In March 1980, Congress passed legislation authorizing the North Country National Scenic Trail.
Recommended as part of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission Report in the early 1960’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. In addition to establishing the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail as the first National Scenic Trails, 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. In 1973, Tom Gilbert joined the study support team. He was a new hire at the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, and was assigned to develop materials to support 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 Superintendent of the North Country National Scenic Trail for the National Park Service.
The authorized route that the NCNST follows today differs significantly in many areas from some of the initial proposals. Some of the early proposed route highlights and suggestions included transecting Ohio through Columbus to the Michigan/Indiana border, following the Lake Michigan shoreline, a large loop in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and 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 eight states, the North Country Trail immerses the hiker in the best natural features and cultural heritage the North Country has to offer.
In March 1981, about 12 volunteers gathered at the bank in White Cloud, Michigan to discuss forming an organization: a major nonprofit partner with the National Park Service in building the North Country National Scenic Trail. Dues were set at $20. Lance Feild, the newly appointed President of the North Country Trail Association, was the first to make his payment as member #1. Headquarters was the Birch Grove Schoolhouse in White Cloud. The Association has since moved headquarters to Lowell, Michigan, grown to a dozen staff and thousands of volunteers and members.
Header photo provided by Western Michigan Chapter.