The North Country Trail Association has an incredible roster of volunteers who build and maintain the North Country National Scenic Trail. Each volunteer has a story of “why” they got involved. Here’s Jerry’s story about a unique location in North Dakota that he wanted to share with the world. That’s how he first got involved.
Story and photos by Jerry Warner
I first learned about North Dakota’s only registered waterfall in 2005. I was involved in an organized bicycle ride in which I was asked to set up a few off road rides that would include a ride to the waterfall. At the time I had never heard of a waterfall in North Dakota, and there was no hiking trail to it. After John Kwapinski, manager of Fort Ransom State Park, showed me where the falls was located I spent some time just out and about in The Sheyenne State Forest (SSF) doing some bushwhacking trying to memorize a route suitable for bicycles.
Shortly before the bicycle ride was to take place, it was cancelled due to lack of interest. But now it was too late… I knew about the waterfall, and over the next year or so I made a few more treks out to see it doing more exploring and taking a different route every time I went.
Besides hiking in the State Forest, I also did a lot of hiking in Fort Ransom State Park, and I got to thinking this area really needs more trails. John Kwapinski told me I should try to get involved with The North Country Trail Association (NCTA)… Said they were working on building trails in the area. I thought “Yea that sounds like a good idea.” But I really didn’t make too much effort at first.
Now it’s spring 2007… It’s been a while since I have been here, but I am out in the SSF on my way to see how my waterfall is doing. On my way through the forest and meadows of the SSF I noticed signs of a trail route being flagged, and some benching in a couple places (at the time I didn’t even know what benching was). Then I came to the first of the creek crossings, and I had a bit of a problem. Usually I can just jump across, but since it was spring time, the water was much higher than any other time I had been there.
As I was aspiring to be a dedicated hiker who always finds a way, I walked up and down the creek weighing options. I finally decided my most practical option was to attempt to hop across the creek on some exposed boulders. I figured if I end up slipping, well that’s just part of hiking, and I was ok with that.
There were no good routes across the boulders, but I believe I chose the best one. It was only about 3-4 rocks, but the last leap would be a long one, and the last boulder did not have a good landing… Ok so here we go, 1st jump no problem, 2nd jump, this ain’t so bad, I can make it, jump, jump, ok now the last one.
I contemplated, “maybe this is too far to jump, which foot should I lead with?, maybe I should go back” Awe hell, just do it, Go!
My left foot landed solid on the rock, but my balance didn’t quite make it to the rock with me, and down I went. Right leg soaked nearly to the crotch, up to the knee on the left side, my right pinky I believe is still a bit dislocated to this day, and right knee also got tweaked slightly so I had a bit of a limp for a couple days, and Brrrr that water was cold. Oh well, this is the adventure I was looking for, no big deal, just get on with the hike.
That’s just me, I liked the challenge and adventure. But if they are going to put a trail here, then they will need a better way to cross this creek. I checked in with John Kwapinski again, and he directed me to the NCTA website. I found some email addresses to The Sheyenne River Valley Chapter, and sent a message expressing my concern about the creek crossing. I told them about my adventure, and said I am fine and I would do it again. But if they want others using this trail then they would need some kind of bridge. The answer I got back from Bobby Koepplin (the Chapter President) was in the form of a gracious invite to join them. That’s pretty much just what I was looking for, and so I joined. And I guess it was just fitting that my first NCT work day was installing a boardwalk about fifty yards south of where I took my plunge.
There is something about that story that Bobby likes, but also some things that I think he doesn’t like because he keeps changing the story. Some variations have me with a broken leg, and others I nearly drown lol.
By the end of that summer the NCT trail to the waterfall was, for the most part, complete, and passable in any condition or time of year. Some improvements have since been made including 3 more boardwalks over some occasionally muddy areas.
Now, I have heard, that the waterfall trail is the most popular NCT section in North Dakota. I believe the trail is used absolutely every weekend day in the spring, summer, and fall. I even snowshoed the trail on Christmas Day in 2010 when I thought I would have the forest to myself, but there was another party of four out there that day.
Some other adventures I have had out in the SSF: Cross country skied once (too many narrow downhill areas for my skill level); lined up volunteer work days through my employer; worked with a mule train applying gravel to the trail; found a weather balloon, camped in November under the stars and woke to eagles soaring overhead… Maybe it’s just because I spend a lot of time there, or maybe I am just lucky that way to see those things.
I really have so much fun, and just want to spread the word about the trail to the only registered waterfall in ND. Which I should add is not only about the destination, but also the journey. Don’t expect a grand majestic falls, rather think of tranquility. That is a much more accurate description of our waterfall.
That’s all I am going to say for now. So now you have to just go on your own adventure to see for yourself. And please feel free to use the boardwalk…
Learn more about the Sheyenne State Forest Waterfall Hike on the North Country Trail here.
Join us as a volunteer. You’ll find adventure, community, and beauty along the way. We need your help. Learn more here!