National Park Foundation boosts North Country Trail hikers

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Capital News Service

LANSING – The National Park Foundation has given $1.7 million to 41 nonprofits across the country, including several in the Great Lakes region, to help parks meet their current needs and become stronger and more resilient in the future.

The North Country Trail Association, based in Lowell, Michigan, received $50,000, according to Andrea Ketchmark, its executive director. 

The association has taken care of 4,800 miles of trail in eight states for the past 40 years, and Michigan has more of those miles than any other state.

“The image that I always have in my head is walking through the woods on a beautiful trail, versus walking through a place that has buildings next to it. That is not protected,” she said.

North Country Trail Association.

“The striving for this experience is what we’re trying to create for people to escape all of the pressures of society and give people a safe place to walk out in nature.”

The North Country Trail stretches between North Dakota and Vermont, passing through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

Parts of the trail are on private lands. 

Every year, the association and hikers lose legal access to parts of the trail if the land gets sold or the owner dies, Ketchmark said. To keep the trail accessible, the association negotiates with landowners, Ketchmark said.

The association will use the new grant for legal protection of such parts of the trail and to create a policy to save them in the long term. 

The money will be spent on a new staff member who will develop the policy that will also include how to partner with organizations such as the National Park Foundation, the Trust for Public Land and the National Park Trust to make the trail longer and better protected.

Using these partnerships, the association and its affiliates plan to build 1,700 more miles over the next two decades, Ketchmark said, and legal rights to the route and protecting landscapes will be handled in partnership with those organizations and other land trusts along the route.

“Surprisingly, a lot of people do hike both the off-road sections and then walk on the road to get to the next section,” Ketchmark said. “It’s really going to allow us to provide something for future generations.”

The North Country Trail crosses the Upper Peninsula and snakes down the west side of Michigan then exits into Ohio in Hillsdale County. Other Lower Peninsula counties on the trail are Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Barry, Kent, Newaygo, Lake, Mason, Manistee, Wexford, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Antrim, Charlevoix and Emmet.

In the Upper Peninsula, the trail heads north and west through Mackinac, Chippewa, Luce, Alger, Marquette, Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties before crossing into Wisconsin.

Also receiving grants are the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation and the Voyageurs Conservancy in Minnesota; the Ice Age Trail Alliance and Wild Rivers Conservancy of the St. Croix & Namekagon in Wisconsin; the Save the Dunes Conservation Fund in Indiana; and the Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp. in Pennsylvania.

Vladislava Sukhanovskaya reports for Great Lakes Echo.

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