Last weekend, we celebrated our 108th Annual Meeting at the Hulbert Outdoor Center in Fairlee, VT. Amidst the socializing, hiking, trail work, and other good times, we did have a business meeting. Outgoing president John Page shared the following message with all present and we’d like to share it with you now. We thank John for his service and welcome new GMC president Tom Candon.
In a couple of hours, I’ll be passing the GMC President’s gavel to my successor and will close the curtain on three of the best years of my life. Serving as club president has been an honor, a challenge, an opportunity, and always a joy. Yes, it’s been a lot of work, especially for a guy who is still working for a living and still has kids at home, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, and along the way I’ve been constantly reminded why so many of us in this room devote so much effort to maintaining the Long Trail System and the Green Mountain Club. The rewards one receives in this job are constant and most satisfying.
For example, last fall I hiked the northernmost stretch of the Long Trail to the Canadian border and then spent the night at Journey’s End shelter. What I read in the journal there was all the reward I needed for the years of committee meetings, pizza dinners, emails, conference calls, and all the other work of being in the club’s volunteer leadership for over a decade. In that journal, scores of Long Trail thru-hikers expressed their joy at completing their end-to-end hikes, and most of them made a real point of thanking the Green Mountain Club for making the trail possible. I’d like to read some examples to you:
YA GIRL MADE IT! Boy, was this a journey. Thank you to everyone on this trail who was helpful, kind & welcoming. This was a truly a life-changing experience. Time for a shower (and 27 beers). THANK YOU, LONG TRAIL & GMC!
MADE IT! So many moments when I didn’t think it would happen but here I am! This trail totally kicks you down but is traveled by wonderful people and the amazing views make it worth it. Thank you, GMC!
Made it! Now, back to Trump . . . Oy!
What an amazing place to finish a thru-hike. I will forever remember this adventure by the people I met, the amazing sights I saw, the beautiful state of Vermont, the mud, the rain, the never-ending climbs, the black flies, and the shelters. Thank you, GMC, and the amazing people working for you!
Today allows me to finish a goal I set two years ago. It took 2 tries but I made it. Vermont is beautiful. Its challenges are ever present. What a wonderful gift the GMC has given to people who love hiking.
Big Tex (a young man just starting his SOBO E2E with his mother):
It’s cool to read these NOBO entries, I’m glad y’all had enjoyable journeys! I’m also excited to start my SOBO hike with my Mom! Hopefully, we don’t kill each other . . .
My heart stopped and my breath fell short when I stumbled across the Journey’s End sign at the border. Thank you, GMC. This is something truly special out here.
At Journey’s End. Glee and sadness both. God’s creation is made for his children. I have just seen it at its best. P.S. Grateful for the GMC and the great work they do!
“The West Virginians,” Chip & Jen Pickering
And DONE! Vermont is a special place. Thanks to the GMC and their dedication to protecting and preserving this magnificent trail.
This is an important reason why many of us are involved with the Green Mountain Club: to provide hikers in the state we love with a world class hiking trail, one that provides both rigorous physical challenges and life-altering emotional rewards. This takes a lot of hard work, money, and organization, but knowing how much joy it creates for so many people – including ourselves, by the way – makes it all worthwhile.
Another great joy in being club president has been the chance to go hiking with so many great people, many of whom will be friends for life. When you spend a day in the woods with someone you really get to know them. I tried to make a list of everyone I’ve hiked with in the last 3 years but it proved to be too long to count. While much of this hiking was social, I managed to get a lot of club business sorted out while hiking, especially with Mike DeBonis, Lee Allen, Jean Haigh, Tom Candon, and Rich Windish. They all love the Green Mountain Club, and I’ve greatly valued their support, wise counsel, and good companionship on the trail. They’re also a reminder that, as much as GMC is a large organization that needs to be managed efficiently and productively, it’s also a “CLUB” in which work and play are often happening at the same time. We need to encourage and recognize the importance of the social connections and personal friendships that have glued the club together for more than a century.
I do want to mention one friendship in particular, a friendship that many of us shared. For the last 6 months, we’ve been grieving the loss of our long-time trails and shelters leader, Dave Hardy. Part of Dave’s genius was his ability to forge effective personal relationships with trail volunteers, section leaders, landowners (both public and private), and with other GMC staff, particularly the young and often rambunctious summer field staff that he supervised. I’m curious, how many people in this room ever spent time in the woods with Dave, or worked with him in some organizational capacity? (most people raised their hands) I’m not surprised. Dave’s leadership and personality permeated the entire GMC organization and was part of that essential social glue that makes us what we are. He is greatly missed, but we are a strong bunch and our work will continue, much enhanced for having Dave in our midst for so many years.
An important part of remaining a strong organization is maintaining our financial strength. As you just heard from Steve Klein, we’re in pretty darn good shape. We have no debt and our annual charitable giving has been increasing annually every year. Steve has done a really impressive job as our treasurer, not just overseeing the annual budget process for the board, but by providing a vision for long-term sustainability including the creation of a rainy-day fund and searching for new sources of private funding for basic trail management costs. But Steve is only a part of the top-notch team that manages our finances, a team that also includes Mike DeBonis, Finance Director Jason Buss, and Development Director Alicia DiCocco, with important support and oversight from the board’s very active and engaged Budget and Finance Committee. I want to thank all of them for making my life so easy on the financial side of things. They’ve saved me a lot of sleep!
