Volunteer of the Year

Each year the SMMTC honors a trail volunteer with the Hank Grateful Award.

Awarded to the volunteer who has dedicated significant amounts of their time for the benefit of other trail users and thus honoring the exceptional devotion to trails that Hank Grateful exhibited during his life. The award's namesake was an instrumental trail builder who passed away in 2001.

2023 - Ruth Feldon joined our crew in 2022 and has since volunteered more than 1000 hours. After mastering the McLeod, loppers and the pick mattock, she now leads events to repair our trails. Ruth makes our events better through her force of personality – you are going to see a smile on her face no matter how hard the work and she is going to make you feel better about doing that work. Ruth is particularly good at welcoming new volunteers and teaching them the skills needed to be safe and effective.

A select few volunteers work more than 300 hours in a year - Ruth has done it twice already! More importantly, Ruth has been part of an amazing transformation of our trail crew from mostly male to a nice mixture of men and women working together to maintain our trails.

Previous Hank Grateful Award Winners

2022 - Don Brusselars joined our crew in 2016 and has since volunteered more than 1500 hours. Don is a dedicated geocacher who has used his skills with a GPS device to measure the length of trail work done and to locate and maintain geocaches along the trails we work. Additionally, he has introduced his fellow geocachers to trail work. Don is also quick with an SMMTC business card when other trail users move thru the area we are working and express an interest in what we do.

Don is a member of the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council Board of Directors and serves on the membership committee.

2021 - Jon Sheldon joined our crew in 2019 and has since volunteered more than 1700 hours. Jon attended every single event in his second and third years. As a reliable and skilled trail worker Jon has mastered the McLeod and the pick mattock as well as working with the gas-powered brush cutter for hours at a time help our crew to clear brush from numerous trails.

Jon is well regarded by the crew because of his work ethic and good cheer. On many occasions Jon has arrived early to our cache of tools and put in an hour of work before the crew arrives. In his first season with our crew, Jon put in a few early morning (6AM and dark) stints. Jon's efforts allowed us to complete brush clearance on several miles of the Old Boney Trail during August/September 2019.

2020 - Dave Perlmutter has worked on our trails for more than a dozen years. During that time we estimate that he has volunteered more than one thousand hours. Words like “hard-working”, “affable” and "energetic" kind of describe Dave - but when you learn that Dave turned 90 this year - you realize that you are in the presence of someone quite exceptional in terms of health and fitness. Still going strong into his tenth decade on the planet, one can't help but envy Dave. Many crew leaders speak of incidents where they were reminding Dave to pace himself and how it was met with a laugh and a continuance of the break-neck pace – when you are this strong, regular expectations of what can be done, do not apply. This talented volunteer could give his time and energy to many other organizations – that he chose our organization is an exceptional gift to trail users in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Volunteers on the trail crew can range in age from 16 to 90 plus years. When younger volunteers tire – it is a pleasure to remind them that the guy over there swinging a pick mattock is at the upper age range. Dave is our only 90 year old volunteer - he works as if he was at least 30 years younger. A force of nature, an extraordinary volunteer and a most humble person - we are most happy to try and keep up with Dave and look forward to many more years of cutting brush, digging drains and fixing tread issues!

Notable Achievement: John Kross has logged more than 300 hours in a single year: 3 times.

2019 - John Kross has been a member of the Trails Council and an active member of our Trail Crew since 2012. John became a member of the Board of Directors in 2015. In this period of time, he has contributed more than 2,000 volunteer hours working with the Trails Council trail crew in the Santa Monica Mountains. While that is an essential metric for determining the amount of work done, this number alone does not reflect what effects John has had on the regular crew and volunteers. John has mentored several volunteers who have gone on to become crew leaders. He is always ready to assume a larger role in the current task, or to step forward to lead or assist with any new task. In other words, John is the the guy who works with the brush trimmer all day when others are needing a break, makes a special trip into the backcountry to cut up and remove a tree that has fallen across the trail and smiles the entire time.

