If you look up the meaning of volunteer in the dictionary there should be a picture of Art Benzer.
The 76-year-old Montrose resident spent nine years in politics, nearly a decade as a volunteer firefighter and pretty well his whole life committed to enriching people’s lives with his passion for the outdoors.
His pet project, the Antenna Trail (which he modestly clarifies was a group effort), has brought good health to those who frequent it regularly and has connected community members over the years from its inception in 2005 through various community hikes.
“I just did it to help out my fellow citizens and I’ve always been a hiker and I really like the outdoors and I wanted people to enjoy the outdoors,” he said from his home Thursday.
The 2014 Montrose Community Service Award winner is preparing to lead residents in yet another hike up the Antenna Trail this Saturday for Beaver Valley May Days and again on June 7 for Montrose’s Family Fun Days.
“Art is an amazing man who volunteers quietly on his own,” said Montrose Councillor Cindy Cook, who nominated Benzer for the annual honour that has been doled out since 1984.
“It’s people like him that we want to recognize.”
The retired J.L. Crowe Secondary teacher was surprised to hear this week that he was selected for the honour, admitting that volunteering has always just been a part of his life.
He was a volunteer firefighter from 1962-1971 in Montrose, where he learned many first aid and firefighting techniques but never attended a fire.
He later found his place in politics, acting as a village councillor for six years and mayor for three, finally retiring from the job six years ago.
“I’d certainly like to thank the citizens of Montrose because they were fantastic during my time on council,” he said.
“There was the odd time where things would come up but I classified myself as a good listener … and that worked really well.”
Discussion on creating more parks and hiking trails across the region led to the discovery of the future Antenna Trail in 2005, which officially opened on Montrose Family Fun Days in 2006 in connection with the village’s 50th anniversary.
The old trail with spectacular views of the Columbia River valley was developed for local hikers by Hans Koerber and a group of enthusiastic outdoorsmen, with help from the Montrose Youth Action team and a B.C. Forest Service fire crew.
Kootenay Columbia Trails Society took the trail under its wing and added it to the growing list of newly-developed trails in the area and the trail which can take generally 45 minutes to two hours to complete, depending on the hiker, has remained one of the most popular in the area.
A sign-in box added in 2010 recorded up to 700 hikers that year, growing to nearly double the following year and up to 2,000 signatures by this March.
Benzer has been committed to the development of this trail over the years, which has included the addition of the flag pole viewpoint, a re-purposed Cominco Arena bench for taking in views of the Rossland Range from the flag and a sign to clarify and identify the range’s 11 peaks.
Last spring, the popular hike was turned into a loop trail with the addition of the new Old Orchard arm, which runs from the flagpole toward the end of 12 Avenue.
“If you work on something that you volunteer for it becomes part of you,” said Benzer, who considers the “intermediate with difficult sections” hike the second best in the Kootenays, next to Idaho Peak.
He makes the trek up to five times a year, taking in the spectacular views and at times leading other community members.
He will be on hand this weekend to lead hikers up the Antenna Trail during Beaver Valley May Days at 8 a.m. Saturday.
His name will be added to a plaque in the village office and a photo of him will appear on a board at the community hall. He will be formerly recognized at a volunteer wine and cheese set for June 5.