Posts Tagged ‘volunteers’

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 ( 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.

North Country Trail in Fort Custer National Cemetery

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by Kenny Wawsczyk, Michigan Regional Trail Coordinator, photos courtesy of Chief Noonday Chapter.

Across seven states the North Country Trail has the privilege to traverse through  a wide variety of properties, from large Forest Service land to small parcels in urban areas.

In Kalamazoo County there’s a unique property that the NCT is allowed to go through, the Fort Custer National Cemetery. During WW II Fort Custer served as a training ground for soldiers. Today, as you stand in what is now wetland, you can still see this history through the man made shapes of the land.

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Over two miles of Trail are found within the 770 acre parcel and the Chief Noonday Chapter has been working for the past few years to improve and replace the existing structures. So far the chapter has completed a total of 260 feet of puncheon, (not contiguous) as well as a 30 foot bridge that was built in 2015. 

With the bridge being built last year the chapter was able to focus on the puncheon this year. And with only approximately 40 feet left to go as well as a few touch-ups here and there it was definitely a successful year.

Ron and Jeff

Volunteers Ron and Jeff on the puncheon.

Volunteers from the chapter were happy to receive help from the Battle Creek Academy as well as the Michigan Youth Challenge Academy. These kids did a lot of hauling of gravel and lumber back into the sites as access to the area is limited. They also did more than just carry material as they got some experience building the structures too.

Michigan Youth Challenge Academy work on the Trail

Michigan Youth Challenge Academy Students work on the Trail


Battle Creek Academy Students work on the Trail

Battle Creek Academy Students work on the Trail

In October I too finally got the opportunity to help out. It never fails to amaze me how much time and effort our volunteers put into each and every project they are a part of.

So if you’re looking to hike a unique area I highly suggest heading to Augusta in Kalamazoo County, Michigan. There’s road side parking off Fort Custer Dr just north of M-96. (Find this on retail map MI-02.)

Then hike less than a half mile into the Fort Custer Recreation Area and just east of the newly built bridge you’ll enter an area that holds a lot of history and your feet will be dry thanks to the volunteers of the Chief Noonday Chapter.

And if you’re in the area, be sure to check out the special services that happen each Memorial Day Weekend in the Fort Custer National Cemetery.

Jeff and Mick Hawkins, volunteers with the Chief Noonday Chapter.

Jeff and Mick Hawkins, volunteers with the Chief Noonday Chapter.

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?”


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.


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.”

Blazing Best Practices

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With Spring in the air, it’s the time of year where trail maintenance and building goes into full gear. Giving faded blazes a fresh coat of paint is one task, along with blazing any newly-built sections of trail. To find out how you can volunteer for projects like these, contact your local chapter here.


by Bill Menke, Regional Trail Coordinator–Wisconsin

There are many different types of signs along the North Country NST. Each has a different purpose and all are valuable but blazes are the “workhorse” of signs.

Blazes far outnumber all of the other types of signs and are the key feature that allows a hiker to follow the trail. It’s important that you follow the standards published by the National Park Service for color and size.

With the suggestions below for proper spacing and tree choice, your blazes will be crisp and ready to guide the hiker.

Watch our blazing video:


Nelson Boundary Paint-Blue.   Originally formulated for marking property boundaries (survey lines) in forested areas, it adheres especially well to trees and is long lasting in the outdoor environment.   Yes, it is oil based and thus requires a little more work to remove the inevitable splatters from your skin but its durability and correct color outweigh that minor inconvenience.


Blazing in the Allegheny National Forest

2” X 6” crisp, vertical rectangle. A single blaze indicates to the hiker they are on the right track and two offset blazes indicate a sharp turn in the trail. A dollar bill is a little bit bigger than 2” X 6” but it is usually as near as your pocket and gives a decent approximation of the correct size. Cut a small notch in your paintbrush handle or paint an example on your blaze kit for reference.

Preparing the tree

The spot where the blaze will be painted should be clean, smooth, and free of furrows or cracks to allow a crisp, square-cornered blaze that is properly sized. It also allows the paint to adhere better and remain longer. Use the hatchet and wire brush in your blaze kit to remove lichens, bark and other debris. See tools and technique below for suggestions.



