Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota’

Crews finish their hard work to restore the Kekekabic Trail

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Recently, a significant downfall was cut from across the Kekekabic Trail, an unofficial portion of the NCNST within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern MN.

It was the last tree that fell across the western 15 miles of the Kek during last summer’s very strong windstorms to be cut.  These storms left the Kek virtually impassable as thousands of trees were uprooted or snapped off and piled up on top of the trail.

Can you spot where the Trail goes?

 

Trail…what trail?

This spring, the Kekekabic Trail Chapter and Superior National Forest mobilized a volunteer army to pick up where volunteer crews and U.S. Forest Service staff completed their clearing last October.  Our spring crews included:

  • A crew of 7 volunteers led by Derrick Passe that worked on the Kek during the first week of May. They endured wind and snow to clear the first mile into the wilderness, providing a path of egress for subsequent work crews camping on Parent Lake.
  • A long weekend trip led by Mark Stange of the Kekekabic Trail Chapter that worked in the Parent Lake area on the Snowbank Lake Trail.
  • A four week-long CASP crew that was led by Derrick Passe of the Kekekabic Trail Chapter. In addition to his volunteer efforts last fall, Derrick spent the entire month of May out clearing the trails.  The CASP crew worked on the Disappointment Lake Trail, the Snowbank Trail, the Becoosin-Benezie loop trail, and the Kekekabic Trail east to Thomas Pond.
  • Two American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation crews led by the NCTA’s Matthew Davis and Brian Bittner of the Forest Service.  Check out a couple photo galleries from these two crews that worked on the Disappointment Lake and Kekekabic Trails in the Disappointment Lake area. Below is a photo chronology from these crews that shows what a trail clearing trip is like:

The crews met in Ely at the Forest Service office for the project orientation, which included watching the BWCAW Leave No Trace movie.

 

Jamie Lowe of the Forest Service talks about the work and issues PPE

 

The crews get ready to depart the Boy Scout Camp for the Snowbank Lake canoe landing. Thanks to SPACE Trailers (spacetrailers.com) for lending us the trailer to haul the group’s gear.

 

Canoeing 101 at the landing with Jamie Lowe and Brian Bittner of the Forest Service

The two crews separately canoed into their campsites as the maximum group size in the BWCAW is 9.

Crew members set up their camps on the SE corner of Disappointment Lake

The crews enjoy a celebratory dinner in Ely after paddling out and cleaning up

 

A special shout out goes to Derrick Passe for volunteering hundreds of hours during the entire month of May and making a HUGE difference!

Our thanks go to Jamie Lowe, Trails & Volunteer Coordinator for the Superior National Forest’s Kawishiwi District for all of his hard work on the trails and for his logistical support and assistance. Thanks also to Brian Bittner of the Forest Service for pinch hitting as a Volunteer Vacation crew leader…you saved us!

Our thanks also go to Keith Nelson and the entire staff of the Charles S. Sommers canoe base outside of Ely for hosting the crews before we went into the BWCAW and also the night we came out.

Skishoeing on the NCT

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Skishoeing? Oh yes, it’s a thing. 

One of the advantages of the North Country Trail is that we’re a four season trail. There’s something new to experience in each season. And since we’re hardy northerners, snow doesn’t keep us from enjoying the Trail. Snowshoeing is a popular activity on the Trail through the winter. But what about when there’s not enough snow? Regional Trail Coordinator Matt Davis shares his experience with skishoeing.

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I first heard of Altai Hok skis several years ago from LLC Chapter volunteers Jim & Jeri Rakness.  They kept insisting that I really needed to try them out.  At first, I couldn’t imagine what it was they were describing and, to be honest, I was a little skeptical.  This is because I was quite happy snowshoeing, a favorite winter activity of mine.  I’m lucky enough to snowshoe both for family fun and for work.  In Minnesota, we usually scout and flag new sections of the North Country National Scenic Trail during the winter because we can actually see in the leafless woods and go more places when the ground is frozen.

The last several winters here in northern Minnesota; however, have not delivered adequate snowfall for snowshoeing. So, last winter when I was invited to go out with some local NCTA volunteers on a backcountry ski outing I decided to finally try it.  We went across a frozen lake and some connected wetlands/beaver ponds because there was only about 2” of snowcover on the ground.  It was fantastic and love at first try with the Hok skis.

This past fall, I purchased a pair of Hoks and anxiously waited for the first snowfall. I first tried them out at a January 2nd backcountry exploration hike in Itasca State Park (source of the Mississippi River’s headwaters). The conditions were perfect for the Hoks.

Several other hikers asked to try out the Hok skis during the event. All enjoyed them and one person bought a pair that night.

