Congressman Rick Nolan

Representing the 8th District of Minnesota
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Lake County News Chronicle: Local trails to be included in national trail network

Dec 14, 2016
In The News

The Superior Hiking Trail, the Kekakabic Trail and the Border Route Trail may soon be officially included in a much larger national network of trails called the North Country National Scenic Trail.

The North Country Scenic Trail was established in 1980 and currently uses a network of trails that allows hikers to access more than 4,000 miles of trail from Vermont to North Dakota.

The North Country Scenic Trail bill (H.R. 799) was discussed by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands and is a pretty simple piece of legislation. The bill would officially add the three local trails in Minnesota's Arrowhead region to the NCNST, extend the trail's eastern terminus from the New York border to connect with the Appalachian Trail in Vermont and would correct the mileage to include the new sections of trail, which will bring the trail's total mileage to more than 4,600 miles.

The NCNST has been using the three local trails as part of its network for more than 10 years, but with the symbolic designation, the profiles of the trails will be raised and potentially there will be more resources available to those trails. The biggest changes to the trails most hikers would see is that, at regular intervals, there will also be signs that designate the trails as part of the NCNST.

"To be able to use the official North Country Trail emblem on the Superior Hiking Trail and the Kekakabic, is symbolic as it has always been the route in order to do the trail in the past, but that symbolism is really important in terms of recognition," North Country Trail Association executive director Bruce Matthews said. "If you look at the current issue of Backpacker magazine, which is all about through trails and being able to say that you are a part of that is a positive thing, it's a feather in the cap and it increases the visibility and notoriety associated."

Whether it's a mountain with a dramatic view of Lake Superior, hidden waterfalls, steep cliffs or a secluded spot in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the SHT and the Kekakabic Trail provide plenty of what hikers seek.

"The coolest thing about our trail is that we aren't looking for the shortest route," Matt Davis, NCTA regional trail coordinator for North Dakota and Minnesota, said. "Our trail is supposed to be about finding the best as far as scenery, cultural resources, historical features and natural features. We're not going to do the easiest route, we're going to do the best route."

For the SHT, the changes will pretty much end at the additional signs at some its trailheads. The Superior Hiking Trail Association already has a lot of support and a robust volunteer network to help with needed maintenance on the trail. The Kekakabic Trail Association, however, is totally volunteer run and the plan is for that association to become a chapter to the NCTA. In that scenario, the NCTA would take care of the administrative parts of the association and the local chapter would be better able to focus on the upkeep of the trail. In addition, with a strong national organization behind them, the smaller trails would have a better chance at receiving grants or funding from the local, state or federal government.

Another benefit of being part of the larger national network of trails is economic. Towns like Two Harbors, Silver Bay or any of the other communities the trails pass near would be eligible to become "trail towns." There is no cost to becoming a trail town and it is an agreement between the NCTA and the town to promote the trail and businesses in the town to hikers.

"We sit down, we reach an agreement to figure out how the trail town intends to participate, we see what NCTA will do in looking to promote local businesses and we hope the town will promote the trail," Matthews said. "It is one more economic benefit that the local communities can leverage in bringing people into their communities and hopefully spend money."

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Crosby, a co-sponsor of the bill, testified before the subcommittee Wednesday in support of the bill, saying it had "good bipartisan support" and emphasized it costs no money and there will be no use of eminent domain to acquire land to complete the trail. He also said supporting trails will help reduce the "nature deficit" of children in the U.S., citing a study that said most children in the nation spend just seven minutes a day outside and spend as much as seven hours watching TV or in front of a computer screen. The Senate version of the bill earlier this year and has been in conference awaiting approval of the House version since September.

"(The trail is) a part of the exercise, it's a part the economics of our country and just offers a wonderful opportunity for people to get out and enjoy the great outdoors," he said at the hearing. "It's a good piece of legislation and, like I said, it doesn't cost us any money, it makes that trail complete and adds that wonderful, beautiful scenic part at the end to that trail system."