PCTA loses caretaker extraordinaire Jack Konner

Volunteer Caretaker Jack Konner, who helped build the Pacific Crest Trail Association’s Mount Hood Chapter into a trail-maintaining powerhouse, died Nov. 11, 2016. He was 89.

Jack, who lived in Beaverton, Oregon, was one of the Mount Hood Chapter’s earliest section caretakers. As the chapter’s first volunteer coordinator during a time before email communication was ubiquitous, he organized work parties and called dozens of volunteers personally.

Jack out for a day hike. Photo by Patty Carter

Jack out for a day hike. Photo by Patty Carter

He is often credited with saving the chapter by stepping up at a time when his leadership and organization-building skills were gravely needed. As the volunteer coordinator, he built the chapter’s now-envied volunteer recruiting program, enabling the group to get through difficult times and become what it is today: a skilled force with a deep bench of 500 volunteers who care for more than 200 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and feeder trails in Northern Oregon and Southern Washington.

“The PCTA was very important to my dad,” said Jack’s daughter, Patty Carter. “He loved the people, working on the trail and organizing volunteers and work parties. He really loved all of it and it was a very important part of his life in his retirement.”

Jack was born on Feb. 19, 1927 in New York City. He moved to Patterson New Jersey a few years later and that is where he grew up and lived for most of his adult life. He earned his Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and went back to school in his 50s to get his Master’s degree. He was part owner in the family tire business for most of his career.

“He took pride in his work but for him it was always a means to doing the things he really loved,” his daughter said. “His passions were music, volunteer work, travel, education, hiking, skiing and spending time with his family.”

In 1993, Jack retired from the tire business and moved to Beaverton to be closer to his children and grandchildren. He got involved with the PCTA soon after moving to Oregon.

“He loved spending time at our family cabin on Mount Hood hiking and skiing,” Patty said. “He was looking for volunteer work and the PCTA was a great fit for him.”

Steve Queen founded the Mount Hood Chapter and was its leader for two decades. Jack stepped in at a time when Steve was burning out, stretched too thin to get everything done alone. Steve said he was ready to raise the white flag.

Jack (left) and Dick Lukins accepting award from the Mount Hood National Forest. Photo by Ron Goodwin

Jack (left) and Dick Lukins accepting an award from the Mount Hood National Forest. Photo by Ron Goodwin

“I expressed my distress and inclination to quit to Jack directly and he came up with the idea of having a volunteer coordinator role that he would take on,” Steve said. “Later I had another crisis of burnout and Jack suggested that caretakers meet monthly so as to support each other. Both of these initiatives were critical not only to prevent the chapter from foundering but facilitated positive growth. The chapter wouldn’t be what it is today without Jack’s steadying friendship and influence.”

Jack was the secretary of those monthly caretaker meetings, taking notes and holding the various leaders accountable for their individual sections of trail. His sense of humor came through in his notetaking. From his first meeting as secretary, the notes state: “Robert’s Rules are out the window. The minutes will be strictly informal and I hope informative, especially for those who weren’t there and also for those who were there, but fell asleep.”

Steve nominated Jack for the PCTA’s “Above and Beyond Award” in 2010. The award read: “For going ‘above and beyond’ the scope of normal volunteering to protect, preserve, and promote the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. Your outstanding dedication and ‘volunteers first’ approach spurred the Mount Hood Chapter on to greater heights, infusing it with vibrancy and humanity. Your superior performance, unending dedication, and supportive leadership has been instrumental in permanently protecting the trail for future generations.”

Jack also was a chapter caretaker for a section of trail from Top Spur down to Muddy Fork. He took over the section from Lolo Pass to Top Spur when Roberta Cobb gave it up. He was named the PCTA’s Regional Trail Maintainer of the year for Oregon in 1999.

“I have this memory of Jack having us clear from Lolo Pass to Top Spur too early in the season, and we were cutting logs over snow,” said Roberta, who is now the chapter president. “Chain saw work — back then the area was outside wilderness — I kept saying ‘Jack, how do we know we are even on the trail?’  Turns out we weren’t. I’m still with PCTA due to Jack being willing to take on volunteer recruitment. I was very close to quitting because I felt uncomfortable in recruiting for my own crews.”

Roberta also said that Jack worked hard to attend tabling events so he could add volunteers to the chapter’s recruitment list. He was the instigator and early organizer of the chapter’s October picnic celebrating the year’s work, hosting the potluck at his cabin near Zig Zag.

Jack supervising a volunteer work part near Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. 

Jack supervising a volunteer work part near Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. Photo by Steve Plant

Volunteer Caretaker Ruth Weston met Jack during one of her first PCTA work parties at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood. “Jack almost ran up the hill behind the parking lot to get to the trail,” she recalled. “When I commented on his agility and speed, he said: ‘I love this new hip!’ ”

Weston continued: “After I became a caretaker, I had the chance to travel one summer. Jack said that he would do some maintenance on my section of trail while I was gone. When I got back in town, all he said was that it went well. Later I learned that he had dropped the Forest Service radio as he was crossing the Zig Zag River and it became inoperable. He was unable to call out that day and search and rescue awoke him from a sound sleep at two in the morning. He never did complain about that!”

U.S. Forest Service Ranger MaryEllen Fitzgerald said Jack was one of the Mount Hood National Forest’s “anchor volunteers” from 1999-2008, with both the PCTA and with the Wilderness Steward program. “I could call on him to help with an array of projects at any time,” she said. “We got lots of work done and had great fun also. He was part of the bones of the district.”

Kim Owen first met Jack over the phone, having signed up as a volunteer at a PCTA event. His first work party happened to be on Jack’s section of trail, and Jack took a hands-on approach to teach Kim the basics.

“Cut the brush as close to the ground as you can, it grows back in a year or two, and don’t just throw the brush, move it out of view,” Kim recalled him saying. “I protested at cutting the fir saplings, but Jack insisted: ‘Those little tree starts have to go, they’ll be in your face in no time.’ I was impressed with Jack’s long-term outlook.

“Jack helped inspire me to become a PCT caretaker myself,” Kim said. “Jack was truly the backbone of the Mount Hood Chapter, enabling the rest of us to implement the trail projects and events. Jack’s legacy is that his efforts continue to do good work up and down the entire PCT.”

Jack is survived by his wife, Joan; children Chuck, Patty and Tom; grandchildren Annie, Laura, Jake, Mackenzie, Mateo and Tavio; and great grandchildren Leona and Jenelle.

Author: Mark Larabee

Mark Larabee is the PCTA's Advocacy Director. He is the former editor of the "PCT Communicator" magazine and co-author of "The Pacific Crest Trail: Exploring America's Wilderness Trail" published in 2016. Larabee is a journalist, part of a team who won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for The Oregonian newspaper. He hiked the PCT across Oregon for a 2005 series for the paper and has been with PCTA since 2010. He lives in Portland.