Spreading the word at NCTA’s Winter Trails Day events

skishoeing on the north country trail

I also thought that backcountry XC skiing with the Hok skis would be a great addition to our Winter Trails Day events where we typically introduce people to snowshoeing.  Last winter, I had only one attendee at a free Learn to Snowshoe Clinic because there just wasn’t enough snow for people to get excited about trying it.  While this winter has delivered more snow than last year, it’s still not deep enough for me to need snowshoes – which are pure work to walk with when they’re not needed for flotation.  I was hoping that the inclusion of the backcountry XC skiing component and having pairs of Hoks on hand for people to try out would attract more interest.  That turned out to be the case.

On January 30th, we hosted a Winter Trails Day event at the MSUM Regional Science Center just east of Fargo, ND.  While the crowd was small (there was a big winter festival going on in town), everyone there was excited to try out the Hok skis.  We found a little patch of wind drifted snow in the prairie and people skied around and enjoyed themselves.  Several participants commented that they were going to look at buying a pair.  We also hosted a Winter Trails Day event on February 6th at Detroit Mountain Recreation Area in Detroit Lakes, MN that drew a good crowd.

2016-02-06-10-48-40While most admitted they were there to try snowshoeing, several did venture out on the Hok skis and had an enjoyable experience. A few inquired about where they could buy a pair.  Later that afternoon, we had a new participant show up for our guided hike/ski on the North Country Trail and she really enjoyed it.

After these experiences I’m convinced that if people interested in winter sports will try a pair of Hok skis they’ll love it. Many will want to purchase a pair. I can envision a time – maybe five or ten years from now –when local outdoors stores in northern Minnesota – and beyond – will carry Hok skis.  At this same time, our guided winter events on the NCT will feature equal numbers of snowshoers and Hok skiers.

Top 5 reasons why skishoes are perfect for the North Country Trail:

  • Because lately we haven’t received good enough snow for snowshoeing or XC skiing. While these are the more traditional winter silent sports activities here in MN & ND, they do require more snow than Hoks.
  • Because they are more efficient in covering ground than snowshoes and winter hiking. You have the ability to glide on each step and also to ski down the hills.
  • Because you can go just about anywhere with them on – across a frozen lake, up a frozen river, down a trail, etc.
  • Because they are so well made and durable.
  • Because they’re tons of fun!

Learn more:

Nicole Vik’s North Country Trail story

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story and photos by Nicole Vik

My story along the North Country Trail began last winter when my editor asked me if I was outdoorsy and suggested I cover outdoor events and news.

My first thought was, of course I’m outdoorsy, I grew up in Northern Minnesota. The question I should have asked myself was, am I athletic?

I decided to participate in a 3-mile snowshoe hike along a section of the trail in Itasca State Park because after all, hiking is just walking right? Wrong. Walking is not the same as hiking and hiking is certainly not the same as snowshoeing. It quickly became painfully apparent that I was desperately out of shape.

14292383_10202351581028861_6884275539011237241_nAt one point I found myself literally waddling up an extremely steep hill. As I struggled with my overly-large and borrowed snowshoes, my chest heaving for air, my brother strolled past me effortlessly while he pulled his sleeping child in a sled that was strapped around his waist. How pathetic I was, being passed by a guy pulling the weight of another human-being. Up a hill. Covered in ice.

I’m sure I was quite the sight; leaning forward in a squat with my butt up in the air struggling to move forward to prevent myself from sliding backward on the icy slope; desperately trying to stay on my feet.

With one mile left, it became my sole purpose in life to finish without crying. By the time I reached the parking lot my legs and hips were so weary it became my new purpose to make it to my vehicle without collapsing. Despite my struggles I did finish the hike, but I had absolutely no intention of ever going back out there.

I had no shame, I published my humiliating story as a column in the newspaper I work for and the response I got was completely unexpected. A few days after the story ran I got an email from Bruce Johnson, who is an active member of the Itasca Moraine Chapter of the North Country Trail Association, he told me he was proud of me for gutting it out and that he hoped I would continue hiking because he was confident that my attitude and perception would change.

At the time I had never even met Bruce, he was a complete stranger to me and I was honored that he had read my story let alone taken the time to encourage me to see it through, if it hadn’t been for him I never would have accepted the Hike 100 Challenge.

Growing up, I was a lazy little girl. My mother would take my brothers and me hiking and I was a bit of a burden on her as I would sit down on the side of the trail like the obstinate little brat that I was and refuse to continue on. “Are you just going to sit here? There is no going back you have to keep going forward,” she would say.

She then started strapping a bungee cord around my waist that she attached to her pack to pull me along and prevent me from plopping my heinie along the side of the trail and she would bribe me with the prospect of a treat when we reached our destination, which worked every time.

I followed like a puppy but the soothing ambience of the woods was drowned out by my insufferable whining as she towed me along behind her.