When walking the trail, during leaf-on season, a hiker should see only one blaze at any one time.   Within a few steps of passing a blaze, the next one should become visible.       Too often, over zealousness has led to 4, 5, or even 6 blazes visible at a time. This is tantamount to sign pollution and can tarnish the hiker’s experience in the wild.

We recommend a team for blazing. The lead person starts down the trail and selects a tree he/she feels is best to blaze. The paint person remains behind and confirms the tree selection or suggests a different tree that shows up better or that a tree either closer or further away should be selected. The third person, with the lopper, is needed to clear brush to keep blazes in sight.

If blazing alone, paint only one way at a time and paint backwards.   Here’s how. Say you are walking north on the trail with brush and paint kit in hand. Paint the first blaze on the north side of a tree where you begin.

Progressing north on the trail, keep looking back over your shoulder at the last blaze to judge when it is no longer clearly visible due to distance or trail alignment. At that point, choose the next prominent tree that is highly visible to a hiker coming south and again paint on the north side of the tree.

Keep progressing in this manner until reaching the turn around point. Repeat the process of looking over your shoulder but now you are walking south and painting on the south side of the tree—selecting trees that are highly visible to northbound hikers.

Choosing a tree


One well-placed tree with a blaze is better than three poorly placed trees. Most often, these trees occur on the outside of a curve so they come into view quickly for a hiker. They are close to the trail and unblocked by other trees or shrubs. Often, a tree that is highly visible from one direction is not visible from the other direction so don’t depend on blazing the same tree on both sides. It does not matter which side of the trail a particular blaze falls on as long as the most visible tree is selected.

When it comes to which species of tree to blaze, some are better than others but your options will be limited by location.

  • Young aspen are a poor choice. If you must choose Aspen, just recognize that you will have to repaint every 1-2 years.
  • Paper Birch is another species that is so-so for blazing. The blue blazes show up well against the white bark but it is difficult to clean the tree of loose bark without creating more loose bark.
  • Some of the better trees in the northern lake states are Red Pine, Jack Pine, White Pine, Red Oak, Red Maple, Balsam Fir, Ash, and Hornbeam (musclewood).


Blazing the North Country Trail

photo by Peter Zelinka

Make a blazing kit with the following items:

  • Screw top plastic peanut butter (or similar) jar, full of blue paint.
  • Citrus solvent or mineral spirits make for easy cleanup.
  • An empty plastic receptacle to hold your brush while walking between trees.
  • 1″ wide paint brush.
  • Wire brush with a builtin paint scraper.
  • Hatchet (hand axe) that is very sharp.
  • Rag
  • Something to reference to ensure correct blaze size
  • Trail Adopter Handbook – download online or request a copy from

Everyone has favorite tools and methods. I like 1” wide brushes and plastic peanut butter jars for paint. I prefer a hatchet that is kept very sharp and a wire brush with a built-in paint scraper at the end. I have tried both the triangular paint scrapers and the two-handled bark knives and do not like either. We use the wire brush to clean lichens and other crud from the very smooth trees such as balsam and younger red maple.

The paint scraper works well on younger ash or even young red pine. The hatchet is used not to hack at the tree but rather as a plane. Hold the end of the handle in one hand and the back of the head in the other hand—with the blade facing up the bole of the tree.   With both hands push the blade up the tree—cutting a little deeper into the bark with each stroke. Using this technique, you can easily control the depth so that you don’t cut into the smooth inner layer and you will achieve a very smooth surface for the paint.


Blazes usually need updating every four years.

Obliterate old blazes

When you reroute the trail, it’s imperative that you obliterate the old trail route and neutralize all blazes to keep hikers on the right path, not the old.

Happy Blazing!

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!


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.

2015 National Park Service Midwest Region Enduring Service Hartzog Award – Mary Coffin

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We are happy to announce that Mary Coffin has won the 2015 Midwest Region Enduring Service award for the George and Helen Hartzog Volunteer Awards with the National Park Service.

Mary’s work in New York was crucial in the years-long process of gaining approval to route the North Country National Scenic Trail through the Adirondack Park.

North Country Trail Adirondack Park

Some of Mary’s teammates on a scouting trip through the Adirondack Park. Mary is taking the photo.

For nearly 20 years, the National Park Service and its major partner group, the North Country Trail Association (NCTA), had been in seemingly endless negotiations with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to come to agreement on a suitable route for the North Country NST to cross the Adirondack Park.

