Changing of the Guard at the North Country Trail Association Headquarters

Last month it was announced that Bruce Matthews, North Country Trail Association (NCTA) Executive Director would be retiring later this year.  Andrea Ketchmark, currently the NCTA Director of Trail Development, will take over the role on August 1. The North Country Trail Association is administered by the National Park Service with headquarters located on Main Street in Lowell.  The North Country Scenic Trail (NCST) is a 4,600 mile long trail found in six states reaching from New York to North Dakota.  Lowell is one of many designated Trail Towns along the route which supports the trail and hikers.

Happy Trails to You

Bruce Matthews will celebrate his 10th anniversary with NCTA a little less than two months before his retirement.  Matthews is the first to point out he’s not used to or even likes the word “retirement”.  He’s sure to keep active; he just won’t have a regular day job to report to.

Matthews moved from Washington DC, where he was the President of the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, to Michigan in 2006 and became a member of the Lowell community in 2012.  It was after becoming a Michigander he found an opening with NCTA but the job description and responsibilities were a fit with his previous work and personal interests.  

When asked about what he felt his biggest accomplishment has been while with NCTA Matthews replied, “We’ve created a nationally respected organization well-positioned for moving forward the agenda of building, maintaining, protecting and telling the story of the North Country National Scenic Trail.”  But with his biggest accomplishment his biggest challenge is not far behind.  Finding funding for various projects is an ongoing effort.

On August 1 Bruce Matthews will not ride off into the sunset never to be heard from again.  In fact he’s looking forward to working on people hearing him  more.  Matthews is a singer, songwriter, and lead in a band.  The Bruce Matthews Band released a demo album in 2012.  And another album is in the works.   Anyone interested in seeing some of the group’s members perform should stop by New Union Brewery this Thursday, May 4 from 7-9.  They will also be performing at the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts on Saturday, June 3 at 1:15pm. 

Introducing Andrea

Andrea (pronounced ann-DRAY-uh) Ketchmark is familiar with the workings of the NCTA.  “ I’ve immensely enjoyed my current position but after seven years, I’m ready for a new challenge. I’ve long been interested in organizational management and there is no other organization I’d like to help succeed.” says Ketchmark.  She is thankful for the work Matthews has done over the past decade saying he “has set a [high] standard” for her to follow.  She is looking to increase awareness of the trail as she works on advocacy, fundraising and partnership building.  

Current NCTA projects include building new trails along the route, securing funding for bridges in Wisconsin, and planning trail routes where there are gaps in the system.  Another goal of the association is to ensure the scenic trail is around for future generations to enjoy meaning long-term planning is essential.  

Like many, Ketchmark heads out on a trail to unwind, unplug, and recharge physically and emotionally.  “When I’m on the trail, I benefit personally but I also get to realize the real impact our work is having in the everyday lives of people.”  She recognizes that thanks to staff and volunteers in the thousands the trail has changed people’s lives.  

Get Involved

The Hike 100 Challenge is currently underway but it’s not too late to sign up.  On May 19 those interested in a Lowell Adventure Hike are invited to join a group meeting behind City Hall at 9:30am.  A six-mile one way or 12 mile round trip hike options are available with a hike leader (for the one way portion).  

Volunteer opportunities are also available.  The Western Michigan Chapter works on local trail maintenance.  The chapter continuously seeks volunteers to help promote the trail.  Jobs such as folding maps and stuffing envelopes in office headquarters are also done via volunteer hours.  

Stop in the office located at 229 E. Main Street or call 616-897-5987 for more information on where your volunteer interests can be used or if you have questions about the North Country Scenic Trail.  

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