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Superior Hiking Trail Association names new director

Denny Caneff stands at the top of Table Mountain near Cape Town, South Africa. Caneff has hiked all over the world and was recently named the executive director of the Superior Hiking Trail Association in Two Harbors. (Photo courtesy of the SHTA)

Denny Caneff was a 26-year-old Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, Africa, when he and a friend took a couple of days off to hike and explore the surrounding area. The young men got a ride out to an old railroad built at the dawn of the 20th century during the German colonial rule of the nation and hiked into the jungle. They had been told that if they continued to hike into the jungle eventually they would end up in a Baka village and could probably find a place to stay for the night.

"We came across a couple of settlements after about 10 miles and they were very nice and they wanted to put us up and feed us and take care of us," Caneff said. "We gave them the equivalent of $10 each and we walked back. It was pretty memorable."

Since that day and even before, Caneff has loved hiking and has grabbed any chance he can to get out into nature and experience all it has to offer since he was a young man, including that hike in Cameroon in the early 1980s. Caneff has hiked all around the world, including South Africa, Europe, the Middle East and extensively around the U.S.

"We live in a heavily plugged in world where our faces are in screens a lot," he said. "This ancient idea that on your own two feet, without a whole lot of fancy equipment besides your shoes and the shirt on your back, you can go enjoy the outdoors and commune with the silence. You can look for the wildflowers and tune into the birds and that is a superb thing in a consumerist world. It's a cool thing about a trail in that it doesn't require much of anything besides being fairly ambulatory."

Caneff will soon bring his love of trails and hiking to Two Harbors as the new executive director of the Superior Hiking Trail Association. Construction of the trail will be completed this summer and Caneff will lead the SHTA into a new era where he will begin shifting the focus from building the trail to keeping members engaged.

"We are fortunate to have found a leader with Denny's depth of experience and dynamic personality," Tim Kuehn, vice president of SHTA board of directors, said in a press release. "With this summer's completion of the trail, the association's focus and needs are broadening. We not only chose Denny for his passion for the outdoors but his big picture thinking and strategic skills and his ability to build relationships with stakeholders. These skills will be key in setting the future direction of the trail for years to come."

Born in Hastings, Minn., Caneff holds a bachelor's degree from St. Cloud State and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For the past 13 years, he worked as the executive director of the River Alliance of Wisconsin, which focuses on river conservation in the state. Prior to the River Alliance, he worked for a family farm advocacy program and throughout his career Caneff has raised millions in grants and donations, developed volunteer and board capacity, shaped conservation policy and worked to educate the public on complex conservation issues. Fundraising is something that all nonprofits must do, but the Superior Hiking Trail offers a unique challenge and opportunity for Caneff.

"The appeal of the trail association is that it's a very tangible thing, you can walk on it, you can get dirty on it, you can go from end to end or just from A to B for three or four miles," he said. "To have something tangible like that gives a lot of fundraising opportunities that I haven't had before and I like that."

Now that the trail is built and there is a shift in focus from construction to maintenance and support, the SHT offers new challenges to the association. Caneff said there are many users of the SHT that aren't even aware the SHTA exists and it is the association's job to change that.

"Now it's built, so I think the challenge for us now as a board and staff will be keeping people engaged in the business of the trail now that it's built," he said. "Maybe that sounds less interesting, but it will be a lot about how to package the trail differently, how to promote it differently and I think that looks fun and challenging."

Going forward, Caneff wants to raise the profile of the SHTA on the trail itself. There are signs for the association at some of the more heavily used access points, but many casual trail users miss the signs. He also hopes to make it easier to donate online or even sign up to volunteer.

Caneff will begin work June 1, but he will also attend the SHTA Hike Fest May 19-21 and be formally introduced to the association on May 20.

For more information about the event, go to www.SHTA.org.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Lake Superior School District board of education and high school sports in Lake County. 

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