Our Stories

2022 Vanguard + Trailblazer Awards

Categories: Volunteer Stories


Vanguard Award recipients are legislators or other public officials whose leadership, actions, and advocacy have substantially benefited the North Country National Scenic Trail over a Chapter/Affiliate/Partner’s area or larger, not just a short segment.

Mary Mertz, Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Mary Mertz, Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), has arguably accomplished more for the Buckeye Trail (BT) and NCNST than any of her predecessors. She has been a champion for the trails at the highest levels, and works quickly and optimistically. Her accomplishments over just the past three years speak loudly, and it’s impressive to see the joy she brings to her work. It’s also amazing that she finds free time to explore trail segments all around Ohio. A few achievements due to her leadership include publishing the Ohio Trails Vision/Plan and convening the Trails Advisory Team to foster public-private partnerships for all Ohio trails; acquiring the 40,000-acres to create the Appalachian Hills Wildlife Area and permanently protecting 24 miles of BT; acquiring 1,500 acres as a corridor for new BT/NCNST adjacent to Shawnee State Forest; and supporting and administering several other trail projects and agreements. Mary also worked toward a $2.3 million investment from an ODNR Division of Mineral Resource Management grant, to relocate 20 miles of BT/NCNST off-road, creating more than 100 miles across multiple counties – the largest backpacking destination in the state of Ohio.

Trailblazers are businesses or foundations, receiving the award for far-sighted vision and support, demonstrated by significant contributions to the Trail or the NCTA.

Chad Petersen, Senior Project Engineer + Manager at KLJ Engineering. KLJ is an engineering firm with 24 locations in six states. The Valley City (N.D.) office has donated their time to review and engineer metal frames for 24- and 30-foot boardwalks across marshy segments of NCNST. Their design continues to be used today. KLJ donated and assisted in the development of an easement template that has saved two NCTA Chapters thousands of dollars, by not having to have an engineering survey with a lengthy legal description completed for each Trail segment. Approximately 90 miles of the Sheyenne River Valley Chapter’s NCNST have been mapped by KLJ, and KLJ has provided nearly 80 individual color maps identifying respective landowner segments. The maps are part of a comprehensive packet developed for potential landowner easements in the Chapter’s region. KLJ has also assisted the Chapter in developing 93 easements – they and the Chapter obtained 23 of those for approximately 29 miles of NCNST in North Dakota. KLJ continues to provide engineering, signage, and trail advice to the Chapter, and informs Chapter leaders of forthcoming projects that may impact the Trail. Their assistance has a major, positive impact on the Chapter and NCTA in both trail protection and construction.

Nominations for 2023 awards are open until May 1. See all awards categories, past winners, and nomination information at northcountrytrail.org/volunteer-awards.