I brought my fat bike, just in case.
And while many stretches of this segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail in north-central Minnesota definitely could lend themselves to mountain biking, recent storms had brought down a few trees on and around the trail, making it difficult to navigate with a bike.
So I hiked. It is, after all, what the North Country Trail is truly about. Sure, it’s a multi-use trail. But you don’t hear stories about folks traversing all 4,600 miles of the trail (it’s the longest National Scenic Trail in America) on a bike.
That would be interesting, though, and quite a feat. But, as of late, the North Country Trail is gaining momentum for several different reasons, and one of those is hiking.
And for those who hike over to Fargo, N.D., in a couple weeks, that momentum will be on full display at the North Country Trail Association’s 2016 Celebration, scheduled Sept. 15-17 (for more on the event, go to northcountrytrail.org/get-involved/special-events/2016-celebration-fargo-nd/).
It will be more than a hike for some: According to Tom Moberg, co-chair with his wife of this year’s event, celebration-goers will hail from 16 states, including from as far away as Washington, California and Arizona. Considering the trail “only” runs through seven states — including Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota in the Northland, along with New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan — that says something about the booming popularity of hiking and backcountry trails in general.
“I’m amazed at the registration numbers. I think we have over 235 registered; we expected about 125,” Moberg said Wednesday, the last day to register for a mind-boggling assortment of mostly hiking events spread out over the three days.
“The general swelling of interest and knowledge of the trail that’s going on right now all along the trail,” Moberg, of Fargo, said of why he thought interest in this year’s celebration might be so high. “And the National Parks Service’s 100th anniversary is going on. We have a ‘Hike 100 Challenge’ going on (in celebration of 100 years of the NPS, which administers the trail) to get people out and on the trail. They hike 100 miles. And 5,000 people signed up for this thing, and 4,000 have no affiliation with the trail association or had hiked the trail before.
“We really wanted to make this (the celebration) about hiking specifically. We wanted to keep it simple.”
So much for that idea. Yes, hiking is about as simple as it gets when it comes to trail use. But interest in the celebration and the events, and one hike in particular, is making things a bit complicated for organizers.
Among the 15 or so field events scheduled Saturday, Sept. 17, is the Dakota Prairie Special hike. According to Moberg, about 80 people have signed up for that particular hike — even 40 or so would be a lot for that event, he said.
Why so popular? The six-mile portion is all that remains for Ruth and Dan Dorrough of Canandaigua, N.Y. Once they complete that Dakota Prairie Special stretch, they will have hiked the entire North Country Trail. A celebration within the celebration is planned in the field to commemorate the feat later that afternoon, and the Dorrough’s will share their story at the banquet that evening with “An Unexpected Adventure: Hiking the Entire North Country Trail.”
According to the NCTA website (northcountrytrail.org), in 2010, volunteers contributed almost 70,000 hours toward building and maintaining the trail and telling its story. That work was valued at $1.5 million, and the volunteer hours were an increase of 14 percent from the previous year. And that number has likely increased significantly from then to now.
“There’s never been more than 100 to 120 to 150 people at these things,” Moberg said of the annual celebration, which rotates among those seven states that encompass the North Country Trail. “It’s always just the hardcores, those who devote their lives to building this trail. That’s not a huge number, but it’s our most important group — people who actually build and maintain the trail.
“There are 25 to 30 chapters or affiliates along the trail, and people from 22 of the chapters will be represented (at the celebration). A few years back, we decided to rethink how we do this. There had been a decline (in numbers at the annual gathering), so we decided to call it a celebration, not a conference.”
Fitting, for sure.