John has been active in Channel Islands National Park trail maintenance projects, volunteering on one or more multi-day projects every year. For the last few years, John has also volunteered as a hike leader on the annual SMMTC Backbone Trek.

John also has contributed hundreds of volunteer hours with Conejo Open Space and Conservation Agency (COSCA). He heads up the agency’s “Adopt a Trail” program and organizes and supervises multiple COSCA volunteer trail work days every year.

John’s commitment to trail work was evidenced when he bought a truck suitable for hauling volunteers and tools and graciously uses it frequently.

If you know John, it should not surprise you that he generates smiles, humor and useful tips for getting work done.

image of barry

2018 - Barry Dydyk has been an active member of the Trails Council for over ten years. In just the last eight years, he has contributed more than 2,000 volunteer hours on the trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. While that is an essential metric for determining the amount of work done, this number alone does not reflect the magnifying effect of Barry's ability to recruit others in the community to work alongside us. Ever since Barry joined the Trails Council he has organized and supervised Boy Scout Troop 730 in its annual “Trail Saver” project, which each year, provides over fifty volunteers to work on the Serrano Canyon Trail.

In addition, Barry has become the Trail Councils Eagle Scout project coordinator, recruiting and supervising Eagle Scouts on their projects. The most notable of these projects includes the replacement of over 75 trail signs in Point Mugu State Park, restoration of the La Jolla Valley walk in camp after the Springs Fire and currently coordinating the BBT Trail head Improvement Project, installing improvements to twelve BBT trail heads. Barry has been active in the Channel Islands National Park trail maintenance project, volunteering on one or more multi-day projects every year. When you work on a project with us, Barry will provide guidance in the form of humor (often with a healthy dose of sarcasm) whether you thought you needed it or not. I am not embarrassed to say that there have been more than a few times where I thought I knew what needed to be done on a segment of trail and Barry with a differing perspective provided a better solution. If you listen and watch what he does, you will always learn a thing or two and improve your trail work skills.

Barry Dydyk is an excellent example of the “volunteerism sprit” that is the essence of the SMMTC mission and of the achievements recognized by the Hank Grateful Award.

image of georgia

2017 - Georgia is the consummate detail oriented researcher who has served the Santa Monica Mountains Trail community by providing historical and legal information regarding trails past and present. This information has preserved trail easements and highlights another side of the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council. We are known for working on trails (brushing, lopping & treadwork) but behind the scenes we have worked with government agencies and developers to preserve access to trails since our inception. Georgia served as our Secretary from 2009 until 2018 and has regularly organized and planned our Annual Dinner.

image of greg

2016 - Greg Sweel is one of the “unsung” heroes of the SMMTC trail crew. Though not chronologically correct, he might be considered one of the “grey beards”, having started volunteering with the trail crew in 2002. He worked with and trained under the famous Milt McAuley and became a crew leader in 2005.

Even though he works a full time job and lives outside our area, year in and year out, Greg contributes hundreds of volunteer hours. He performed almost a thousand hours of service in just the last five years alone. He participates in most of the weekly trail maintenance projects, and can always be counted on to help out with special projects. This year, as in past years, Greg volunteered for two of the multi-day trail projects in Channel Islands National Park. He also occasionally performs trail maintenance with other trail organizations and contributes many volunteer hours performing restoration work with Channel Islands Restoration (CIR). Greg assisted Milt McAuley in establishing the annual NPS Backbone Trail hike series and he has been the prime organizer and leader of those hikes for the past few years. In addition to leading up to ten hikes a year, he also trains new volunteers for the program.

image of george

2015 - George Sherman - Board Member, Crew Leader, Webmaster and dedicated trail work volunteer. George's increasing involvement with the Trails Council has led him from Board Member to Web Master to wildflower aficionado. Along the way he started coming out to do trail work on Saturdays. Among the non-retired crew members, George has led the way in terms of hours and enthusiasm generated. Known for his loquacious manner with trail users passing thru a work area, several crew leaders have referred to him as the Walmart greeter of the Trails Council. George says the best way to see the outdoors is to work on a trail. By working on the trail you see and learn how a trail is affected by the runoff of water, human traffic and fire. Spend a lot of time in the same section of the trail and you start to see the small stuff that you might miss. If you see him working on the trail, do not be surprised if he tries to convince you to volunteer once or twice a year to keep our trails in good shape.

