Mesabi Daily News: PROPOSED LEGISLATION BRINGS RENEWED ENERGY TO TRAIL GROUP
Wandering 4,600 miles through America’s rugged northern heartlands, the North Country Trail (NCT) stretches across seven states and is the longest National Scenic Trail maintained completely by the dedication of local volunteers. It brings outdoor enthusiasts and hikers through our region. Some come with the endeavor to thru-hike the entire trail, others find their way onto a section of the NCT each year.
In Itasca County, the Arrowhead Chapter of the North Country Trail Association (NCTA) is a group of just a few volunteers but they are part of the impressive crews throughout the nation that have contributed thousands of hours building and maintaining the trail and telling its story. Although their numbers have dwindled in recent years, the Arrowhead Chapter is hoping to re-energize with plans for 2017 activities which include work on connecting trail segments between Remer and Ely. They are hoping to jump-start this new work and attract new interest and potential new volunteers with a meeting on Monday, March 13, in Grand Rapids.
“The chapter is down to just a small handful of active volunteers which is tough given that their mission is so large,” explained Matt Davis, NCTA Regional Trail Coordinator for Minnesota and North Dakota.
Based in Grand Rapids, the Arrowhead Chapter is responsible for the 150 miles of NCT in eastern Cass, Itasca and St. Louis counties between the Chippewa National Forest and the western end of the Kekekabic Trail near Ely. Currently working toward building new trail segments near Grand Rapids, the chapter hosts trail workdays, regular organized hikes and social events throughout the year.
According to chapter information, the current trail route enters a large gap area within the Arrowhead re-route area starting at the western end of the Kekekabic Trail. In this section, the NCT’s exact route has not been finalized yet but options are laid out in the NPS’ Draft Northeastern Minnesota Route Assessment and Environmental Assessment. The NCTA Arrowhead Chapter is tackling this section and has just begun trail scouting within the City of Cohasset and around the City of Grand Rapids in Itasca County.
“We’re still waiting on Congress to do its job and pass the North Country National Scenic Trail Route Adjustment Act,” explained Davis of legislation that would change the official route of the North Country National Scenic Trail in northeastern Minnesota, moving it to a more scenic and sustainable location.
Once the legislation is approved, the official NCT route will pass through Grand Rapids and Itasca County, said Davis, explaining that Rep. Rick Nolan and Sen. Amy Klobuchar are the main sponsors of the proposed legislation. “The bills have been introduced in the House and Senate and are attracting bipartisan co-sponsors.”
In general, the NCT route will head west from Snowbank Lake toward Ely within the Fernberg Rd. (Lake Co. 18 / MN-169) corridor, passing by the Kawishiwi (River) Falls, International Wolf Center, and Dorothy Molter Museum on the way. From Ely, the trail will head southwest toward Vermilion / Bear Head Lake, McCarthy Beach, and Scenic State Parks before entering the Chippewa National Forest near the St. Louis – Itasca County border. Within Itasca County, the proposed route will head south through the Chippewa National Forest and either the Suomi Hills or Trout Lake non-motorized areas.
South of the Chippewa National Forest boundary, the trail will cross the Prairie River, skirt around some of the Iron Range’s historic mining areas, and follow the Mesabi Trail on the way into and through the City of Grand Rapids. South of Grand Rapids, the proposed route will follow the City of Cohasset’s Tioga Trail to a large block of UPMBlandin Paper Company and public lands that will take the trail to the Cass County line near the historic Willow Lake wayside rest area. From there, a 7-mile stretch of new trail is proposed to link up with the existing NCT segment in the Chippewa National Forest near Long Lake north of the City of Remer.
“Right now, long-distance NCT hikers walk roads from near Remer to Grand Rapids and then walk the Mesabi Trail to its end and then walk roads all the way to Ely and the western end of the Kekekabic Trail,” added Davis.
About five years ago, according to Davis, the Arrowhead Chapter started with Arbo Township and Blandin Paper Company to develop a hiking trail between the University of Minnesota’s NCROC property and the Mesabi Trails CR 61 trailhead. This portion would also become a future segment of the trail. “We’ve had our own volunteers work on this trail segment along with students from Itasca Community College and crews from the Conservation Corps of Minnesota. It’s almost done but is hikeable now.”
Davis says Itasca County and Blandin are supportive and willing to host the NCT on their property but, “we need the legislation to pass as well as more volunteers to make it happen.”
Davis, and others with the Arrowhead Chapter, hope “we can find some new people who like hiking, silent sports, the outdoors who would be willing to get involved. No volunteer experience is necessary. Tasks range from maintaining existing trail, building new trail, promoting the NCT, working with public and private landowners to obtain permission, scouting future segments on those lands and leading guided hikes.”
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities for building, maintaining, promoting and interpreting the trail in this area with the NCT’s Arrowhead Chapter. The chapter meeting will be held at KAXE (260 NE Second St., Grand Rapids), 7 to 9 p.m. All who are interested are welcome to attend. For more information about the North Country Trail, visit www.northcountrytrail.org.