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COLUMN: History in the making: Hubbard County's North Country Trail

This photo was taken November 2009 when the "golden spike," an aspen sapling pole, was placed to mark the joining of the trail from Itasca State Park to Chippewa National Forest. Front row: Itasca Moraine Chapter (ITM) volunteers Florence Hedeen, Darrel Rodekuhr, Bruce Johnson, Carter Hedeen. Middle row: Jerry Trout. Back row: Minnesota Conservation Corps member Lauren Vilan, ITM volunteers Mike Sharkey, Byron Knapp, Chuck Johnson, MCC members Joe Anderson and Matt Case. (Submitted photo)

In 2000, two guys met on the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT): one to hike, one to hunt in the Chippewa National Forest.

That day Carter Hedeen from Park Rapids and Jerry Trout from Hackensack shared the dream of connecting the trail from Itasca State Park to the "Chip," and history was in the making.

During the winter of 2001, Carter and Jerry gathered information from others who'd worked on the completed portion of the trail and began mapping a proposed footpath in the NCT corridor. In September, eight members of the statewide Star of the North Chapter (the only official one in Minnesota at the time) came to continue their work on the trail north of Akeley.

Four "northers" joined them to get to know how others laid trail. Though tainted by the tragedy of 9/11, the group completed about one mile of footpath in the peace and serenity of the budding NCT.

After hearing a presentation at the Headwaters Canoe Club by Bill Menke, a National Park Service employee and NCT member from Wisconsin, the Itasca Moraine Chapter was formed in May 2002, with eight members.

With an eye on helping to complete the NCT from Lake Sakakawea, ND., to Lake Champlain, NY — 4,600 miles — work began in earnest from then through 2005 to compete 11 miles of trail to the east, for a total of 21 miles of footpath on the ground.

By November 2009, the "golden spike" (aspen sapling pole) was put in the ground to mark the spot where the east met the west on 40 miles of continuous footpath in Hubbard County! The first brochure/map of the NCT in Hubbard County was distributed and has been updated biennially.

It deserves note that every mile of trail laid required up to eight revisions to the proposed footpath, through the four seasons, each time "seeing" the trail from a different perspective.

The chapter grew in membership, in addition to receiving a lot of help with trail building through National Park Service grants to purchase needed equipment and "hire" Americorps, Minnesota Conservation Corps and Student Conservation Corps teams.

Hubbard County Sentence to Serve teams, Boy Scout troops and students from Bemidji State and St. Cloud Outdoor Recreation Programs and the University of Minnesota YMCA left their footsteps on the ground as they worked on the NCT in Hubbard County with chapter members.

Thru-hikers, who complete the entire 4,600 miles of the NCT in a year, are rare but are celebrated for their endurance.

Every year, many people hike much shorter segments of the trail, often on Itasca Moraine Chapter (ITM)-sponsored hikes in Hubbard County. Member Beth Trout, along with other hikers, "survey wheeled" the entire trail from the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge to Remer, Minn. to accurately measure distances between trail heads. The information became part of the first edition of ITM Chapter initiated guidebook to the NCT in Minnesota, edited by members Susan Hauser and Linda Johnson and published in 2014. The second edition has just been published and is available locally.

As Carter so aptly noted, "The footpath is finished, but we're not done and won't be any time soon." Volunteers welcome!

Learn more at www.northcountrytrail.org/itm or by contacting Eric Haugland, ITM president, 218-732-3910.

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