A Hubbard County loop for the North Country National Scenic Trail is in the gestational stages thanks to an energetic bunch of volunteers.
The Waboose Lake loop could even open later this fall, if the workload continues at its current pace.
A group of Americorps volunteers, along with members of the Itasca Moraine Chapter of the North Country Trail, are hacking, pulling, hefting and hauling debris in the Paul Bunyan State Forest north of Nevis.
It is raw trail building, rock by rock, root by root, branch by branch, tedious and tiresome.
"It's a pretty cool job," said a grinning Shyreeta McLamb, an Americorps volunteer from Rockingham, N.C. She was using a hand tool to cut inch-thick roots that might pose a trip hazard to a hiker.
As soon as the volunteers entered the forest, word spread and hikers came.
It's a trail that's been in the making for years and volunteers praised DNR Forestry supervisor Mark Carlstrom for seeing the vision through to completion.
The trail near the pond called Waboose Lake might have ended up elsewhere, said volunteer Byron Knaap. But Carlstrom suggested keeping it down toward the lake, where scenic views were evident every step.
Carlstrom was right.
Hikers are treated to some of the county's largest pines, a pristine lake brimming with birdlife and the sounds of nature everywhere.
The trail will eventually wind around Waboose Lake to a public access on the western shore, accessible via Inner Forest Road.
Using firefighting tools in the trailmaking, the volunteers clear ground through trees, up inclines, down hills and around obstacles.
It took Bruce Johnson and the Americorps volunteers two hours to move a handful of large rocks to the side of the trail. They could have been forging ahead, but they wanted the dirt path to be obstacle-free.
"Look what we're leaving for them," Johnson proudly pointed out of the narrow trail for hiking.
Once the general route of the trail was decided upon, a forester walked the path with the suggestions eventually implemented.
Then the DNR assigns a GPS technician to map out the route and it's flagged. Chain sawing and blowing debris follow.
The volunteers were "benching" or planning out the trail this month.
"These are our superheroes," Knaap said of the young adults who signed up for a ten-month service stint.
Team leader Teila Theisen, from Los Angeles, said members must be between 18 and 24 years old. They can sign up for a ten-month stint and renew their service up to two years.
At the end, each successful "graduate" gets $5,555 from the U.S. government that can be applied to college tuition, tech school, or in Theisen's case, defraying student loans since she is a college graduate.
"Every one of us has benefited" from the educational stipend, she said of her group.
Occasionally teams get pulled from forest duty over to disaster projects, said member Jana Barcavage of Cold Spring, N.Y. Helping out with hurricanes, other natural disasters, can be part of the workload.
The volunteers stay in free but spartan lodging quarters, many church camps, and get living stipends for food.
What they're leaving is a legacy of love for the outdoors.
"Coming in here fro Inner Forest Road, you could drive a Porsche in here," Knaap said of the trail. Once on the trail, "you have access to some pretty remote territory."
"We're building a tread," volunteer Darrel Rodekuhr said. The trail allows for fairly solid footing on treacherous terrain otherwise. And treading, or terracing the steps, will allow torrential rains, if they ever fall, to run downhill without washing out the trail.
It's the roots and rocks along the way that slow down progress, Rodekuhr said.
"They can be a real impediment."
The Americorps volunteers spend a month here. To date, they're nearly halfway through their time frame, and the trail to the access.
They're waiting for the remaining team member to be released from a Fargo hospital where he was airlifted Monday night after the team van toppled on him in a freak accident.
"He's doing great," Theisen said.
The crew doesn't seem to tire as they continue working on "America's longest park."