I started documenting our adventures by writing a series of columns for the newspaper and so many different people reached out to me, all of whom not only shared in my excitement for the trail but were eager to help with any questions or concerns I had.

This sparked my enthusiasm and I began doing research online, reading books, studying maps and I even attended some outdoor expos to absorb as much information as I could; I became obsessed. We purchased some new gear and hit the trail.

I started this journey hoping that by publishing our journeys we would inspire someone else to do something bold in their own life; something that would challenge them.

Isn’t that the point after all? Isn’t that why we face the lifelong struggle? To strive to make everyday worth living and achieve something we can take pride in? But instead I got so much more. I became a part of something so much bigger than I could have imagined and several doors began to open.

I have met several incredible people that I would never have otherwise met without the trail. I did an interview with Dan and Ruth Durrough, and for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting them they are an inspiring older couple from New York who just completed their final six miles of the entire 4,600 miles of the North Country Trail in September at the 2016 NCTA Celebration in eastern North Dakota through the Sheyenne National Grasslands and the Ekre Grassland Preserve. Being a part of their journey and being able to say I was among many that hiked the last six miles of their incredible journey with them is something I will likely never experience again.

During our interview, we were discussing how many connections the trail has to offer and Ruth sat looking at me contemplating that idea for a second before she said “isn’t that what a trail does” connecting you from one place to another and all the places and people along the way. Being senior citizens, Dan and Ruth also encouraged me to keep moving because they told me that at their age if they could do it I could do it.

I was asked to speak at the 10th Annual North Country Hiking Fest at Itasca State Park which for me is not as easy as it sounds, I’m a writer not a public speaker but I faced that fear and I’m glad I did because by doing so I got the opportunity to meet more people as equally enthusiastic about the outdoors as I am who told me that they were thrilled to hear my story which pushed me to keep going.

It was just further proof that the hiking community as a whole is so warm and inviting to those of us who are new to the trail and they are the most genuinely kind group of people I’ve ever had the privilege of coming into contact with.

I’ve pulled several members of my family and friends onto the trail all of whom were at different fitness levels and varying ages. Some were more comfortable in the woods than others but they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves because every trek is unique; it’s exciting to step out onto the trail because you never know what you might see and who you might meet.

img_4077I’ve become more comfortable with who I am by stepping outside of myself to realize that it is a much larger world than we sometimes remind ourselves.

There’s a peace that you feel being so far removed from the technology-based world which so many of us would struggle to live without.

In the middle of one hike I realized that daydreamers make the best hikers. Letting the mind wander helps the miles go by faster and it is a nice distraction from the blisters that are turning into craters on the bottoms of the feet.

The best hiking advice I’ve received is from a gentleman giving a lecture on hiking who said, “Just shut up and enjoy the solitude.” And he was right you will never hear quiet anywhere else like you hear on the trail.

There are places along the trail where the wilderness is so vast. It can be so still with no noise, not a single sound. No wind in the trees, no birds singing songs, no humming of distant traffic, no wildlife, no humans; just pure, complete and utter silence.

I’d be a liar if I said every hike has been good. One adventure started beautifully, the sun was shining with a nice light breeze. After stopping for lunch, I added treatment drops to a bottle of water that I pulled from a lake along the trail which would be more accurately described as a pond.

Two swans swimming casually in the water a short distance from me watched with vague curiosity as I scooped and filtered the water through a handkerchief and added the drops.

It tasted terrible but due to circumstances beyond my control I got sick and I consumed all of the lovely filtered water from my hydration bladder and I was forced to drink that scummy puddle water.

The handkerchief had served its purpose with excellence. There was not a single bit of debris floating in the bottle but the drops could not eliminate the earthy flavor.  I myself prefer flavorless water. I’m sure you won’t find “scummy puddle water” among the Kool-Aid drink mixes in the grocery aisle. I mean, I wouldn’t trademark that.

Anything can happen on the trail, no matter how diligently you plan you can never truly be prepared; obviously I was never a Boy Scout. Needless to say, any hiker at any level can gain vital knowledge with every step taken.

Throughout all of this I have gained confidence in my abilities with every mile that I put behind me and I feel a sense of pride within myself for sticking with it.

Bruce was right, by continuing to hike and write about my experiences my perception certainly has changed. When I’m not on the trail I miss it and I daydream about when I can get back out there.

The important thing to remember is that it is not about what you can’t do, it’s about the things you can do.

Start there and keep pushing and challenging yourself each and every day. Never stop growing and never stop thriving. And not to steal the thunder of Dan and Ruth but if I can do it, you can do it too.

-Nicole Vik is a staff reporter for the Park Rapids Enterprise in Park Rapids, Minn.  This article first appeared in the Call of the North, the NCTA’s newsletter for ND and MN.

