Our Stories

Rennae Gruchalla: Volunteer Spotlight

Categories: North Dakota, Volunteer Stories

“We all worked kind of randomly at first,” explained Rennae, “but by 2009 we established our new Chapter, the Dakota Prairie Chapter. It began with approximately 10 members. I was hooked from the very beginning.”

Rennae Gruchalla, Vice President of the NCTA Dakota Prairie Chapter, is certainly a hardworking volunteer worthy of a spotlight. Rennae organizes events, recruits volunteers and plans for the future of the NCT in North Dakota, and she has a poetic history with the Trail that she offered to share with us.


by Rennae Gruchalla

Long before I knew anything about the North Country National Scenic Trail, I romped around the hills surrounding Valley City, ND, which is located in the Sheyenne River Valley. This is where I was born. Since childhood I have enjoyed the outdoors, hiking and being encompassed in nature. I now reside in Fargo. I am no longer surrounded by hills and valleys, but reside in the flat fertile land of the Red River Valley.

Provided by Rennae Gruchalla

I LOVE hiking. When hiking, you can experience the world directly, without a filter. You can experience the rhythms of the day and the changing seasons. Even a trail hiked many times will deliver surprises that keeps boredom at bay. Besides hiking many different trails in National Parks around the country, I have enjoyed backpacking in the [Absaroka-]Beartooth Wilderness in Montana. My husband and I and a group of friends have hiked the mountains of that area regularly.

I got to know my state up close and personal while completing the Dakota Challenge: Hiking all 440 miles of North Country Trail in North Dakota. I also was able to educate the folks along the way about what an asset to their communities the Trail is to them. I have begun to hike the 840 miles of the NCT in my neighboring state of Minnesota – I have 170 miles under my boots as of this writing (Spring 2020).

The 28 miles of the NCT meandered through the Sheyenne National Grasslands long before there was a Chapter in North Dakota. In fact, that small portion of the Trail existed since the beginning, in 1980. Back in the 90’s we often took our kids hiking on the Trail, not realizing the significance of it. Our close friends rode horses on the Trail, picnicked along the Trail following the ride, and maintained it. Then…

One evening in 2005, Matt Davis (NCTA Regional Trail Coordinator) came to Fargo and had a meeting with the horse folks. Since they were our friends too, and we had enjoyed hiking the Trail for years, my husband Ed and I attended the meeting. We became educated in what the NCNST encompassed and became more interested in it. Not too long after that, Tom and Mary Moberg came onto the scene. [The Mobergs are very active NCTA Chapter Leaders.] They invited Ed and I, along with a few other folks that enjoyed hiking, to a meeting at their home. That was the beginning.

Since I have always enjoyed hiking, I naturally wanted to create the love of hiking and the outdoors in others. Having a National Scenic Trail in our backyard was the perfect place to do this. Consequently, I got involved in planning and leading hikes for our new Chapter. Later, I suggested doing a challenge, the Dakota Challenge, hiking the 440 miles of North Dakota. Twenty-two members signed up. As of now, seven have completed it. I also make up a yearly hiking schedule for our Chapter. It includes one or more hikes per month, as well as other events our Chapter sponsors. I’m on the Leadership Team as Vice President. I write a biweekly article about the NCT and hiking information for the newspaper in one of the towns the Trail passes through: Lisbon, ND. I also organize tabling at events around the communities hoping to entice participants to come hike with us (and of course eventually become members).

I have a passion to create an atmosphere where people of my community will feel the joy and excitement of hiking in nature on the North Country National Scenic Trail.