2022 AGM Summary and Introduction to New Board Members

by Ashley Irving

On September 26, 2022 the GDTA held their Annual General Meeting in Calgary, Alberta at Elite Brewing & Cidery. This hybrid version also had an online option so folks afar could Zoom in and take part. Approximately 75 people were in person, with another 20 online.

AGM attendees fully focused on the speakers.

Keynote Speaker

The evening started with the amazing keynote speaker, Lil’ Buddha. Lil’ Buddha was named a 2021 Outsider of the Year by Outside Magazine, a name he has more than earned. A Hmong-American, Lil’ Buddha arrived in the United States with his family when he was very young. They settled in Kansas where he grew up. Growing up, his family took trips to the Colorado Mountains where he developed a love for the outdoors and mountains. After college he went down the path of a typical corporate office career. But this didn’t settle well with him and he returned to hiking, big time, with goals of thru-hiking America’s long trails. Acting on this goal, Lil’ Budda has hiked the JMT (John Muir Trail), CDT (Continental Divide Trail) several times, AT (Appalachian Trail) more than once, PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) more than once, GDT (Great Divide Trail), and other long trails. Totalling over 45,000 miles. Here is an excellent video in Lil’ Buddha’s own words that vividly depicts his life journey.

During his talk, we were all in awe with inspiration, but not only that, Lil’ Buddha provoked thoughts how we can make the GDT a safe and inclusive space for everyone. He offered suggestions to the GDTA, suggestions that we are taking seriously, because the trail really is for everyone, and we want to do the absolutely best we can to ensure this. Thank you to @lilbuddhahikes for taking the time to share your story, thoughts and ideas, we appreciate you.

Keynote Speaker, Lil’ Budda presenting remotely on the big screen.

Treasurer’s Report

Moving into the meeting agenda, Treasurer Gina Guild (nee Van Haren) explained the GDTA’s financials. The GDTA is in a good position moving into the next fiscal year, and we are anticipating another great year.

Annual Report

Board President Doug took to the front to offer his President’s report. Doug took time to introduce all the Board Members, current and departing this year, thanking them all for their service and hard work. Doug also highlighted some of the larger events that took place after last year’s AGM, such as a very successful donor campaign, and the hiring of the GDTA’s first Executive Director, Kate Hamilton.

Next, Executive Director Kate Hamilton took the torch from Doug to talk about the remainder of the year. She talked about the new member benefits and highlighted some of the great work that the committees have been up to (there was too much great work to share everything!) Kate thanked all the GDTA’s supporters this past year, including the thousands of hours given by all of the volunteers. To read the full Annual Report, please click here.

Executive Director, Kate Hamilton delivers the GDTA Annual Report.


Voting came next. GDTA members in attendance, both in person and virtually, voted on filling open Board of Directors seats, proposed new membership options, and required financial votes.

Board Members Election

We were very lucky to have 10 amazing Board nominees this year to fill 6 open seats. The quality, enthusiasm, and skills of all the board nominees were exceptional, and the GDTA would have benefited from all candidates who were voted on. We want to extend our gratitude to all the nominees that put their names forward and look forward to working with everyone in the coming year.

In addition to Jeff Gruttz returning for another term, this year’s BOD vote welcomed 5 new Directors to the board; Lisa Belanger, Erin Colwell, Bhawan Waraich, Mandi Parkin, and Kristine O’Rielly.  To get to know them, here are their candidate statements:

Jeff Gruttz – Jeff is a co-founder of the GDTA since its formation in 1975. He has served in many positions in that time; on the Trail Building and Maintenance Committee and Safety and Environment Committee since they were established. He prepared GDTA trail building and planning procedures that meet or exceed our Industry Best Practices.

Jeff is an incumbent Board Member. He has served in many roles on the Board including the position of Chair in 2018 and 2019. He brings a depth of knowledge and experience for trail building, safety and board processes. He has completed his current term and would like to continue as a Board member.
Bhawan Waraich – Hello my name is Bhawan Waraich, I currently work as commercial Insurance Advisor in Calgary Alberta. I’m originally from Punjab, India and moved to Canada in 2011. I hold an accounting diploma and have worked as an accounting technician in the past.
I also completed an outdoor field leader course this year from outdoor council of Canada.
Most of my interests are related to outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, mountain biking and arts such 35mm film photography, film developing and processing.

Being able to encourage someone to enjoy outdoor activities safely is what I love the most, whether it’s taking a group on their first ever camping trip or educating someone about hiking in bear country, I enjoy all aspects of the process.

Board nominee, Bhawan Waraich gives his candidate pitch.

Mandi Parkin – With a Bachelor of Ecotourism and Outdoor Leadership from Mount Royal University, Mandi Parkin has over 10 years of experience in the outdoor recreation industry. Throughout her experience Mandi has worked to promote access, inclusion and safety in the outdoors through a variety of professional and volunteer positions, including outdoor programming facilitation for a variety of organizations and participation in Calgary’s Search and Rescue Association.
Currently, Mandi works as the Outdoor Pursuits Team Lead at Prospect Human Services. One of Mandi’s key responsibilities is to manage Prospect’s Outdoor Risk Management Plan; through the collection and analysis of trip data, research and regular communication with other industry professionals, Mandi works with the Outdoor Pursuits team to ensure Prospect’s Outdoor Risk Management Plan is: in-line with current industry best practice, satisfies stakeholder needs and is effective in ensuring safety in Prospect’s programs. 