You can read more of her stories about her time on the NCNST here:

http://www.parkrapidsenterprise.com/news/4089579-hiking-nct-connecting-foreigners-trail

http://www.parkrapidsenterprise.com/outdoors/4059880-hiking-4600-miles-across-country

How to Get the Best Feeling in the World

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photo by Alex Moses

Why do you volunteer on the North Country Trail or one of our Affiliate Partners (Buckeye Trail, Superior Hiking Trail, Finger Lakes Trail)?

We want to hear your story; please share it here. Help us inspire others to join this amazing community of volunteers. Your story might be the one that inspires someone else to get involved!

Enjoy this story and photos from Zach Johns, volunteer with the Superior Hiking Trail Association:

“Are you guys digging for gold or something?”

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photos by Zach Johns

A group of three hikers had just crested the knoll in front of us. As they passed, I could see confused looks as they eyed the unusual gear hanging off our packs which included a shovel, loppers and a five gallon bucket.

“No,” my eldest son replied.  “We’re on our way to Penn Creek to do our campsite inspection.”

We then explained how twice a year we hiked four miles round trip over some very rugged country to inspect a campsite, shovel out the fire pits, trim the brush and do any other light maintenance.

As usual, our fellow trail lovers showered us with profuse thanks. And also as usual, my kids’ faces beamed with pride as we continued down the trail. My heart swelled as I could see that they enjoyed being thanked by total strangers for doing good work.

Volunteering to help your favorite trail is one of the best feelings in the world.

Do it with your kids and the experience is amplified a thousand times.

kids volunteer on the Trail

When I started backpacking in my early twenties, hiking was a pretty selfish pursuit.

I wanted to rack-up mileage, finish entire trails, just hike, hike, hike!  I didn’t really think about all the work that’s involved with building and maintaining trails.

After I had finished the entire Superior Hiking Trail, I decided that I should join the association, at least paying yearly dues would be a small tribute to the trail that had given me so much. But it was when I had kids that my volunteer spirit really kicked in.

It might be the old “I want to make sure my kids have the same opportunities that I had” instinct. Or maybe the “we don’t own the earth, we were borrowing it from our children” proverb.

At any rate, by the time I hit my thirties I was in full volunteer mode and I wanted my kids to do it, too. I also wanted to instill in them a sense of responsibility in helping the natural world.

Ten years ago, when Nick was seven and Jackson was four, we adopted the Penn Creek campsite. The hikes we have taken over the past decade while doing our work are some of my fondest trail memories.  My kids have developed an attachment to the Superior Hiking Trail, and to wild nature in general.

Once you know a place, you’ll begin to love it.

And when you love something, you want to protect it.

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We’ve had scorching hot days, we’ve hiked in pouring rain.  We’ve hauled out tons of trash yet sometimes found our site in immaculate condition.  We’ve yelled, “room service” when finding tents in our site and even found it inhabited by bears.

Now that we’ve done it twenty times, we have names for nearly every nook and cranny along the way:  “Resting Rock,”  “Hollow Rock” “Fall Off Cliff,” “Sideways Meadow…” The section of trail between Silver Bay and Penn Creek feels like ours.

I asked the boys why they thought helping the trail was important and not surprisingly they were quick to respond. Nick especially sees the importance.

“We need to get these kids off their electronics and out into the real world,” he said. “We need future generations to protect our home.”

“Plus, it’s really cool,” added Jackson. “And hopefully when people see us kids out there helping the trail, they’ll want to help, too.”

North Country Trail Association is 35 years old!

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So today is our birthday!! The North Country Trail Association is 35 years old!

by Bruce Matthews, North Country Trail Association Executive Director

We’re youngsters compared to some, but that won’t keep us from celebrating.

It was on this day in 1981 that the first gathering of about 12 volunteers, including Lance Feild, Ginny Wunsch, and Ken Gackler, gathered at the bank in White Cloud, MI to discuss forming an organization to become the major non-profit partner with the National Park Service in building the North Country National Scenic Trail (signed into existence on March 5, 1980 by President Jimmy Carter as part of PL 96-199). Ginny is well-remembered for her service in acquiring the Birch Grove Schoolhouse for the NCTA, and faithfully managing it for many years.

Dues were set at $20, and Lance Feild, now the newly appointed President of the NCTA, was the first to make his payment as member # 1.

Early records are a bit sketchy (we don’t have meeting minutes from that first meeting) but among our list of current 30 year NCTA members are a few who joined in 1981 along with Ken Gackler—Don Beattie, Cecil and Joanne Dobbins, Milton Jones and Barbara Smith.

