Last Saturday, the Butler Outdoor Club (BOC)- a dedicated partner of the North Country Trail- held their 15th Annual Dinner at the Highfield Community Center in Butler, PA. Attendees perused through pictures taken at BOC events, mingled with representatives of organizations (including our own Clarion NCTA Chapter, which displayed a dazzling array of Ed Scurry’s hand-made walking sticks), and bid on dozens of items available in the silent auction.
After-dinner speaker Richard Kane of the National Weather Service gave an entertaining presentation that educated the group about severe weather conditions in the region and about severe-weather safety- a relevant topic for a group that spends so much time outdoors. While the whole evening was a great success, one of the most anticipated moments was the announcement of the winner of the Butler Outdoor Club’s Outstanding Service Award.
The Outstanding Service Award honors individuals (BOC members or non-members) whose service efforts have contributed to the bettering of the community by creating opportunities for outdoor recreation and the enjoyment of nature. The award committee votes for the top three nominees, who become finalists, and the finalist who receives the greatest number of votes is awarded the prestigious honor of “Outstanding Service.”
The competition for this year’s award was steep. Mary Shaw and Roy Weil have written four books for outdoor enthusiasts, including 101 Uses for a National Park Service Litter Bag, and they have also worked tirelessly to create new or improved kayaking and canoeing sites in the region.
Gene Wilhelm, another nominee, has dedicated his life to preserving nature and serving the National Audubon Society. He served as the President of Education for the organization, and he founded the local Bartramian Audubon Society.
All of these nominees accomplished incredible things both locally and for nature and outdoor enthusiasts across the country, and this level of accomplishment and dedication made the award even more valuable to the winner of this year’s award, Tom Baumgardner.
Like his peers, Tom’s nomination is bolstered by a long history of service. Tom works diligently to improve and preserve the North Country Trail, from assisting with labor-intensive re-routes to collecting GPS coordinates with the goal of obtaining precise mapping coordinates for the entire PA section of the trail.
Beyond his direct involvement with NCT, Tom organized a letter-writing campaign to keep state parks open, worked on dozens of hands-on projects to benefit the parks, and helped orchestrate major events like the annual Moraine State Park Regatta and the BOC Outdoor Extravaganza.
Even Tom’s hobbies- from disk golf, to kite flying, to skiing and water sports- are tools he uses to give back. From helping to build and maintain a disk golf course in Moraine State Park to leading trips and workshops, he creates opportunities and teaches others to enjoy his passion for the outdoors.
I had the pleasure of sitting across from Tom during the banquet, and as PA State Trail Councilman Paul Henry read through Tom’s lengthy list of accomplishments, I watched Tom to see his reaction. Really, I was distracted by Tom’s lack of reaction. He was too busy serving- counting up raffle tickets and money for the evening’s 50/50 drawing- to be bothered by the flattery. When his name was announced as the winner, though, the emotion in his voice as he accepted the award (thanking his late parents and his friends) betrayed his humility and gratitude.
When I talked to Tom after the banquet, he expressed his appreciation of the honor, stating that it is “neat when your peers recognize you that way.” He went on to say, “I still don’t believe I won. I have a lot of respect for the other nominees.”
I asked him how he got involved with the NCTA, and he described hiking the trail before it became the NCT and carrying along tools to restore the trail as he hiked. He avows, “my philosophy was to leave any trail I hike in better shape than I found it.” When discovered doing trail work by current Butler Outdoor Club President (NCTA Butler Vice President) John Stehle, Tom was recruited into both organizations, and he has been working hard for the trail ever since.
Tom views the North Country Trail as a means of linking places together and linking people with the outdoors, and he believes things will only get better as the trail grows more connected. With dedicated volunteers like Tom, we can be sure that goal will be achieved!