To put this daunting task in perspective, consider that the Adirondack Park encompasses about 6 million acres, an area greater in size than Yellowstone. Nearly half of it is State Forest Preserve lands which are protected by the New York Constitution as “Forever Wild,” while the other half is privately owned parcels of various sizes.

The DEC spent years contemplating how best to integrate various alternative routes for the North Country NST within eight distinct Unit Management Plans to traverse the Adirondack Park, seeking to avoid heavily used areas while simultaneously using existing trails when possible. Predictably, the process was agonizingly slow and mired in bureaucratic red tape. It’s not an exaggeration to say that managers from all involved parties were becoming skeptical about a successful solution for the North Country NST through the Adirondacks.

Enter Mary Coffin, North Country NST volunteer. Mary understood that the only path to success was for someone to step up and personally see things through.

She, and a number of other invaluable volunteers who played essential roles, made it their mission to literally scout out, hike, GPS, photograph, evaluate, document, and report on each and every mile of all proposed alternative routes in order to provide the NPS, NCTA, DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency officials the solid and timely data they needed to eventually come to agreement on an approved route for the North Country NST.

After eight years and approximately 100 work trips into the wilds of the Adirondack Mountains, Mary’s herculean dedication came to fruition.


A view through the Adirondack Park. Photo by Mary Coffin

On September 25, 2015, the New York State DEC approved the Adirondack Park Trail Plan for the North Country NST, providing for 158 miles of trail route through five Wild Forests and four Wilderness Areas of the central Adirondacks.

Mary Coffin has been meeting the NPS Mission for the past 34 years. Her most recent accomplishment of helping secure the 158-mile route for the North Country NST through the Adirondack Park is in itself worthy of the Hartzog Enduring Service Award.

However, Mary’s stunning accomplishments, leadership, and dedication to volunteerism goes a great deal further.

Mary is one of those rarest of volunteers, rising to all aspects of trail stewardship with equal aplomb.  From personally crafting quality trail tread with hazel-hoe in hand, to chairing committees and work groups at the local, state, and national levels—Mary does it all. A small sampling of her extensive North Country NST volunteer accomplishments includes:

  • Secured seven permanent trail easements in the NY Finger Lakes region
  • 12-year chairperson of special work team to connect trail segments throughout the Onondaga, NY area
  • Served nine years on the NCTA Board of Directors
  • Chairs the NY-NCTA Volunteer Council
  • 5-Year Chairperson for NCTA Volunteer Membership Committee
  • Conducts trail design and maintenance workshops for youth and adults
  • Secured several grants for trail kiosks
  • Serves on NCTA Trail Protection Committee
  • Personally leads trail construction work crews for past 14 years.

Mary also initiated the “Extended Outings” program, where she coordinates all logistics and personally leads multi-day backpacking trips into various reaches of the North Country NST, sometimes within her nearby and beloved Adirondack wilderness, and sometimes as far away as Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where the North Country NST winds its way through other parks such as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Mary has led five such trips and has been the Chairperson for the “Outings Committee” for six years, sharing her passion for wild locales and her vast knowledge of remote backpacking skills with other volunteers and outdoor enthusiasts. Mary has more than 4,000 hours of recorded volunteer service.

The Midwest Region of the National Park Service encompasses 13 states and more than 60 parks and trails. Mary’s accomplishments were recognized as the most outstanding among all nominations submitted from this region in the Enduring Service category.

Congratulations, Mary! We are so thankful for your years of service and dedication to the North Country NST and the North Country Trail Association. This honor is well-deserved.

Chief Noonday Chapter’s New Bridge at Fort Custer Recreation Area

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by Larry Pio, Chief Noonday Chapter President

When we first built our Trail on the Fort Custer National Cemetery / Fort Custer Recreation Area section (located between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, Michigan) I think those of us who had hiked on the AT or PCT felt that wading across the stream in the Fort Custer Recreation Area would not be a problem. 

Or you could cross on downed trees, or using stepping stones.

Bridge Construction Fort Custer Recreation Area

Volunteers working on sills, with the old bridge still in place

As the stream rose or became cold seasonally, it became obvious that many of our Trail users did not consider this to be acceptable, and ten years ago we installed a “puncheon” bridge about 11 inches wide to allow crossing the stream with dry feet.  Many enjoyed the challenge of crossing, and as far as I know, only two of us have reported falling in.