As we celebrate our birthday we recognize these pioneers whose faith in the legacy effort that will become a completed NCNST is the foundation of our organization. Their hard work has enabled us to be where we are today, and as we survey our landscape through the light of these 35 candles, we can see a LOT to be grateful for!

We're so thankful for all our volunteers over the past 35 years!

We’re so thankful for all our volunteers over the past 35 years!

So we should also list our 30-year members not already mentioned:

  • Pat Allen and Mark Miller (1983)
  • Joseph Brennan (1985)
  • Buckeye Trail Association (1985)
  • James Davis (1983)
  • Tom and Jan Gilbert (1982)
  • Anthony Haswell (1984)
  • Margaret Hutchins (1982)
  • James Kenning (1984)
  • Robert Krzewinski and Sally Allen Lund (1984)
  • Kalista Lehrer (1982)
  • Harlan Liljequist (1983)
  • Glenn Oster (1983)
  • James and Mary Richards/Maplelag (1983)
  • Dewey and Kay Wobma (1984)

So, step outside and join us in a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday, to US! The North Country Trail Association!

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Group hike with our Western Michigan Volunteers

Some highlights from the North Country Trail history:

1963—the national Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRC) issues recommendation that a national system of trails be developed.

1968—National Trails System Act passed by Congress.

1971—Feasibility study begins for the establishment of he North Country National Scenic Trail.

1980—North Country NST authorized by Congress

1981—North Country Trail Association established.

Aber---Sign-on-CR81--web1982—First issue of “The North Country Trailblazer” newsletter published and edited by Dr. John Hipps from Pennsylvania.

1989—Wes Boyd’s “Following the NCNST” becomes the first book published about the Trail.

1990—NPS locates administrative offices for the North Country and Ice Age National Scenic Trails, and the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail to Madison WI, and selects Tom Gilbert as superintendent.

1991—Byron and Margaret Hutchins publish their guide to “Certified Sections of the NCNST.”

1992—More than 1000 miles of NCNST now certified.

1995—The NCTA newsletter becomes the “North Star.”

1998—More than 1500 miles now certified.

1999—First hiking maps published by NCTA.

2000—NCNST named as one of only 16 National Millenium Trails by the White House. The only other National Scenic Trail so named is the AT.

2011—NPS Superintendent Tom Gilbert retires.

2012—NPS hires Mark Weaver as superintendent.

2015—NCNST grows to 2880 completed miles. Over $1.5 million in sweat equity spent by 1095 volunteers, almost $5 for every federal dollar supporting NCTA’s base operations.

New Trail Progress Report Celebrates Accomplishments on the North Country Trail

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2015 was an incredible year on the North Country National Scenic Trail.

Through innovative and collaborative partnerships and the dedication thousands of volunteers, our trail miles and amenities continue to grow, one year and one project at a time.

Without all of these partners, there would be no North Country Trail, but because there are so many partners, the full picture of what’s happening can be difficult to grasp.

J45 hike with Kenny

1,095 volunteers worked 66,166 hours, valued at $1.5 million by the independent sector!

This Trail Progress report is our newest tool to communicate the accomplishments of this vast and varied partnership. It summarizes our new trail miles, improvements, volunteer hours and money invested directly in the trail in 2015.

We’ve captured not only the North Country Trail Association accomplishments but those of our Affiliates, Partners and the Federal and State agencies that manage the trail and we’ll continue to strive for better and more complete information each year. This is only the beginning!

In 2015, our volunteers and partners built 23 miles of new North Country Trail giving us 2,880 miles of the NCT that are open for use!

The highlighted projects we’ve chosen give a representative look at accomplishments in several categories: construction and maintenance, planning and protection.

But they are only a sampling of the work by volunteers and agencies across seven states. With the accompanying online story map, we’ll be able to list many more projects which will only add to your sense of awe at all we can accomplish when working toward a common goal.

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$398,155 was spent on construction, maintenance, supplies and labor.

With this report, our partners and volunteers will be able to answer the questions:

  • What did we collectively accomplish on the North Country National Scenic Trail in 2015?
  • How much have we built in the past decade?
  • How many resources are we putting directly into the trail?

Spreading that message is a reminder to all of us to celebrate what we do and it’s an invitation to new people to join us in this quest to build the longest National Scenic Trail in America.

Click here or on the images below to view or download the full 2015 Trail Progress Report:

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2015 Trail Progress Report FINAL_Page_1

 

 

Hamming it up along the North Country Trail

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by John Forslin

The National Park Service and American Ham Radio have hooked up celebrate the NPS Centennial this year. The connection is that radio has a huge reach, and this is an opportunity for the world to listen in as hams tell each other about the Parks units they are “activating.” And truth told, hams have a great time doing the “activating!”