image of Sharon

2014 - Sharon Simmonds - Over the past twelve years (probably more) Sharon has averaged 200+ hours each year working on our trails. The word to describe the quality of her work - immaculate! We kid her about bringing up a broom and dustpan to make her work look "just right". Look at the photo above and you can see what we mean. The tread has been reworked with a 5 degree out slope and the rocks have been integrated in with the slough to produce a smooth and durable tread. The Trails Council is delighted to have Sharon working with us year after year! Sharon encourages all of us to work up to her level of quality. Sharon's on the trail personality helps keep the younger volunteers focused and in good cheer. She communicates very well with the crew and volunteers plus serves as a great example: At the end of the day, she is still working when many volunteers have thoughts of finding some shade and sitting down. Each year, together Sharon and her husband Norm, combine to work nearly 450 hours - an amazing contribution of time and effort.


2013 - Annie Salerno - Annie has been a Board Member and organizer of our Backbone Trek event. Annie's time and efforts have been focused on supporting Trail Days and running the Backbone Trek. She makes sure the raffle prizes are gathered, the food ordered and prepared, the venues reserved - all of the things that makes it possible for our volunteers or hikers to simply hike or do trail work.


2012 - Barbara Thomas - Crew Leader and Board Member. Trail Days Organizer. Barb is currently (Late 2015) the Vice-President of the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council. Barb distinguished herself over the years by performing regularly as a trail work volunteer and then mastering the set of skills required to be an effective crew leader. After the passing of Linda Palmer, Barb stepped up to plan our organizations signature event - Trail Days in Pt. Mugu State Park. A daunting task for anyone, Barb’s organizational skills were put to good use and our Trail Days event has continued to be successful and an important venue for all trail user groups to meet and work together for the betterment of all.


2011 - Dave Edwards - Crew Leader and chief planner of our trail work events. Dave creates and schedules our work events with government agencies as well as the Sierra Club and CORBA. 350 hours a year of trail work is not uncommon for Dave!! When you volunteer to work with us, Dave is the guy who might bring an umbrella on a sunny day but always brings the chocolate to augment lunch and provides the cold drinks at the end of the day. Dave also volunteers on the Channel Islands along with other organizations. Dave puts the “Give” in “Give back” by generously donating so much of his time. Like Jerry Mitcham, Dave is often the first to arrive at a work site and the last to leave. He is also quite skilled with a hand grinder sharpening tools for the days work. When there is Poison Oak to remove, Dave is the go to guy - going in where most sensible people fear to tread!

Linda Palmer

2010 - Linda Palmer - Linda was our President, Vice President, crew leader and advocate for the Santa Monica Mountains. Her passing in 2013 left some big boots to fill. We have a web page devoted to how blessed we were as an organization to have her at the helm. She was the first Trail Crew Leader for the volunteer trail maintenance crews and she was the keeper of the tools for the Trails Council. Along the way she designed and helped build the Stunt High Trail.

pete and liz

2009 - Liz Baumann and Pete Warden - Dedicated volunteers and crew leaders who managed the web site for several years even after they moved away... Liz Baumann and Pete Warden set the bar quite high for non-retired volunteers with the sheer amount of work they put in. On the trail, they were very active regulars putting in a couple of hundred hours each. Behind the scenes, Pete and Liz built a web site, they worked with other trail user groups to roll out an integrated Google Calendar for Trail Work, a sign up page for Trail Days and hundreds of other items that are still in place today. Thank you! Liz created the especially popular Plant of the Month pages on our web site. Pete provided sage advice on treating fellow trail workers in a blog post Read this - it is worthwhile


2008 - Margaret Brenner - Longtime trail crew volunteer and crew leader. Margaret was most associated with the Phantom Trail. It was her favorite trail and under her guidance a well maintained trail.