On top of her regular responsibilities, Mandi is a key member of Prospect’s Safety Committee and trains Prospect staff in safety related courses such as Non-Violent Crisis Intervention and De-Escalating Potentially Violent Situations.    

Mandi’s experience in outdoor risk management, paired with her proven ability to thrive in a collaborative team environment, will make her an asset to the Great Divide Trail Association and its members.

Lisa Belanger – Lisa really believes long trails are special, providing access to the wilderness while protecting the corridors they pass through. She’s always loved hiking, and all kinds of outdoor adventures. This summer, she thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, developed a deeper appreciation for the immense dedication and work that goes into long trails, and resolved to be part of the mission in completing and protecting one close to home.

Her professional career is in the non-profit sector, currently as Director of Operations at the Rural Development Network, where she develops processes and strategies for effective community-focused operations, organizational growth, and financial resilience. Over the past 6 years since graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce from the U of A, she’s developed skills in areas relevant to the GDTA’s priorities. She’s involved in managing 50+ funding applications each year, increasing their likelihood of success, and ensuring they not only support projects but also the operational needs of the organization. She also develops policies and processes to help achieve operational goals and growth in staffing. She understands the importance of good governance, and would love to contribute not only her experience to the GDTA Board, but also her passion for achieving its broader vision.

Kristine O’Reilly – Born and raised in the small fishing village of St. Brendan’s, an island off the east coast of Newfoundland, Kristine attributes her rural upbringing for her love of nature. Kristine has been living in the GDT-region for the past 7 years. She is an apprentice hiking guide with the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and can be found regularly hiking and skiing in the Canadian Rockies.

She is an active volunteer with the Calgary Zoo, Parks Canada, the Alpine Club of Canada and she was a member of Yellowstone to Yukon’s Team Thrive pilot volunteer program. Kristine holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s in applied sustainability.

She has a background in project management, stakeholder engagement and grant/proposal writing. She also has an interest in community engagement and conservation education and has been known to put her hand up to support event-planning and social media campaigns.

Kristine served as the Access & Environment Chair for the Alpine Club of Canada – Calgary Section from 2016-2019. Her mantra is that conservation is a team sport; we can get further by partnering with like-minded organizations who are working toward our shared goal of preserving the wilderness of the GDT region.

Erin Colwell – Hello I’m Erin! I was born in Calgary and lived here most of my life, aside from a stint in Qatar with my family as a child, and completing my undergrad in Global Development Studies in Ontario. I moved back to Calgary after my undergrad in 2015 and have been here ever since.

I graduated law school at the University of Calgary in 2021, and will be called to the Alberta bar on September 16, 2022. I work in civil litigation at Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP.

When I am not chained to a desk, I love getting outdoors and am perpetually trying to get out more than I do. I grew up hiking, camping, and backpacking all around Kananaskis, Canmore, Banff, as well as areas south of Calgary. Last summer I managed to sneak in 6 backcountry trips and even managed to get onto a portion of the Great Divide Trail (Vista Lakes to Sunshine).

Since high school, I have always had volunteering as a part of my life. In my undergrad I volunteered extensively with Oxfam Canada, among other organizations. In law school I volunteered for our school’s legal clinic, Student Legal Assistance, as well as Pro Bono Students Canada, and various other free legal advice initiatives. I currently volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and will continue to do so. This, however, would be the first Board of Directors that I would sit on.

I’m happy to chat or answer any questions about myself.

Membership Options

Membership was a hot topic of the night. Doug Borthwick presented the idea of offering lifetime memberships for $100, as well as free memberships for people under the age of 25. These ideas have been in the making for over a year, backed by research and a variety of other reasons. These motions made it through the Outreach Committee, and after a lot of scrutiny, through the Board. Both motions were voted on and approved by the membership and we look forward to seeing how this will support and grow the organization. We continue to offer individual annual membership ($30), couple annual membership ($50), and family annual membership ($70).

Finance Approvals

Treasurer Gina Guild (nee Van Haren) made two motions; the first to accept financial 2022 statements, and the second to approve the appointment Khalfans Chartered Professional Accountants for a review engagement for next year’s statements. Both motions were approved by the membership.

Volunteer Recognition

Lastly was the volunteer recognition. The GDTA volunteers are the most important part of the organization, without them, there would not be a Great Divide Trail. We have amazing, committed and skilled volunteers that work hard year round. All of our volunteers are important and have a significant impact to the organization. This year Deb Yanchula, Doug Borthwick and Kate Hamilton wanted to highlight 9 particular volunteers that stood out:

  • Brad Vaillancourt
  • MJ Kreisel
  • Peter LaBastide
  • Annette Scheick
  • Charlene Deck
  • Tasha Shakatko
  • Kelly McDonald
  • Joan Pendleton
  • Stuart Mitchell

To read about their contributions, please have a look at the 2022 GDTA Volunteer Recognition Awards article.

Miscellaneous Fun

Besides all the AGM business, attendees enjoyed catching up with friends, old and new, over the Elite Brewing & Cidery food and beverages. GDTA corporate supporters’ hiker gear, food, and other offerings were on display and for sale. And opportunities to see and purchase GDT logo merchandise were available. One could also buy the highly acclaimed “Tales from the Great Divide, Second Edition”.

Hiker foods were available from GDTA corporate supporters Flat Out Feasts and Wild Mountain Eats.
GDTA logo merchandise, gear, books, and other related “goodies” were available to purchase through GearTrade.

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