This section is definitely one of our treasures, and we wanted to make it easy for new Trail users to enjoy.  Additionally, it was tough to get a mower across, and we hoped to make it easier for our adventurous folks needing accessibility.

Explore this new bridge: The closest trailhead is across the river east out of Augusta, MI about a quarter mile on M-96, on the corner of Fort Custer Drive. Then follow the trail east about 1/3 mile. Find the location on our retail map MI02–Marshall to 76th St. here.

In 2012 our Chapter hosted the NCT Conference and Jeff McCusker, the National Park Service Trail Manager at the time, hiked with us on this section of trail, and slipped off one of the puncheons within Fort Custer National Cemetary, and got wet up to his knee.  He had comments on the bridge, too.  We then sought approvals for upgrading these two items.

With our land manager’s approval allowing us to construct a new bridge, Ron Sootsman sought funding, and began working on preparing a DEQ Permit, which is required in Michigan for structures over streams, etc.  This required having a construction layout, materials list, and an engineered plan for a bridge.  The DEQ permit approved plans that were different than we had submitted on the approaches to the bridge, and also required obtaining a building permit from the State. We were funded by NPS/NCTA and via the Michigan Iron Belle Trail project funding.

bridge construction

One sill getting mounted

Jeff Fleming and Larry Pio helped get over these hurdles, and the three of us have led this project.  We are all pretty much rookies at this, and sought advice from others, including Regional Trail Coordinator Bill Menke, our land manager, Tony Trojanowski, and also Paul Hahn of the West Michigan Chapter, who has worked on many bridges.  Ron arranged for all the material purchases and deliveries, including the delivery of our stringers, which weighed between 550 and 900 pounds.

With our land manager’s approval, we cleared a temporary route to the bridge site separate from our Trail, and one of our local Trail hosts, Ron Hutchinson, provided a tractor, trailer and driver that allowed us to get the stringers 1/3 mile in to the site, along with a second load of lumber.

For our most difficult task, mounting the stringers, we were gratified to have the help of the Michigan Youth Challenge Academy, who brought 28 young men to volunteer with us.  We affixed caster wheels upside down on our old bridge, used forearm straps to safely lift the stringers with lots of helpers, and rolled the stringers across the stream, laying them on the sills we had set in place the day before.

Michigan Youth Academy helps with bridge construction

Thankful for the help of the Michigan Youth Challenge Academy! Moving the first sill across.

We then turned our old bridge upside down, and rolled it off and out of the way.  Pulling our stringers up on edge, and mounting them, was our last heavy weight task, and with all the help, that turned out to be easy as well.  The MYCA youth also helped wheelbarrow gravel down to the site, to be used for the approaches.

MYC helps haul away old dirt

Hauling in the gravel, about 1/4 mile by trail!

There was still a lot to do, but much of the work was completed within 4 days after setting the stringers.  We began our on-site prep work on October 18, installed the stringers on October 24, and completed the project on November 20.  Over 700 hours of volunteer effort was contributed to the on-site work, and that did not include the preparation and planning.

The crew on the final day of bridge building.

The crew on the final day.

Our volunteers really came through for us when we needed them, and I think we all share the satisfaction of a project that will provide benefit for years to come.

Congratulations, Chief Noonday on a job well done!

Interested in volunteering with projects such as these? Get involved with a chapter near you. Click here to find a chapter near you.

Click on the images below to view larger and scroll through the gallery:

Everything about the Kekekabic Trail presents a (rewarding) challenge!

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The Kekekabic Trail presents some of the most remote and challenging experiences for both hikers and volunteers on the North Country Trail. Matthew Davis, Regional Trail Coordinator for North Dakota and Minnesota gives an insider’s look at this unique section of trail from a recent trail clearing trip.

Hikers often find portions of northeastern Minnesota’s Kekekabic Trail (the “Kek”) in pretty rough shape. The Kek is a portion of the North Country Trail’s “Arrowhead Re-route” – making up the western most 41 miles of the contiguous 400 miles stretching from Snowbank Lake Rd. to Jay Cooke State Park along the Kek, Border Route Trail, and Superior Hiking Trail. Since it cuts across the heart of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and is lightly used, the Kek offers by far the most remote hiking opportunities found along the entire NCT.

