Canal a Labor of Love for Wapak Man

WAPAKONETA — When Mike Grove saw something that needed to be done along the Miami and Erie Canal, he went out and did it.

“To me that’s what made Mike extraordinary,” Heritage Trails Park District Director Allison Brady said of Grove, who passed away on Tuesday. “He saw a need and he decided not just to meet the need but to create a whole volunteer core and went through a whole process to meet the need … He had a vision for what we needed, and he was right.”

Grove got heavily involved with the canal two years ago after tracking down Steve Dorsten, who was working at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) at the time.

“Two years ago, I had a meeting out at Lock 14, and during my meeting I noticed that a pickup truck went by real slow and he was giving me the eyeball, and he just drove on by,” Dorsten said, noting the truck returned and the man, who he later learned was Grove, kept looking at him. “I wrapped up my meeting, and I walked out to this pickup truck and here’s this big, humongous man and he came over to me.”

Thinking he was going to hear Grove complain, Dorsten asked him if he could help him and Grove told Dorsten that he wanted to volunteer by picking up litter and brush.

“I got him signed up as a volunteer, and little did I know how much he was going to do to change the program,” Dorsten said. “He was an ambassador for the Canal Lands Program. He enlisted volunteers up and down the whole corridor, from New Bremen all the way to Delphos. It was just by chance that I was out there when he went by, and that’s how it all got started.”

In his two years of volunteering, Grove made a big impact on the trail, enlisting and coordinating a slew of volunteers.

“He made sure that he kept contact with all of his volunteers,” Dorsten said. “He coordinated with all the volunteers and made sure that they were doing what they needed to do. As a volunteer coordinator myself, he sure made life a lot easier for me. He took everything to heart. He was very volunteer-orientated and very caring person.”

In addition to the trail maintenance, Grove and his team could be counted on to help out at events along the canal, as well.

“I conduct one of the spring hikes along the canal and I could count on him and his crew taking my signs and delivering them along the trail, opening gates and at the end of the program, collecting signs and closing the gates,” Brady said. “He created an atmosphere of cleanliness on the trail, of safety, trying to keep hazards off the trail.”

As a member of the Jennings Creek Rendezvous, Grove helped bring a settlement of pilgrims to the Walk with Nature.

“As you leave St. Marys hiking north to 40 Acre Pond, you walk through a pioneer town,” Brady said. “People are cooking, dressed and living as if we are in the settlement era in Ohio. It’s very fun.”

Grove took a particular project on himself, fighting a rodent’s presence on the trail.

“He was big on filling up groundhog holes,” Dorsten said. “He didn’t like the idea of having holes in the middle of the towpath, and that’s an ongoing maintenance problem for any trail maintainer. He was big on filling those up and ridding the canal of groundhogs.”

Brady noted a technique Grove had developed to keep the groundhogs from digging holes on the towpath.

“He found a way to beat the groundhogs at their own game,” she said. “Over time, he discovered that a certain size of stone placed into the holes of these groundhogs would deter them from building on top of the trail.”

Grove also made his own uniform and encouraged other volunteers to do the same. He owned a Gator, equipped with everything he needed to help maintain the trail, never asking for any compensation for the money he spent.

“He never asked for compensation. He did this out of the goodness of his heart and paid for it out of his own pocket,” Dorsten said. “When he volunteered, he jumped in with both feet and anything it took.”

Just in the first half of this year, Grove had accumulated 923 hours of volunteer work on the canal trail.

“That’s equivalent to having one full-time staff member,” Dave Faler, of ODNR, said, noting when Grove went out on the trail, he often brought a friend. “He devoted that much time to the canal, and typically when he came out, he’d bring another volunteer with him.”

Grove’s dedication to the trail was evident lately, as he and his crew of volunteers helped clear the trail after the storm that ripped through the county earlier this month.

“He and several other volunteers went through and they got the trail cleared from St. Marys up to Spencerville, and then started working from St. Marys to New Bremen so people could go ahead and walk and bike through it,” Faler said. “Without him it would have been quite a long time before we would have been able to get it done.”

Faler said he appreciated all the work Grove did for the trail.

“We are grateful for his volunteering,” Faler said. “He did a wonderful job volunteering and on top of volunteering, he did a wonderful job managing and keeping track of what the other volunteers did as well. He didn’t stop with just helping on the canal. He also brought volunteers in and he coordinated them.”

In addition to all his volunteer work on the trail, Grove also enjoyed going out and meeting people.

“He was just an ambassador,” Brady said. “There were times where he would go along the trail and just talk to people. Not for the work, but sometimes just to talk to people and encourage them.”

A “teddy bear,” Grove never met someone he couldn’t be friendly with.

“He always had a smile on his face and he never knew a stranger,” Dorsten said. “He was one of those guys that could carry on a conversation with everybody. He could make friends with anybody. That was Mike.”