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Hauled battery and gear in on a Yooperscoop! Packed snow all the way so no stress. Hard assembling the antenna in -3 wind chill. Gloves came off for that! Chemical toe warmers helped, too! Photo by Kellie Barry-Angeli

So is ham radio still around? You bet! There are around 740,000 operators in the US.

The hobby has morphed over and over and has kept up with modern tech. Radio uses computers and the internet.

Hams bounce signals off the moon, northern light displays and meteor trails. Many hams help with service projects, and train with local emergency services to help in communications emergencies (fires, floods, hurricanes).

Activations are challenges – can we get equipment to a remote location, set up and operate successfully under adverse conditions?

The National Parks on the Air project is just a few weeks old and is already a stunning success in terms of getting hams out into park units and logging contacts.

The NCNST has been activated several times, with some venues being a little tougher than others. Hams “spot” activations by posting up about them on websites dedicated to this.

A few hams who are also Trail fans are plotting a Light Up the Trail weekend sometime in the spring, getting a few hams in each state the Trail traverses on the air on the same day. That would be very fun for the operators, too, and create considerable buzz about the scope of our Trail. Keep an eye on the NCTA e-mail newsletter for details.

You probably know active ham operators. Check with them if you can help on an activation or even just listen to some of the activity. Who knows – you might find yourself licensed before the years is out and playing along.

John Forslin, callsign KC8ULE
Marquette, Michigan

Moose in Danger in the North Country

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photos from MN-DNR

One of the greatest adventures along the North Country Trail is encountering wildlife in its natural habitat. Yet, one of the “Great North” species is in danger and seeing them along the Trail is becoming increasingly rare.

by Matthew Davis, Regional Trail Coordinator, North Dakota and Minnesota

What wildlife species do you think of when you think “quintessential North Country wildlife?” For many of us in the Red Plaid Nation, the moose (Alces alces) ranks high on our lists, maybe right up there with the timberwolf and black bear. Unfortunately, moose populations are in trouble across the North Country. I recently attended a presentation on the Health of Minnesota’s Moose Population that delved into this topic in some detail. Before I get into why they’re in trouble, we’ll start with some basics on the natural history of the moose.

Moose are the largest member of the deer family and live in northern latitudes around the world including Alaska, Canada, the Rockies, North Dakota and the upper Great Lake States, northern New York, New England, northern Europe, and Russia.

Moose_distribution

By Jürgen Gbruiker / User:Jrockley – Updated May 2013 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1589053

They are the second largest animal in both North America and Europe behind the bison. Two subspecies exist along the North Country Trail – the western (mid-size at up to 1,100 pound average adult male) and eastern (smallest at 805 pounds). The largest subspecies in North America is found in Alaska and the Yukon. Adult males there stand 6.5-7 feet tall; have antlers that can exceed 80” spread, and average 1,400 pounds.

North Country Trail hikers may find moose along the North Country Trail in North Dakota (Lonetree Wildlife Management Area is a good spot), Minnesota (along the Kekekabic & Border Route Trails and the northern half of the Superior Hiking Trail are your best bets), northeastern tip of Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (primarily in Marquette, Baraga and Iron counties), and upstate New York (primarily in the Adirondacks). They’re also found in Vermont for those hiking the proposed extension into the Green Mountain State.

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MN-DNR

Moose habitat is mixed temperate and boreal forests where they eat a mixture of woody vegetation, forbs/grasses, and aquatic vegetation. Unlike other deer species, moose are solitary animals that don’t typically congregate in herds. Males and females generally only exist in close proximity to each other during the rutting season in September and October Cows give birth in the early summer to one or two calves that stay with their mom until just before her next calves are born. Moose normally live from 5-15 years and their natural predators include wolves, bear, and humans. One of the longest active predator-prey studies has been conducted on Isle Royale looking at the interaction of wolves and moose (learn more at http://www.isleroyalewolf.org/). Unfortunately, the future of this research is in question as the wolf pack is down to 3 individuals. As you would expect, the moose population in the National Park is increasing.

You may have seen in the news that moose numbers are precipitously declining in Minnesota and similar population declines are being observed elsewhere across the temperate region of the United States.

Sidebar: Anecotally, I observed a drastic drop in moose sign (piles of droppings) in between visits to the Kekekabic Trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness between 2009 and 2015.

The presentation on moose that I attended was co-sponsored by the Arrowhead Chapter and held at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids, MN. It was given by Michelle Carstensen, the Minnesota DNR Wildlife Division’s Wildlife Health Program Supervisor. Michelle earned a Ph.D. in wildlife conservation from the University of Minnesota, has been employed by the DNR since 2004, and has been working on a non-hunting moose mortality study here in northern Minnesota for the last several years.

