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North Country Trail Reroute Work Continues; Grand Rapids Urban Group Hike Saturday, May 7th

The North Country Trail travels through Grand Rapids on its route from North Dakota to Vermont.

The North Country Scenic Trail is a 4,600 mile foot path that stretches from North Dakota to Vermont. The NCT follows a scenic route through the prairies, forests, and lake-country of northern Minnesota, including an urban route through the heart of Grand Rapids along the Mississippi River. To give some updates about the trail in and around Grand Rapids, Matt Davis, NCT Regional Trail Coordinator for North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and Art Norton, NCT Arrowhead Chapter volunteer, joined KAXE/KBXE for a conversation. Click the player above to hear the full interview.

If you’re on a hiking trail somewhere between North Dakota and Vermont with blue blazes and signs, you’re probably on the North Country National Scenic Trail, a 46-hundred-mile foot path stretching from North Dakota to Vermont. This week, a group of North Country Trail Association staff and volunteer members of the local NCT Arrowhead Chapter have been working on the trail between Grand Rapids and Remer to create a more hiker-friendly trail experience and to showcase some of the natural and human history of the area.

The main goal of the trail work is to connect the 18 mile stretch of the NCT between Grand Rapids and Remer with a foot path. The current route takes hikers on a road-walk from Tioga Beach to the Highway 6 trail crossing north of Remer, a less-safe and less-scenic route. But with some hard work and a crew of volunteers, the plan is to create a better route. "We're out here swinging some tools," Davis said. "We're clearing the corridor of the trail by cutting little trees and clearing downed trees that have fallen across the trail. We rake the duff off and level the native soils to create an 18-24 inch trail tread that looks like it's been there forever."

Plus, the reroute creates opportunities to showcase the human and natural history of this part of the world. "The re-route will give us an opportunity to teach folks who are hiking through," Davis said. "And to tell the story of the Mesabi Range and iron mining and let people peer down over the edge and see the Tioga pit. That's the point of the trail: to take people to scenic spots but also tell the history of the place."

The reroute of this portion of the NCT was approved three years ago by Congress, and since then, volunteers have been working in all sorts of ways to prepare for the new path. Norton has been working with private land owners to secure the ability of the NCT to cross their property. "I've been talking to the few private land owners on this 18 mile stretch," he said. "They've been very accommodating and helpful letting us cross over the back side of their properties. 17.5 miles is Blandin or Itasca County land, and they've been helping us figure out the best place to put the trail. We've been avoiding wetlands and trying to catch some scenic views on the cliff side of Tioga Lake."

For those who want to experience the NCT but would rather stay out of the forest, the NCT reroute now takes the trail right through the heart of Grand Rapids. "The urban segment in Grand Rapids is now an official segment of the NCT," Norton said. "It just got approved by the city and we'll be putting up our signs and emblems."

On Saturday, May 7th, The Arrowhead Chapter of the NCT Association is hosting a group hike that winds along the entire urban stretch of the NCT through Grand Rapids. All interested participants should met at the Sylvan Point Trailhead, close to the hospital on 14 St. Southwest at 1:00pm. From there, the hikes goes through town, right past the KAXE studio near the Mississippi River, and concludes at the East Elementary parking lot. Ridesharing will be available. A bonus for attendees: People who come to the urban hike on Saturday will receive a yellow and blue NCT Association bandana.

In addition to getting people out walking the trail, Davis and Norton are excited about new volunteers getting involved. A nation-wide footpath doesn't spring up from the ground, and the NCT is made possible by volunteers. "We're always looking for folks to volunteer," Davis said. "We need people with all sorts of skills and abilities. We've got folks leading hikes, trail building and maintaining. Talking to landowners. Doing work with the county."

If you're interested in learning more about the urban hike this Saturday, or if you'd like to become a volunteer or member of the local Arrowhead Chapter of the NCT Association, check out their page on the national NCT webpage by clicking here.

Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.
KAXE/KBXE Senior Correspondent