By Andrea Ketchmark, Director of Trail Development
As our President, Larry Hawkins, pointed out in the last issue of the North Star, Trail Protection has many different meanings to each of us. Our concerns about public land management are many, and we will no doubt continue those fights; but our eyes are turning more and more to our next big challenge, 2,000 miles of private land. Many of you already have handshake or written trail access agreements with landowners but few permanent easements exist to secure access for the NCT into the future. It’s time we begin solidifying our rights for public access to insure the trail you build stays intact and that the North Country National Scenic Trail is here for future generations.
Collectively, NCTA chapters, staff, affiliates and partners as well as the National Park Service are working hard on a few different fronts to move us forward.
Easement Acquisition program growth
Although mostly relying on donated easements in the past, NCTA has realized the need for flexibility in working with land owners needs, which translates to needing funds available to compensate landowners or assist with the other associated costs. To address this need, we are building a Trail Protection Fund and the Trail Protection committee of the NCTA Board of Directors has begun to develop an easement acquisition grant program as a way to use those funds. Expect more information on the grant program to come in by the end of the year.
Willing Seller in Action
In 2009, the NPS was given the right to purchase land on behalf of the North Country Trail. I’m happy to say that we are beginning to put this into action. This year, we were granted $50,000 from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to support an acquisition in Michigan; we submitted 3 requests for land acquisition for 2014, totaling 1.8 Million dollars; and we submitted another proposal with all of the other National Scenic and Historic Trails that would add mileage and acreage to America’s network of National Trails.
Recent happenings in Trail Protection
- North Dakota: Sheyenne River Valley Chapter completed an easement acquisition project with funds from the Recreational Trails Program. This 2-year project added 24 new easements that will protect 29 miles of the NCTcorridor.
- Wisconsin: The WI DNR is working with NCTA to identify priorities for land acquisition including a recent decision by the DNR to acquire a parcel that already had an easement for the NCT. Why? This acquisition took the corridor of the trail from 160 feet to 40 acres, providing for greater protection of the viewshed, wildlife habitat and the experience for NCT hikers.
- Michigan: We received a grant from the J.A. Woollam Foundation to put together trail protection plan in Michigan. We will be bringing on an intern this fall that will focus on identifying a few priorities for each chapter and developing a plan to secure those sections with easements or acquisition.
- Pennsylvania: The Butler Chapter is working with our staff, PA DCNR, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Moraine Preservation Fund and many other partners to connect the corridor of the NCT between Moraine and McConnell’s Mill State Parks. By protecting the space between the parks, we will be creating a continuous 25 section of NCT!
These are only a few examples of the great work happening out there. In the next few months you will see new materials to help our volunteers reach out to landowners. Stay tuned!