Our Stories

Larry and Shannon Bell Clear a Path for the North Country Trail Association

Categories: Support, Trail Updates


by Andrea Ketchmark, NCTA Executive Director

I’m excited to share with you that the North Country Trail Association (NCTA) has received its largest donation in the Association’s history from the Larry and Shannon Bell Charitable Fund. Larry founded Bell’s Brewery in 1985 in Kalamazoo, Mich., and is an avid supporter of the Trail and the Association’s work. It’s been amazing to watch Larry’s excitement for the Trail, and we’re thrilled that he has the belief in our work to justify such a large gift.

Larry Bell hiking the NCNST in Michigan. (Photo by Larry Bell.)

The Bells’ donation marks a new day for the Association – one that will elevate the efforts to complete the route and protect the valuable resources of the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST) for the next generation.

Motivated by a life changing experience, Larry Bell challenged himself to hike the entire Michigan section of the NCNST: 1,150 miles. Mile after mile, he experienced firsthand how spending time outdoors changes lives, and he wanted to share that opportunity with others. His experience on the Trail and conversations with NCTA staff and volunteers also helped him realize just how much work goes into building, maintaining, and protecting a National Scenic Trail for all to enjoy.

On why he supports the NCTA’s work, Larry shared, “The North Country Trail has been a welcome tool for my physical and mental health in my post-cancer life. I am happy to help facilitate this contribution to the [North Country] Trail Association so that others may find the joy, beauty, and wellbeing that I know from hiking this path, and so that the Trail may be built out to its full potential.”

The Bells’ gift allows us to build needed infrastructure and capacity to meet the ongoing demands of America’s longest National Scenic Trail. Larry has shown his trust in the Association as the stewards of the Trail. His vote of confidence is a boost of thanks to the thousands of volunteers who make it possible for everyone to have access to quality outdoor recreation experiences near them.

I’m in active discussion with the NCTA Board of Directors on how we’ll best put these funds to use for the Trail. Trail protection is top priority as we look forward to our future, and I’m hopeful this donation will be able to go to great lengths to prepare us for that work. We aren’t just trail builders and maintainers – although we all know that would be enough! We are also advocates for public land. We are conservationists. We are supporters of local economies. We are creators of opportunity. We provide an essential service and an improved quality of life to the American people. I continue to be honored to lead the NCTA at a time when we are beginning to realize the dream of the North Country National Scenic Trail. This is just the beginning! Thank you for your part in this incredible organization.

Larry Bell was the recipient of the NCTA’s Blue Blazes Benefactor Award in 2021, which recognizes individuals and families who demonstrate a vision and generosity for the Association and the Trail it serves.