Probably the most important accomplishment of the GMC board in the past year has been the adoption of a new 5-year strategic plan that maps out the work of both the board and our hard-working staff for the foreseeable future. One of the plan’s key elements is to upgrade those sections of the Long Trail System and those shelters that do not currently satisfy our high standards of construction and maintenance in order to achieve what we are calling “trail parity” along the entire Long Trail/Appalachian Trail System. We have also committed to improved communication and outreach to those demographics that we need to bring into our hiking community, particularly through the use of social media and digital trail guides, and we’ve set a goal of making GMC an employer of choice so we can attract and retain the best possible staff. These are all important investments that over time will improve our ability to achieve our mission, but they will cost money, so we’ve also committed to a capital campaign to grow our endowment, and to pay for some of the investments called for in the strategic plan.
Another achievement of the past year that I’m particularly proud of is the publication of the centennial edition of the Long Trail Guide, together with a companion book written by honorary life member Reidun Nuquist that provides a 100-year retrospective of publishing the Long Trail Guide through its 28 editions. These two small books contain much historical information, including many historic images, and are an important contribution to preserving our remarkable legacy. If you haven’t yet obtained these publications, they are available for sale here today.
When I think of the accomplishments of the past year I must also mention our great staff, led by our talented executive director, Mike DeBonis. Would all staff present please stand up and hear a big round of applause for all that you do?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the Green Mountain Club was lucky the day Mike DeBonis walked in our door. Working with Mike these last 3 years has been a true partnership, one that I value greatly. He made my job far easier than I deserved. He understands our organization and is totally devoted to its mission. He gets the most out of his staff, in large part by inspiring them with his own example, while at the same time seeing and leveraging the tremendous value, both tangible and intangible, that our members and volunteers bring to the effort. I particularly want to acknowledge and thank Mike and every member of staff for getting us through a tremendously difficult time during Dave Hardy’s illness. They all pitched in to make sure that our trail programs stayed on track, despite the deep sadness that I know they all felt.
As we look to the future, I want to challenge everyone here to always view our mission as being on a perpetual timeline. By this, I mean that we need to steward the Long Trail System to continue forever. The impetus for the creation of the Long Trail more than a century ago was a hunger to remain connected with the natural world in an increasingly urban and technological society. People whose parents grew up on farms and in the woods found themselves spending their lives in offices or on city streets, increasingly connected to each other by telephones, trains, and automobiles. They found something important and satisfying in the primitive conditions and vigorous life of trails and camps. Since that time our world has become infinitely more urban and technological, and it will certainly become even more so in the future. As evidenced by the journal entries I read a few minutes ago, hiking the Long Trail still satisfies that hunger for a physical challenge in beautiful natural surroundings. As its stewards, our job is to make sure it will continue to do so forever if possible. Our time horizon must always be “in perpetuity.”
The single most important task in stewarding the Long Trail “in perpetuity” continues to be the completion of the Long Trail Protection Campaign that began more than thirty years ago. During that time, we’ve done what many thought was impossible by purchasing, on a willing-buyer, willing-seller basis, nearly the entire Long Trail corridor wherever it crossed private lands. There are still a few places where the trail crosses private land on a permission-only basis, and we’re prepared to acquire the trail corridor rights when the owners of those properties become willing to sell them. But until we have a complete, unbroken chain of legally protected property rights to maintain the entire Long Trail, we must be vigilant and prepared to do whatever it takes. When this process is finally complete, we’ll have protected the Long Trail System “in perpetuity,” at least so far as anything can be certain.
I see another important challenge for the long-term health of our organization. As previously stated, we are the Green Mountain Club, and that last word, “club,” makes us very different from most similar non-profits. There is a passion and energy here that one rarely sees or experiences in large organizations, a passion and energy which I believe goes back to the founding of the club more than a century ago when the Long Trail was an entirely volunteer-managed enterprise. That passionate volunteerism still has tremendous value, both intrinsically and as a direct source of labor and money. We need to make sure that the culture and social relationships forged by hiking and maintaining trails together continues.
I’m probably one of the few people in this room who remember when GMC was an entirely volunteer-run club, and nobody understands the value of that passionate volunteerism better than me. However, I’m here to tell you that those days are gone and that for a long time now a skilled professional staff has been essential to managing and financing our programs and mission. We simply cannot do this work without them, and it’s important that our volunteer leadership doesn’t try to do staff work the way we did long ago. Having said that, we volunteers still have a critical role to play.
The challenge for the future is to make sure that, as we rely increasingly on staff to achieve our mission, the role of our volunteers isn’t diminished or eclipsed. We must find an optimal balance point where both staff and volunteers are fully engaged. Volunteer leadership’s primary role should be to provide staff with the resources and guidance it needs to excel, while staff must always recognize the value, both tangible and intangible, that our volunteers’ passion, energy, free labor, and financial capacity bring to the organization. That volunteer passion must be nurtured and leveraged to the max if staff is going to fully succeed. Finding that balance, that optimal symbiotic mutual support between volunteers and staff, has been perhaps the single most important conversation that Mike and I have had over these past three years. I’m confident that we’ve found the sweet spot, but this must be an ongoing conversation.
In closing, I can report that the Green Mountain Club today is in unprecedented financial health, is served by a hard-working board and staff, and continues to fulfill its mission of maintaining the Long Trail System and making the Vermont mountains play a larger role in the life of the people. May it ever do so. Thank you!