Our Stories

Derrick Passe: Crew Leader Spotlight

Categories: Minnesota, Trail Maintenance, Volunteer Stories


Derrick is a man who knows how to get things done, and his first brush with leadership came about nearly 30 years ago. He saw a volunteer recruitment flier for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and decided to sign up.

He even checked that he would be a trip leader if they needed it. Turns out they did, because Derrick was the only person who had volunteered for that position. Since that life changing decision, he has spent at least one week out of the year maintaining the Kekekabic Trail section of the North Country National Scenic Trail in northern Minnesota. He leads work crews of nine, the maximum per Boundary Water regulations, and all their tools and gear through unpredictable portages to get to the Trail. This tradition has been interrupted only once so he could recover from heart surgery.

Derrick Passe
Derrick Passe

Derrick was first introduced to the North Country Trail Association at a Kekekabic Trail Club (KTC) gathering in Duluth. Bill Menke (former NCTA Regional Trail Coordinator for Wisconsin) and others were leading discussions on where the NCT should go and how it would integrate with existing trails. The discussion took time to gain momentum and as it did, it lit a fire in Derrek. Soon he shared his dedication to the NCT with the KTC and the NCTA Chequamegon Chapter. From there it was a natural growth transition to add the NCTA Board of Directors to his leadership responsibilities. Derrick brings an authentic love of the Trail into everything he does.

“This past year I hiked more miles than I cleared,” stated Derrick. “I love to clear trail, it gives me a sense of accomplishment and I really learn sections well. My goal is to hike the Minnesota reroute completely.”

He works to make the Trail the best it can be; for those who like to spend a week working in the wilderness and for those who enjoy an afternoon hike. Continuously using his connections, Derrick strives to bring the National Park to your front door.

Derrick is often asked, “Why are you determining where this trail is going?” He responds, “I know what it’s like and I know where it needs to go. If I don’t [try to set this route], it may be a long time before it happens. I have a lot of resources through my job (GIS, etc.) that my employer allows me to use, to get the Trail through Lake County. My relationship with the Forest Service is beneficial for flagging trips. I work with the mining companies and local outfitters to draw volunteers. I use connections. Not many people have the opportunity to have a National Park in their front yard, and that’s what the Trail is.”

Derrick Passe
Derrick Passe

Located in Minnesota, Derrick is involved with Kekekabic Trail Club, Chequamegon Chapter, Superior Hiking Trail Association, and is a NCTA Board Member. For those who are interested in becoming a more involved trail user, Derrick offered the following advice:

“Hike. The NCT or any established trail – visit another state and get a feel for it. Find out what your trail is. Not everybody wants to spend a week in the wilderness, a lot of people want to just hike around the neighborhood and get on the Trail a mile away. If you want to do something you can protect the trail – it becomes part of you. Introduce others, especially kids and families.”

NCTA Chapters are always seeking volunteers. The Volunteer Interest Form is an easy way to reach out to the NCTA to simply express interest, and receive more information on volunteer opportunities.

If you’re already a volunteer, thank you! Don’t forget to report your efforts using the Report Volunteer Hours form: Reporting your hours allows us to recognize your work and report to the National Park Service the value of your hard work. When you report hours, you also earn eligibility for National Park Service awards, such as water bottles, personalized clothing, and America the Beautiful parks passes.