Our Stories

Superior Partnership

Categories: Minnesota, Trail Maintenance


The Superior National Forest is a 3.9-million-acre mix of boreal forest and water, located in the tip of Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region. It dates back to a proclamation by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 and is administered by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from five ranger district offices and a supervisors’ office in Duluth.

About 250 miles of the NCNST will traverse the Superior National Forest, including (from east to west):

  • Future NCNST in the Laurentian District between Side Lake and west of Peyla
  • Existing temporary NCNST route on the Mesabi Trail in the Kawishiwi District west of Ely
  • Future NCNST route between Ely and the Kekekabic Trail (currently being developed)
  • The existing Kekekabic Trail / NCNST that crosses the Kawishiwi, Tofte, and Gunflint Districts
  • The existing Border Route Trail / NCNST within the Gunflint District
  • The existing Superior Hiking Trail / NCNST between the Gunflint and Tofte Districts

See a map of the region here. (Link opens a new tab.)

The NCTA and its Kekekabic Trail Chapter work closely with the Kawishiwi and Gunflint Districts to manage the Kekekabic Trail, which lies mostly within the million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This location presents unique challenges because of its remote location and primitive nature. Simply put, neither of the partners would be able to do the work required without the on-the-ground support and behind-the-scenes assistance of the other. It’s truly a symbiotic relationship. The USFS has typically provided canoes, canoeing gear, radios/communication devices, tools, and a free Wilderness permit for trail clearing trips.

As of early 2023, we are addressing flooded segments near Seahorse and Bingshick Lakes, and an off-road connection between the Kekekabic and Border Route Trails to avoid a roadwalk connector. Eric Campbell, Kekekabic Trail Chapter President, said “The special support from Forest Service staff in the Kawishiwi and Gunflint Districts has been critical in supporting and organizing volunteers (approximately 50 per year) for multi-day, annual work trips. Keeping the Kekekabic Trail open is a major effort, and it couldn’t be done without this valued partnership!”

Two NCTA Affiliate partners, the Border Route Trail Association (BRTA) and Superior Hiking Trail Association (SHTA), also work closely with the Superior National Forest on their trail segments. Similar issues occur on the Border Route Trail, which is about half within the Boundary Waters.

“I had the opportunity to work with the Superior National Forest staff and BRTA to come up with a plan to respond to [damage from] the tornado that struck the Border Route Trail near Clearwater Lake in late 2021,” said Matt Davis, NCTA Regional Trail Coordinator. “USFS staff flagged the Trail as best they could through the blowdown right before winter hit, and then we had a combined crew of NCTA volunteers and USFS staff that tackled the clearing in May 2022. What we didn’t get done was finished by Forest Service wilderness staff mid-June. Locals were quite surprised at the speed at which this BRT segment was reopened, and that is directly attributable to our great partnership with the Superior National Forest.”

The Superior Hiking Trail presents different challenges because of its popularity and impacts from flooding events.

“The Superior National Forest staff sets the standard for excellence and dedication, as far as I’m concerned,” said Tamer Ibrahim, SHTA Trail Operations Director. “They are responsive, honest and straightforward, and always willing to help. Much like every other public land agency and organization they are short-staffed, but they make every effort to accommodate and assist when they can. They have helped us financially, giving the SHTA approximately $100,000 in cash and materials over the last five years, and they have helped us move a lot of that material into place – no small feat. They have given us places to store materials and equipment. Bigger picture, their staff advocates for the importance of the Superior Hiking Trail and others within the National Forest, which is critical for our continued existence. They are a true partner!”

The Superior National Forest staff have historically offered a sawyer training workshop each spring for a large number of NCNST volunteers. This training is held in the Twin Cities, where many of these volunteers live.

“This training has covered both crosscut saw and chainsaw operation, and is the best example I’ve seen of an agency partner providing the training in a volunteer-friendly manner,” said Matt.

The NCTA has recognized the Superior National Forest staff with NCTA Awards in the past, including Jamie Lowe (Friend of the Trail, 2018) and Tammy Cefalu (Friend of the Trail, 2022).

Learn more about the Superior National Forest’s history here.