Bruce Matthews & Hope

A few weeks ago, I asked Bruce Matthews, Executive Director of the North Country Trail Association, if there is a reason for hope.

Years before, when I began backpacking, I saw the North Country Trail and Association in Backpacker Mag. A transcontinental trail that runs east to west. The longest National Scenic Trail, 4600 miles from New York to North Dakota. Now I’ve sat in the red brick headquarters in Lowell, a rustic small town outside of Grand Rapids. A block away from the trail itself. It runs right through the middle of town, north, and south, between a steamboat and the Chamber of Commerce, Brew and Cue and Flat River.

First of all, what brought us together was my desire to encourage educators and activists. People who advocate, in one way or another, for nature and local communities. Bruce has been in this position for 10 years. In some form of outdoor work for decades. What has he seen? How does he feel about the future? What advice can he give to those overwhelmed, lonely, or discouraged?

His is a commitment to stewardship. Consequently, he speaks of this as “connecting people together with the outdoors”. But as we talk, it becomes apparent to me that his idea of stewardship is not just of nature. His sense of responsibility is for both the environment and people. So it’s this responsibility, it seems to me, is the foundation for his hope.

“You have to have reason for hope,” he says.

And “…you look around you. I look around at my volunteers. Even today on this 0° weather, there’s somebody out there on the Trail, maintaining the trail today. And I know this. That not only gives you hope, it also gives you a reason for doing what you’re doing. Because you can’t give up on them.”

Then he shared a story from his childhood of a counselor who didn’t give up on him: Doug Dickenson at Crystal Lake Camps. This man saw a kid, floundering, and helped him engage. It made a difference in Bruce. His adult career has spanned Adirondack Winter Studies at SUNY Cortland, the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation, and the NCTA. Finally, he’s retiring this July. Still, his legacy is “I carried on the legacy of Doug Dickinson.” He didn’t give up on the people around him. His reason for hope.

“I think that matters,” he says.

Especially, I think, that there are so many, like Bruce, who dedicate their lives to their local communities and environment. They do it to “give it back to the kids.” Like a man named Doug Dickenson did for a directionless thirteen-year-old boy name Bruce Matthews.

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