Our Stories

Sarah Collier: Volunteer Spotlight

Categories: Michigan, Support, Volunteer Stories


“Stay curious and educate yourself on how you can make a difference on the Trail,” offered Sarah. “Do not doubt your ability to help.”

Sarah Collier will spend 2020 as President Trainee of the Western Michigan Chapter and officially become Chapter President in January 2021. An avid outdoorswoman with a desire to make a positive impact on the spaces she uses and loves, Sarah is excited to “work with others to maintain, complete, protect and promote our beautiful North Country Trail.”

Sarah Collier
Provided by Sarah Collier

Born in Ohio and raised in West Michigan, Sarah grew up spending time on the water and exploring sand dunes trails. She then attended college in Grand Rapids, where she currently resides. In 2016, she and her boyfriend Brett spent a weekend backpacking the Manistee River Trail loop. They hiked the NCT section on their first day but didn’t realize it was a small part of a much greater trail.

“A year later, we happened to see an article about the NCT coming to Seidman Park. Seidman is one of our favorite places to hike near our home in Grand Rapids and we were a little confused about how a trail from two hours north of us could be traveling through our city. So, being the curious people that we are, we did a little internet research and found the NCTA website. What a surprise it was! At the time, the NCT ran from North Dakota to New York and we were so thrilled that we had access to multiple sections within a short driving distance. On top of that, we learned that headquarters were nearby in Lowell, MI. Needless to say, we felt like we had just found treasure and couldn’t wait to spread the knowledge of the trail with our friends and family.”

Sarah Collier
Provided by Sarah Collier

When Sarah was asked what inspired her to go beyond using the Trail, to engage on a volunteer level, she explained, “Brett and I have a special place for Seidman Park in our hearts. We discovered in 2017 that part of the North Country Trail went through that park and had been noticing that the trail could use some improvements. Wanting to be able to help fix up the Trail, we looked to see if there were any groups nearby that did trail work. As it so happened, we saw on the NCTA website that there was a workday planned for Seidman and that we could sign up to work on the Trail. Sign up we did, and few weeks later, we met Jim Bradley from the Western Michigan Chapter, along with many others at the park. He told us a little about the Chapter and taught us how to renaturalize trail and paint blazes. This sparked the tinder that was our interest and set a fire within us to do as much as we could to improve the trails around us. We joined the Chapter shortly after.”

“I wanted to pursue membership with the Western Michigan Chapter because it covers Kent and Newaygo counties, which is where Brett and I hike most often,” Sarah continued. “I knew I wanted to make a positive impact in my local area while developing trail building skills and a deeper knowledge of the NCT. The desire for a leadership role, whether on the Chapter Board or as a Crew Leader, came later when I started to create bigger goals for myself and imagined how I could better advocate for the NCT.”

Sarah is younger than many in Chapter leadership roles across the Trail. For younger professionals, especially those who work full-time like Sarah, a leadership role can sound intimidating; many seem hesitant of the extra time commitment. Yet Sarah found confidence in her ability to balance this role with her personal and professional life.

Sarah Collier
Provided by Sarah Collier

“I asked myself [this question] many times before tossing my hat into the ring for the President role on the [Chapter] Board,” she explained. “I met with Beth Keloneva, Interim President for the Western Michigan Chapter, a few times this past year to discuss what the role of President actually entails (time commitment, planning, communication expectations, etc.). Beth was very willing to teach me all about the role and even gave me some outlines that showed me how she prepared for events and meetings every year. This gave me an idea of how much time I would need to set aside for this commitment. After a few months of discussion and a lot of reflection on my part, I decided that I was at a good point in my life for the transition to the role of President. It was agreed that Beth would train me for a year and that in that year I would develop goals for myself and the Chapter to keep us moving forward and make our presence more widely known.”

Throughout 2020, Sarah will be President Trainee. She will be working with her Chapter leadership team and other Chapter members to learn their processes and best practices, as well as brainstorming new ways to bring people to the Trail.

For those who are interested in becoming a more involved trail user, Sarah offered advice and encouragement:

  • Invite friends, family, and coworkers to join you on a workday.
  • If you do not have much time to commit to volunteer, but enjoy taking a hike when you can, take a bag to collect litter on the Trail and leave it better than how you found it. One small action can make a big difference!
  • Do not doubt your ability to help. If there is something that you want to learn how to do in order to help the Trail, reach out to your nearby Chapter or fill out a volunteer form online. Everyone I have met so far who is involved with the Trail has been more than happy to help me on my journey to becoming a better trail advocate.

As Sarah suggested, starting local is helpful and manageable. Most Chapter host workdays, guided hikes, monthly Chapter meetings and other events throughout the year – especially between spring and fall. 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.

If you know a particularly spectacular volunteer who deserves extra recognition, nominate them for an NCTA Award. Nominations for 2020 awards will be accepted through May 1, and the awards ceremony is held each year during the annual NCTA Celebration – this year in early August.