The challenge of hiking the Kek comes from the combination of its remoteness; the catastrophic ’99 blowdown, which flattened 370,000 acres of the 1-million acre BWCAW; and the resulting 2006 Cavity Lake wildfire.

smDSCN5259Some of the blowdown’s worst damage was centered along the Kek while the Cavity Lake fire burned the Kek’s easternmost 12.5 miles. These natural disturbances resulted in the removal of a mature forest canopy which resulted in a profusion of woody and herbaceous regeneration. This situation has proven to be a huge challenge for the volunteers of the Kekekabic Trail Club (KTC) which is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year.

The newly formed Kekekabic Trail Chapter of the NCTA (a re-organization of the KTC) scheduled four trail clearing trips this spring to tackle “the worst of the worst” as identified by Derrick Passe’s group hike last September.

  • Terry Bernhardt and I led an American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation crew that tackled the eastern-most targeted section of the Kek – from Gabimichigami Lake east to Seahorse Lake.
  • Derrick Passe led a Volunteer Vacation “Reunion Crew” that worked from the Kekekabic Lake west to Strup Lake.
  • Bruce and Matt Johnson of the Itasca Moraine Chapter led a trip from Kekekabic Lake east to Harness Lake.
  • Mark Stange led a trip from the Agamok Bridge west to Harness Lake.

smDSCN5321The challenge of maintaining the Kek also comes from its remoteness – all of these trail clearing trips require a significant paddle in to reach the Kek, and the overgrown conditions. Only hand tools can be used in the trail clearing within the designated Wilderness. If you’ve ever been on a BWCAW canoe trip, you know that paddling trips entail portaging all of the group’s canoes, camping gear, food, when you are portaging between the lakes. When trail clearing you also need to portage your trail clearing tools.

The work of clearing the Kek is slow and arduous…because it involves not just clearing the downfalls lying across the Trail (of which there aren’t many in the blowdown and burn areas) but also cutting with loppers the thousands of individual stems of brush and small trees that are growing adjacent to and often, within the trail corridor. This work entails bending over for hours at a time. Other work can include placing additional trail markers (hanging blue flagging tape and building cairns) and putting step stones or logs across wet areas.

smDSCN5293Another challenge of maintaining the Kek by canoe can be weather. If a storm comes in and wind kicks up waves on a lake you need to cross, you might just have to take a “zero mile day” and remain in camp. We had a day like that on my trip – we spent the entire day huddled in our campsite while the temperature dropped to the high twenties and the wind blew snow horizontally. The wind can also sometimes work in your favor, as Bruce Johnson’s crew found. Art Hopkins, who volunteered on the trip with Bruce Johnson had this to say…

“We had a tail wind from the west on the way in, and a tail wind from the east on the way out.”

“By the end of our stay, we had cleared a little more than our allotted section of the Kekekabic Trail, about 2 miles in all. Hikers approaching Harness Lake will suddenly emerge from a tight green tunnel into our sunlit corridor, cleared to 5-6 feet wide and fully eight feet tall. I imagine those future hikers thanking us, as they pick up the pace and look around them. Maybe they’ll wish we’d cleared it half as wide but twice as long. Oh, well, there’s always next time.”

Have you ever hiked or volunteered along the Kekekabic? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

The North Country Trail couldn’t exist without the help of many volunteers. Find out how you can volunteer here. Projects range from trips like this one, to regularly walking a section of trail to report its condition, to helping with office work. We need you!

Photos from the Kekekabic Trail Clearing project (all photos by Matthew Davis).
Click on a picture to see it larger and scroll through the gallery.

A day in the life of a Regional Trail Coordinator

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What does a regional trail coordinator do?

by Matthew Davis

Working as a Regional Trail Coordinator for the NCTA is a very rewarding and fun job and the best part is that I get to work with volunteers who love the NCT, believe in the mission of the NCTA, and are fun to be around. I consider many volunteers I work with from Minnesota and North Dakota as friends.

I have often been asked “Is that your real job?” or “What do you actually do?” after telling people what I do for the NCTA.  If I had a dollar for every time I have heard that, I would make a sizeable contribution to the NCTA’s Trail Protection Fund.

A typical day in the life of an Regional Trail Coordinator includes a variety of tasks…things like:

Administration for NCTA-sponsored Facebook pages

I am the administrator for NCTinND, NCTinMN, and the Arrowhead Re-route pages. Almost daily, I look across various Facebook sites (e.g. Minnesota DNR, environmental organizations, trail sites, etc) and in my email for interesting information to post on these sites.

