuck Vannette

The Western MI Chapter would like to nominate, Chuck Vannette for the Distinguished Service Award for 2017. Chuck has been a member of the NCTA for 22 years! Like many of us, he started hiking the NCTA in Kent and Newaygo Counties. The WMI Chapter has the largest chapter membership with over 300 members. Chuck’s involvement continued to grow throughout the years, and he became chapter president in 2005, a position he held for the next 10 years, so let us tell you his story!

Chuck has had three phases of involvement with the outdoors. First, as a member of his church Boys Club, he went camping and hiking. Next, during his ‘20 something years’ of the 1970's, when, as he puts it "everyone liked to be outdoors", he did solo hiking in the Manistee National Forest. Then, in the 1990's, after reading articles about NCTA outings in the Grand Rapids Press, he joined the Western MI Chapter in 1995 and became an active member.

He has proved himself a worthy nominee. Early on, Chuck worked closely with the WMI trail crew discovering the best way to construct trails in Newaygo County Michigan's sandy soil. Regular trail making techniques degraded fairly rapidly. He learned, and incorporated into the trail construction, other strategies, like a zig-zag design for sandy areas and sidehill benching for soft sloped areas.

From then on and to the present, he has continued to be a hands-on team member in both building and maintaining the NCT in Kent and Newaygo Counties. Chuck has been involved in numerous work days which have included laying more than five miles of new trail in his life time. In addition, he has been a chapter sawyer for the past three years, walking miles of trail looking for that reportedly downed tree!

Next he capably served on the WMI Chapter Board for many years including a tenure as chapter president from 2005 to 2015. He led committees, managed the budget, communicated with membership and the NCTA headquarters. He was dedicated to promoting the goals of the NCTA. During his final year as president, he and Andrea Ketchmark of the NCTA led the chapter through a strategic planning process to establish new bylaws and goals for the chapter. Goals and by-laws in use at this very time.

Chuck has brought the North Country Trail, as it traverses 136 miles through Kent and Newaygo counties, to it's current stature through trail work, promotion and leadership on the board.

Last but not least, Chuck has been sharing his knowledge about and enjoyment of the Trail with others though his public relations work for the chapter. When I interviewed him for this bio, I went to a church where he was manning an informational booth celebrating Earth Day. His energy and enthusiasm for being a part of the NCT community was clearly expressed through his sharp display and personal appearance being ‘dressed to hike!

Similarly, as he was brought to hiking by his church Boys Club, Chuck has involved himself in leading local Boy Scouts to do special trail projects. What a perfect population group to engage. Those young men have been introduced to the very thing which we love, The North Country Trail! It is Chuck’s type of vision which will guarantee the Trail will continue to attract younger members to fill in the ranks as present Trail Chapter members grow older.

Through Chuck’s direct work on the Trail, his implementing techniques to increase it’s useful life span, his administrative leadership of the chapter, his public speaking and North Country Trail promotion, and his engaging the Boy Scouts through on-site teaching, Chuck’s many hundreds of volunteer hours have been extraordinarily well spent. He wonder be a great candidate for the NCTA Distinguished Service Award.

Boots on the Trail Award Recipient - Chuck Hayden and the Fortune Bay Expedition Team (FBET)

The Western MI Chapter would like to nominate Chuck Hayden and the Fortune Bay Expedition Team (FBET) for the 2017 Boots on the Trail Award . One of the goals of the team is to provide educational training and activities for a wide variety of outdoor endeavors. FBET was formed 21 years ago (1996), as an outdoor educational

organization with Chuck Hayden as the owner.

Chuck has been a member of the NCTA Western MI Chapter for about 16 years (2001). He also served on the WMI Chapter Board for nine years from 2006-2015, and was very involved working with landowners in Kent County for trail access.

Chuck and the FBET have been planning and leading day and overnight hikes on the NCT since the organization began. They plan hikes “as a way to give their members training and exercise with a group of like minded and experienced people.” They invite the public to join them, as was the case this year, involving local NCTA Chapters as they go.

In 2002 they challenged themselves with their first long distance hike from Ohio to Mackinaw on the NCTA! Every year they have led three to 20 hikes on different sections of the trail, mostly in Kent and Newaygo Counties, MI. The advanced FBET members all take turns leading the hikes. As a team they perform community service and training, for example, they have worked a half dozen/work weekends on the trail assisting local chapters.

This year’s FBET NCTA Hike Challenge is a series of hikes from Marshall, MI to the northern border of Newaygo County a total of 210.77 miles. The intent is to do approximately 21, 7-14 mile day hikes on the NCT over the course of 6-8 months. They have involved NCTA chapter members and non-members from both the Chief Noonday Chapter and the Western MI Chapter.

Chuck is an outdoor enthusiast on many levels and is highly qualified as an instructor by the National Association for Search and Rescue as well as a Technical Rope Rescue Technician. However, he is humble and preferred, if selected, that the Fortune Bay Expedition TEAM would receive the award. I hope that is possible, as the degree of

hiking they do would not be possible if led by just one person.

He’s amazing and so is the team. Here is a link to their website: http://fortunebaysoes.org/north-country-challenge-2017/ 


Communicator Award Recipient - Beth Keloneva

The Western MI Chapter would like to nominate, Beth Keloneva, for the Communicator Award. Beth has been a member of the Western Michigan Chapter (WMI) since 2011. In 2013 she was elected to the chapter board and took on the combined responsibilities of membership and communications chair. The WMI chapter has 300 members so this was no small task!

E-Newsletter: After Beth was elected to the WMI board she reviewed the communication needs of the Chapter. She started an e-newsletter using Constant Contact in 2014. This e-newsletter goes out to 300 members and is set-up, designed and created by Beth three to four times a year. The newsletter advertises workdays and

events for the chapter.

Postal Mailing: Knowing that all the chapter members did not utilize e-mail or Facebook, Beth also publishes a similar newsletter that utilizes postal mailing. The postal mailing is to ensure that all members would be communicated with in a timely manner. The postal mailing is sent out two to three times a year to the entire


Facebook: Beth is also one of the administrators of the chapter’s Facebook page. Beth regularly posts events and photos on the WMI page. "Likes" of the WMI Facebook page has increased by over 200 individuals in the last three years and the WMI page now boasts 872 likes! Beth's goal is to see 1000 "likes" in 2018. She's pretty sure it will happen! The FB page can be viewed at NCTA Western Michigan Chapter, please "like" us!

Information Response: Beth also provides information to the chapter website to be posted and receives all the emails from the website and Facebook. Beth responds to these questions in a timely manner. These questions included such inquiries as volunteer information, hiker information, and trail angel coordinating.

Volunteer List: Beth is also creating and designing a volunteer data base for the chapter, that will enable the chapter to quickly access volunteers for specific tasks as they arise.

Last but not least, Beth became the WMI Chapter president in January of 2016! So...more communication is required of her keeping the board informed, planning meetings and writing agendas. She notes that she is looking for volunteers to help with the communications, however!! She is proud of the chapter's accomplishments, active

membership and volunteers. The Chapter membership has remained steady over the past few years, nevertheless, Beth would like to see the WMI Chapter continue to grow it's membership. We thank and appreciate Beth for the timely and informative communications that she provides.