We’ve loved hearing all of your stories from the Hike 100 Challenge during 2016. We heard stories of people who decided to hike a little bit in all 7 states, those who did all the border crossings, a woman who finished hiking all of Michigan, and now a couple who hiked all the miles in their county in Michigan. It’s a choose-your-own adventure challenge. What will you do for 2017? Sign up now and join us!
Photos and story by K.D. and TJ Norris
Kent County, in west Michigan, is shaped like an oblong box measuring about 25 miles east to west and about 35 miles north to south. The North Country Trail runs the length of the county, but at a total of 71 meandering miles, with protected woodlands at the north border, rural farmlands on the south border, and mostly suburban roadways between.
As North Country Trail Association newcomers and recent Kent County residents, we decided our 2016 Hike 100 trek would be to hike the county. And hike every mile of it we did, some sections twice as often logistics required out-and-back hikes. The ending total on the border-to-border hike was 112.5 total miles.
The trek began in January, with light snow on the ground in second-growth forests, continued through spring trillium blooms and bug swarms, and included one 90-degree summer day walking asphalt roads skirting the Grand Rapids metro area. It ended in early November along freshly harvested corn and soy bean fields just south of Lowell, the mid-way point of the NCT and national headquarters of the North Country Trail Association.
Much of the county’s NCT is walked on rural roads of both the paved and gravel variety, with several short sections of paved hike/bike paths and even sidewalks in the area of Rockford (a lovely town along the Rogue River and connector to a spur south into downtown Grand Rapids). From Rockford north, the trail follows the path of the heavily biked White Pine Trail north from Rockford to Indian Lakes Road, and may soon extend on the White Pine farther north to Cedar Springs before heading west.
That extension would be a good thing, too, as walking along Indian Lakes Road west of the White Pine Trail was maybe the most dangerous stretch to walk, where hikers share a heavily-traveled paved road with cars; at least it was so when this pair walked it in the spring.
Among the highlights, and occasional warnings, of the hike were:
- Trestle Park: on the White Pine Trail between Indian Lakes Road and Rockford, has a great historic marker detailing the restored railroad trestle. It also has toilet facilities, but bring your own paper and sanitary wipes!
- Sunfish Lake: just south of Cannon Township Park on Belding Road (with parking and supplied public toilets), the highlight a long boardwalk through an extensive wetlands area filled with abundant aquatic and avian wildlife.
- Townsend Park: just north of Cannonsburg Road NE, paved walkway but still a welcome detour off paved roads.
- Between Seidman Park and Fallasburg Park: a puzzling portion of the trail; depending on your direction you backtrack north to south on the trail. For us, we walked from south of 2 Mile to back up north of 3 Mile roads before returning south of 2 Mile again, and all on public roads until Fallasburg Park, with its scenic Flat River crossing.
- Biggs Avenue NE: part of the Seidman to Fallasburg park jog, the trail is a rural country road passing through a large farm. Cows and cornfields and that peculiar smell of real rural life. It’s an acquired appreciation but ambiance nonetheless.
- The City of Lowell: NCT office, the Flat River dams, a very nice wooded area at the confluence of the Flat and Grand rivers (where we saw an eagle on an August afternoon). And a brew pub in downtown. All good on a late summer day.
- Grand River crossing to Barry County line: long stretch of walking on paved county roads (crossing Interstate 96), with the northern portion heavy-traveled by vehicles and the southern portion lightly traveled and a much more pleasant walk.
All and all, the Kent County portion of the NCT may not be the most scenic stretch of the trail, and we understand it is still in flux as to route.
But if you are traveling from the east to the west on the trail (south to north through Michigan) you can look forward to more extensive stretches of woodlands north of the county as the trail enters the Manistee National Forest.
We plan to strike north of Kent County as part of this year’s #Hike100NCT miles.