Communication with agency partners, local government partners, volunteers, and Chapter leaders.Regional Trail Coordinator and work crew

Much of this is done via email. So, checking email is a constant throughout the day. Things that we communicate about include:

– Trail projects – e.g. new trail building projects, signage enhancements, etc.

– Necessary approvals for developing new trail segments or trail features

Responding to agency resource management projects in my region

There are two National Forests (Superior and Chippewa) and one National Grassland (Sheyenne) within my region of MN & ND. These units – particularly the National Forests – propose resource management projects that have the potential to negatively impact the NCT and the trail experience. Just imagine hiking through clearcut after clearcut.

There are also numerous State and County agencies that plan and implement similar resource management projects (e.g. timber sales, resource restoration projects, road classification, etc) that have the same potential to impact the NCT. These are tougher because the agencies differ in how they notify the public in advance of the project and how readily they accept our input.

Working on significant projects or events.

Another work crew with the regional trail coordinatorThree good examples of this are:

– My coordination of the Legacy grant-funded trail development project in the Laurentian Lakes Chapter’s trail section. This involved working with our agency partners, the National Park Service, NCTA Headquarters, and the Chapter to all keep things moving forward.

– My involvement in the planning of the 2014 Minnesota Hiking Celebration event in Duluth and, specifically, the promotion of the event within the region.

– My work on the NCT’s Arrowhead Re-route effort (part of the North Country National Scenic Trail Route Adjustment legislation that we’ve been pursuing for the last 10 years). I have been working with local units of government to obtain their support and also to encourage people (through our Chapters and partners in like-minded organizations) to contact their Representative and Senators and ask for their support for H.R. 799 / S. 403.

Providing Chapter & affiliate support in my region

A majority of my time is spent supporting the work of our Chapters and Affiliate partners – including the Border Route Trail Association and Superior Hiking Trail Association. The exact details of my role varies by Chapter/Affiliate but can include things like facilitating trail planning, conducting community outreach / marketing, planning and hosting events, volunteer management, etc.

Matt Davis enjoying lunch with volunteersAnswering specific public questions about the NCT

I routinely get questions about certain segments of the NCT within my region. I do my best to provide the answers to hikers’ questions – either by sharing my knowledge or by passing the questions onto the appropriate individuals for their response. In general, awareness and use of the NCT is low so I take every opportunity to help encourage trail users to get out there onto the NCT and to have a good experience so they will share with their friends.

Just this past week, I was lucky to lead a small trail crew that mowed the NCT within Lonetree Wildlife Management Area and part of the NCT within the Sheyenne National Grassland in North Dakota. This work was vital because we don’t have a Chapter at Lonetree and the Dakota Prairie Chapter is focusing its volunteers’ attention on the new trail outside of the Grassland.

Help us build trail with the beavers!

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The beaver is probably the most common animal our trail workers and trail users see evidence of when they are out on the trail.Beaver Tale cover complete

Nocturnal by design, the beaver is not an animal you see very often but you sure know where they’ve been. And sometimes the evidence of where they’ve been is the very reason you are now walking on the trail in a foot of water!

Beaver problems can surface quickly, ruining the hiking experience.

In some cases rising water can make the trail impassable and put the long distance hiker at risk, or at the very least, significantly inconvenienced.

On the North Country Trail we think beaver country is some of the most beautiful hiking along the trail and we’d prefer to not miss it!

So we work with the beaver.

Watching what they do, we gently build our trail “through” their habitat and “over” their handiwork.

Hiking, North Country Trail, Beavers

Building solutions in beaver country in MN.

That way our hikers, bird watchers and scout groups can have a great hike AND see some amazing beaver country. And if they are really lucky, they might get to see one of our buck-toothed friends.

Planning, building and maintaining the North Country Trail corridor through beaver country takes time and a lot of resources. All seven trail states have very active beaver communities and require regular monitoring and diligent maintenance.

Working with our beavers is an annual challenge.

Your generous gift of support will allow us to make sure we can keep providing a high quality hiking experience through beaver country in all seven states. Please make a gift today.



Click an image below to view the Beaver Tale on the North Country Trail in the Chippewa National Forest (all photos taken by Matt Davis).