2005 & 2007 - Jerry Mitcham - is a Board Member, a Crew Leader leader and has his hands in everything the Trails Council does. The amount of hours that Jerry contributes year to year go way beyond what most volunteers could ever imagine. Long before the volunteers show up, Jerry is busy gathering the tools and supplies required for the outing. He has coordinated with various outside groups that provide the Trails Council with volunteers and for the volunteers a worthwhile activity. He has worked with government agencies to discuss requirements, issues, strategies and future maintenance plans. His truck is usually first to the job site and likely to be the last to to head home - tools have to be sorted and returned to the storage unit. There are casual volunteers, regular volunteers, dedicated core group volunteers and then there is Jerry. Superlatives like exceptional, dedicated, thoughtful and talented at managing volunteers - are words that just scratch the surface to describe what Jerry does as a Crew Leader.


2002 & 2006 - Norm Simmonds - Long time volunteer and Crew Leader. A master at building drains. Continues to average over 250 hours of volunteer work each year since. Norm is the volunteer crew leader who has been known to plan his hip replacement surgeries around our summer hiatus so that he does not miss volunteering. Norm is responsible for our mid week volunteer work efforts. On at least one Wednesday a month our dedicated trail crew fit in one more outing on a trail that needs extra work or that is somewhat out of the way. Together with his wife Sharon there is no more dedicated husband/wife team working on the trails.


2004 - Milt McAuley - Legendary Santa Monica mountains hiker, writer, advocate and trail worker. Milt revolutionized how people see the Santa Monica Mountains as a destination hiking area. Milt's guidebooks brought hikers who had not considered the trails in the Santa Monica Mountains worthy of their attention. Milt's books came out when many people began to consider hiking as a more than once a week activity- a short drive to the local mountains made it possible to go hiking more often. Having a reliable guidebook opened the mountains up and likely angered some property owners who were used to their solitude. Milt was an active crew leader and of course hike leader. Milt left behind a legacy that thousands of us benefit from. Milt also wrote a flower identification (Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains) book that is considered one of the best books by a non-botanist. I believe he was self taught in this area. Milt passed away in 2008.
The U.S. Board on Geographic Names/Domestic Names Committee voted to name a peak within Malibu Creek State Park in honor of the late Milton (Milt) McAuley (1919-2008). Milt McAuley was an author, conservationist, and trailblazer, who worked to preserve the Santa Monica Mountains and make them more accessible to the public. His exemplary life embodies the Mission of State Parks and is a well-deserved honor. This peak is just off the Backbone Trail on Mesa Peak Motorway and has a view that surely would have brought a smile to Milt's face.


2003 - Burt Elliott - If you spend enough time traveling along our local trails you are going to eventually encounter organized and dedicated groups of people authorized to work repairing damage caused by erosion or trimming vegetation crowding the trails. Burt Elliott was among the most prolific volunteers in our local mountains. The sheer number of trails that Burt helped to build and repair can only be matched by the most dedicated of volunteers. Just about every trail in the Conejo Open Space and Santa Monica Mountains has seen Burt's footprints. Burt estimated that he put in more than 10,000 hours of volunteer work. It would be a big accomplishment to hike all of the trails that he worked on. Building and maintaining trails is the work that we do to benefit all trail users; and it connects us to the land in a way that simply traveling through does not. Burt knew and understood that, and we have benefitted from Burt's labor over the past twenty-five years and will continue to benefit. Burt passed away in 2013 and is missed by many.


2001 - Virginia Grue - Long time volunteer Crew Leader and first recipient of this award. Remained active for more than 14 years after receiving this award. Virginia was the dedicated trail worker who has some sensitivity to Poison Oak - I believe if she looks at it hard enough she might just get a rash - yet she remained active with our organization despite this sensitivity. She was active at Trail Days either behind the scenes (going to local businesses for raffle prizes) or leading a crew into some seriously overgrown brush. With a smile and a dry sense of humor, the work went by quickly when Virginia was on board.

This page was last modified: July 04 2024.