How the innovative research project works:

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MN-DNR

The DNR installed sophisticated and expensive GPS collars on 173 adult moose in northeastern Minnesota. The collars will alert the researchers when a moose has died (the trigger is when the collar is inactive for more than 6 hours) by sending both an email and text message. Upon notification, a rapid response team of researchers attempts to reach the moose within 24 hours and then determines what killed it (if possible). They are looking to see if the moose was in an accident (hit by train, car, etc), looking for signs of predation, looking for evidence of parasites, and taking note of other general health issues. The researchers will extricate the moose if possible and take it to the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Minnesota (St. Paul) or perform a field necropsy when necessary (see http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/moose/index.html and http://www.nrri.umn.edu/moose/methods/necropsy.html).

In the first 3 years of the study, a total of 47 collared moose died and the leading causes of death were:

  • Wolf kills (34%)
  • Bacterial infections (21%) – which can be caused by infected wolf bites among other things
  • Parasites (32%)
  • Accident (2%)
  • Undetermined health issues (11%)

Currently, 74 moose remain with functioning collars and data is still being gathered. In addition to determining what is causing the mortality, the research aims to determine what (if anything) can be done to help stabilize the moose population (and hopefully reverse the decline). The GPS data from the collars provides researchers with abundant data to analyze the specific habitat needs of the moose. This may lead to landscape level recommendations that will guide forestry and other land management activities to make them more moose friendly.

Here are some of my takeaways from Michelle’s presentation:

1) Minnesota’s moose population is in a drastic decline.

There used to be two distinct populations in Minnesota – one in the northwest corner and another in the northeast corner. With less than 100 animals left, the northwest herd has plummeted from over 4,000 in the 1986 and researchers don’t even monitor it anymore. The northeast herd has lost over half in the last 10 years – dropping from 8,160 in 2005 down to 3,450 in 2015.

2) Annual adult moose mortality is approaching 20% in northeastern Minnesota whereas 8-12% is considered “normal” in moose populations.

moose

MN-DNR

Because of this heightened adult mortality and population decline, moose hunting was stopped in northwestern Minnesota in 1997 and in northeastern Minnesota in 2013.

3) Except for the high elevation area in the Rockies, Minnesota is the southernmost extension of the Moose’s range in the U.S.

This means that Climate Change and its resultant warmer winters and summers will both pose significant challenges for moose – an animal that has problems dealing with heat stress.

4) Much of the parasitism affecting moose relates directly to the expansion of whitetail deer north into the moose range following the great cutover a hundred years ago.

Brainworm and liver flukes are spread by deer (an alternate host species). Learn more at http://www.nrri.umn.edu/moose/information/diseases.html. Climate change will allow more deer to survive in northeastern Minnesota. Learn more at http://www.nrri.umn.edu/moose/information/deer.html.

5) Researchers are also studying moose calves to determine what is happening with their populations.

They have measured a low calf:cow ratio, meaning that the adult population – again suffering from higher than normal mortality – is not being adequately replaced by calves reaching adulthood. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s Governor recently banned the collaring of additional calves because of the research related high mortality rate among calves.

People who like moose should be grateful that Michelle, her team, and all the partners (see http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/fish_wildlife/wildlife/moose/management/mooseresearch.pdf for a summary of all the ongoing Moose research in Minnesota) are out there trying to get to the bottom of this issue. While the results of their research may not ultimately save the moose in Minnesota, it will be helpful in other places to ensure that this iconic North Country wildlife species will survive well into the 21st Century and beyond.

Useful resources:

You can support the moose research via the Call of the Moose Minnesota organization (http://www.callofthemoose.com/) and Minnesota residents can purchase the Moose critical habitat plate (http://dnr.state.mn.us/features/plates/index.html) which helps fund the research.

Minnesota’s Star Tribune recently posted an informative and interactive article here.

Books:

Learn more about moose in your state:

Matthew would like to thank Michelle for making the presentation in Grand Rapids, MN and for reviewing this post, making corrections, and offering valuable suggestions.

Hike the NCT in 10 Minnesota State Parks and earn “Double Miles!”

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125hike100header

Yes, that is right…if you hike miles on the NCT in Minnesota State Parks during  2016 you’ll earn double the miles. 

Unfortunately, no we haven’t found a major airline partner to co-sponsor the program and give away free frequent flyer (“hiker?”) miles.  But we do have two great programs and rewards for your effforts!

Every NCT mile you hike in a Minnesota State Park in 2016 will count towards both our Hike 100 Challenge – recognizing the National Park Service’s Centennial – and also the Minnesota State Parks & Trails’ Boot, Bike, and Boat 125 Challenge in honor of Itasca State Park’s 125th anniversary.

You’ll earn a special Hike 100 Challenge patch and certificate from us, as well as a limited edition 125 Finisher sticker from the Minnesota DNR. Plus, you’ll have loads of bragging rights.

