The North Country Trail is the nations newest long distance trail
By Mike Terrell 10/19/09
What is four feet wide and thousands of miles long?
The North Country Trail, and its coming near your neighborhood.
The NCT stretches about 4,600 miles over seven states from the New York/Vermont border through the Adirondack Mountains, around the Great Lakes and across the Mississippi River to Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota. Over 1,100 miles of the long trail meanders through Michigans two peninsulas, which is one of the longest segments among the seven states.
The pathway is the nations newest and longest long distance hiking trail; twice the length of the famed Appalachian Trail. The NCT is now one of eight National Scenic Trails designated by congress.
ACT OF CONGRESS
It was born in 1980 when Congress passed legislation creating the new trail, and it has grown thanks to the support of thousands of volunteers through local chapters that take care of sections of the trail. In just a scant 29 years, over half of the trail has already been completed. Where its not, long distance hikers have to use back roads to fill in the gaps. It took over 80 years to complete the Appalachian Trail.
I interviewed a young man, Andrew Skurka, during the winter of 2004/05 who was doing a transcontinental hike utilizing the full length of the NCT and other long distance trails to complete his trek. It was January and I caught up with him in Mesick. He had started hiking in August from the east coast and figured that the Straits of Mackinac was his halfway point across the continent.
Most Americans can identify the crown jewels of long distance hiking, but many dont know about this trail yet, he said as we talked. Its a beautiful trail. It offers superb scenery and lots of local flavor as well. It connects communities, but still offers lots of solitude.
If you want to see a cross-section of American life, take a hike on the NCT. The people Ive met along this hike have been a great support, especially the hiking clubs that take care of the trail.
Four local chapters of the NCT Association take care of the trail in northwest Michigan from the Manistee National Forest all the way to the Bridge; Spirit of the Woods, Grand Traverse Hiking Club, Tittabawassee, and Harbor Springs. Between them they maintain close to 300 miles of trail, which takes lots of volunteer hours.
Arlen Matson, who lives in the Grand Traverse Region, has been working on the trail since the mid-1980s. He wont venture a guess on how many hours over the years he has spent on trail work, saying only, It would probably be astounding to even me.
Last summer the club spent about 1,400 man hours of work rerouting an eight-mile section of trail along Hodenpyl Dam Pond to get it off long stretches of county roads. This is typical of chapter activities where constant reroutes are in process to keep the trail in the woods and off roads.
Nobody likes hiking along a road, especially if youre on a multi-day hike, pointed out Matson. You like scenic woodlands, lakes, rivers to hike along; a place thats peaceful and quiet.
The nice thing about the NCT is that you dont have to be a long distance hiker to enjoy the trail. Most hikers use the trail for scenic day treks.
With the NCT in close proximity to several communities along its length in northwestern Lower Michigan, it offers lots of opportunities for splendid day hikes with a variety of scenery to enjoy. Passing through deeply wooded national and state forests, snaking along tall bluffs overlooking the Manistee River, through areas like Muncie Lakes, Sand Lakes Quiet Area, the Jordan River Valley, Chandler Hills, the reroute along the Bear River through Petoskey, the tall hills north of Harbor Springs, and Wilderness State Park, the NCT takes you through some of the finest natural areas in the northwest region.
Following are some recommended day treks from members of the four chapters. Lace up those hiking boots and hit the trail for some of the best views in northern Lower Michigan.
Joan Young, Spirit of the Woods Chapter, likes to hike from the walk-in semi-primitive Bowman Lake campground, located west of Baldwin off Kinney Road. The glacially sculpted kames (small pointed hills) provide a scenic, spirited walk. You head north of the campground on the NCT and return on a trail along the western boundary. Its about a six-mile loop.
John Heiam, Grand Traverse Hiking Club, likes hiking from Highbanks Rollaway, located south of Kingsley and east of Buckley, off No. 4 Road. The NCT meanders along high bluffs above the Manistee River Valley offering views of 20 and 30 miles. Its out-and-back hiking, and you can hike as far as you want. Its 19 miles to M-37.
Dennis Hansen, author of the Trail Atlas of Michigan, likes a section of the trail that runs nine miles from CR-612 to Starvation Lake Road. He says its beautiful rolling country with a new visual experience at every turn; distant views, upland hardwood forests, golden aspen, a pond and a lake. Its near Pickerel Lake State Forest Campground.
Jerry Keeney, Harbor Springs chapter, likes a section of trail in the southern half of Wilderness State Park. Hike from Sturgeon Bay Trail Road over to Lakeview Trail Road along the NCT, which cuts through ancient dune swales, and hike back along Sturgeon Bay beach. Its around five miles.
Another out-and-back hike that I like is following the trail from Shecks Landing on the Boardman River over to Valley of the Giants and return, about a five mile round trip. The trail runs along 22 Mile Creek through the valley, which is populated by an old growth stand of trees. Many are thought to be well over 200 years old.
For more information on the NCT or the four local chapters log onto www.northcountrytrail.org.