A birthday, of sorts…
On March 5, 1980, Congress passed legislation authorizing the North Country National Scenic Trail, culminating efforts that began even before the National Trails System Act of 1968, which established the Appalachian and Pacific Crest National Scenic Trails (NST’s) as the nation’s first.
The Appalachian Trail, conceived by Benton MacKaye and others in the early 1900’s, popularized the notion of long distance hiking trails in the U.S. By the early 1960’s, with that decade’s growing national momentum in conservation, environmental and outdoor recreation initiatives, establishing a national trails system become one of the priorities. Recommended as part of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission Report in the early 60’s and supported by President Johnson’s “Natural Beauty Message” in 1965, subsequent federal studies and reports led to the enactment of the National Trails System Act of 1968 (Public Law 90-543). In addition to establishing the AT and Pacific Crest as the first NST’s, the Act also called for further study on 14 similar potential projects, one of which was the North Country Trail.
In 1971, a combined federal-state task force was assembled to study the feasibility of the North Country Trail. Initially overseen by David Schonck and later Bob Martin out of the Ann Arbor, MI office of the then Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, this study was supported by a new and now-familiar face in 1973—a young, newly graduated Tom Gilbert. A new hire at the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (an agency whose functions were later absorbed by the National Park Service) Tom Gilbert was assigned to developing materials to support the series of public meetings to be held across the northern tier of states where the North Country Trail was being proposed. Tom Gilbert later became the first and currently only Superintendent of the North Country National Scenic Trail for the National Park Service.
The authorized route that the NCT follows today differs significantly in many areas from some of the initial proposals. Some of the early proposed route highlights and suggestions included:
- Linking up with the Appalachian Trail in Vermont
- Transecting Ohio through Columbus to the Michigan/Indiana border
- Following the Lake Michigan shoreline
- A large loop in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
- Hugging the Bayfield Peninsula in Wisconsin
- Following the length of the Sheyenne River in North Dakota
The trail’s current route was—and continues to be the direct result of public input received during those early and subsequent public meetings. Uniting America’s red plaid nation, the North Country NST immerses the hiker in the best natural features and cultural heritage the North Country has to offer.