Clearing a path: It takes a village to keep North Country trail ready
BARAGA — Leaving civilization behind, hikers on the North Country Trail come for the beauty, the views, the solitude and the forests.
“It’s the longest, skinniest National Park in the nation being four feet wide and 4,600 miles long, and people from all across the nation come and they especially come to the western U.P. in general to see our trees,” said Connie Julien, president of the Peter Wolfe Chapter.
The stretch of trail includes the Trap Hills and some of the best views on the North Country Trail, Julien said.
This remote, foot travel-only trail does not maintain itself and requires hundreds of volunteers across the seven states it passes through to keep it open. In the western U.P., the Peter Wolfe Chapter is responsible for around 120 miles and looking for volunteers.
The chapter will hold its annual general membership meeting for the public in Michigan Tech’s forestry building on April 30 at 7 p.m. The event will include volunteer information and feature guest speaker Jo Oostveen from the Lower Peninsula giving her talk titled, “Comedy on the North Country Trail.”
Oostveen has hiked the entire Michigan North Country trail, a distance of 1,150 miles.
Maintenance is necessary to clear the trail of fallen trees from heavy winter snow and trim back overgrowth to keep the trail clear. With the work divided among around 35 chapters, each is responsible for around 100 miles. The volunteers adopt a portion of that, typically covering one to three miles.
In spring volunteers go in with chainsaws, loppers and bow saws whenever they have time with the goal of clearing the trail by Memorial Day. Often the volunteers will bring along friends and family to help with the process, Julien explained.
In summer, volunteers are engaged cutting back brush and checking trail markers.
Although there is no way to determine how many people use the trial, Julien finds signs of travel inspiring.
“The most exciting thing for volunteers on the trail is to see footprints in the dirt,” she said.
Every once in a while volunteers run into student groups, or backpackers traveling for a weekend on the remote path.
“That’s really exciting it almost brings me to tears. Well, it actually does bring me to tears,” Julien said. “When I see we’ve put in all this hard work and you see these…youth using the trail it’s just really exciting.”
Running from Eastern New York to central North Dakota, the trail has many memorable spots along the way, but the U.P. has a special draw for hikers.
“People come here from all over the nation wanting to have that remote, wild experience,” she said. “You can see for miles and not see any civilization.”