The second oldest State Park in the U.S., Itasca was “set aside” by the Minnesota legislature back on April 20, 1891 to protect the remaining old growth pine forest and the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca.  In honor of Itasca’s anniversary, the Itasca Moraine and Laurentian Lakes Chapters of the North Country Trail Association have scheduled a monthly event in conjunction with the Park.  The Itasca events are listed online here.

SHTADespite the fact that the “Arrowhead Re-route”  hasn’t been enacted by Congress yet, miles hiked on the Superior Hiking Trail® will count towards the Hike 100 Challenge.  #NotLettingCongressHoldUsBack

To participate in these two unique challenges, simply register for the Hike 100 Challenge on our website here and track your miles hiked on the NCT. Then download the Minnesota DNR’s mileage tracking sheet here.  Be sure to check out the DNR’s calendar of events to see which guided hikes are already been scheduled.

Minnesota State Parks where you can earn the “Double Miles” include:

Maplewood State Park – features a 3 mile NCT segment from the Trail Center south to Maplewood Church: Map.

Itasca State Park – features 13 miles of the NCT crossing the Park’s southern tier: Map.

Judge C.R. Magney State Park – features ~7 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail along the Brule River and past the Devil’s Kettle: Map.

Cascade River State Park – features ~6 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail along the Cascade River: Map.

Temperance River State Park – features ~8 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail over Carlton Peak and along the Temperance River: Map.

Superior Hiking Trail

Superior Hiking Trail, photo by Matt Davis

George H. Crosby-Manitou State Park – features ~6 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail through the Park’s backcountry: Map.

Tettegouche State Park – features ~10 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior: Map.

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park – features ~5 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail on the ridgetop and along the Split Rock River: Map.

Gooseberry Falls State Park – features ~6 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail along the Gooseberry River and past numerous waterfalls: Map.

Jay Cooke State Park – features ~10 miles of the Superior Hiking Trail: Map.

There are also several sections where the Superior Hiking Trail is co-located on the Willard Munger and North Shore State Trails.  These (roughly) 10 miles count as well.

Be sure to share photos of your hikes on social media using the following hashtags:
#Hike100NCT, #MNStateParks, #OnlyInMN

Meet the New Glacial Edge Chapter in Western Minnesota

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Glacial-Edge

Crossing the Fergus Falls Fish & Game Club’s One Mile Lake Prairie property with the City water tower in the background.

By Matt Davis, Regional Trail Coordinator, Minnesota

After three years of community outreach and organizing, there is a brand new NCTA Chapter in Minnesota!

The Glacial Edge Chapter was officially approved by the Board at their December meeting and its small group of diehard volunteers is already hitting the ground running. The Chapter’s leadership took on responsibility for the NCT from the North Dakota border at Fort Abercrombie southeast and then northeast across Wilkin and Otter Tail Counties to Frazee (where the Laurentian Lakes Chapter takes over). This roughly 100-mile section currently has only 3 miles of certified trail in Maplewood State Park with no marked road walk. Much of the original planned route was to use abandoned railroad grades that are no longer viable options. It is one of the biggest challenges for trail development across the entire 4,600 miles.

Western Minnesota

The NCT will parallel the Central Lakes Trail, a 185-mile long rail trail that ends in Fergus Falls, for about a mile.

Glacial Edge Chapter President

Chapter president Allan Schroden stands on City-owned and Otter Tail Power owned property above the Hoot Lake powerplant and the Otter Tail River.

A majority of the Chapter’s route section (ND to Maplewood State Park) was just analyzed by Luke Jordan in his Optimal Location Review (OLR) project. Part of the NCT’s route crosses the intensively developed agricultural Red River Valley while the other half heads through a landscape mix of forested hills, crop fields and pasture, abundant lakes and wetlands, rural residential lots, and large lakes with expensive summer homes. Nearly all of the land is privately-owned. Needless to say the Chapter’s task will be a big challenge.

Initially, the Chapter will focus on developing a 9-mile loop trail within the City of Fergus Falls that will be half off-road footpath and half urban trail using City sidewalks and paved trails. Fortunately for the Chapter, there are already some fantastic existing hiking trails on the edge of the City and the planned route will tie them all together with some new trail segments. A lot of partner support has already been cultivated by the Chapter volunteers. The Chapter will be hosting a kickoff membership event this spring at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center that will introduce the NCT to the community and showcase the existing hiking trails in the area. The goals for the event are to generate more interest in the NCT, sign up more charter members, and also recruit additional volunteers to help complete the new NCT segments.REV Route Map with labels

You can follow the Chapter’s activities via the Minnesota Facebook page and also the Chapter’s Meetup group.