Luke Jordan started his 4,600-mile hike across America’s north country in late March at Lake Sakakawea in central North Dakota in what he described as “extreme cold.”
“Then it snowed almost every day,” he said.
That was three years ago that the Lowell, Mich., man, who is one of 12 people so far to hike the entire North Country National Scenic Trail, accomplished his feat at age 22 after he graduated from college.
He’s now 25 and working for the National Park Service in Lowell, in an office next door to the trail’s national headquarters.
Jordan is one of only six that has hiked the trail in one fell swoop. The other six have done it in sections.
He reached the end of his journey from North Dakota to New York at the Vermont border after hiking 475 miles in North Dakota and 850 miles in Minnesota and then through Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania before reaching New York.
About 66 percent of the trail that weaves across mostly public lands through the prairies of North Dakota and the forests of northern Minnesota is complete
It’s the longest of the 11 national scenic trails in America, and Jordan had his share of adventures and beautiful scenery during the hike that took him until mid-October—about seven months.
The best part, he said, was meeting the people.
He stayed with some of them along the way as they would invite him into their homes, but he said he found places to camp about 70 percent of the time and stayed in motels or homes the other 30 percent.
He decided on the North Country Trail because he thought it was “unique, different and much-less traveled,” compared to more well-known trails like the Appalachian Trail that is completely built and runs 2,190 miles through 14 states from northern Georgia to Maine.
Carrying his 40-pound backpack, Jordan said the main problems along the route were people’s dogs (mostly in Ohio), heat exhaustion on the hot summer days, the mosquitoes (mostly in Michigan), that extreme cold in North Dakota to start the trip and traffic when he had to take to the paved roads where there’s no trail.
“I almost got hit by a couple of semis in Ohio,” he said.
‘Trying to piece together a puzzle’
The small paid staff who has been working since 1980 on developing the trail are busy trying to fill in the large gaps yet on the trail so there isn’t a need for the road miles.
That involves working with private landowners, as much of the trail developed already is on public lands such as national forests and state lands.
Although North Country trail development director Andrea Katchmark said four of five private landowners say “yes” to an easement, there are those “next door” who aren’t interested.
“Most of our time in recent years has been to negotiate with private landowners and it’s very time consuming,” said Katchmark, who also works in the national office in Michigan near Grand Rapids.
“It’s like trying to piece together a puzzle,” she said.
She said with little funding, most of the easements are donated although they have paid in “some places.”
It also requires a lot of volunteers, like Tom Moberg of Fargo who serves as the trail association’s national board president.
The volunteers help to keep the trail mowed or marked in such places as Walcott and Colfax, small towns just west of Abercrombie where the trail crosses from North Dakota into Minnesota.
Often the trail can be just a mowed grass foot path as little is paved, although some segments are crushed gravel.
Moberg, who will end his three-year term as president when the the trail association has its annual celebration in Fargo on Sept., 14-17, said there are about 60 members of the Dakota Prairie Chapter from Cass, Richland and Ransom counties.
He said they have been working hard on a volunteer basis to complete about 80 miles of trail from Fort Abercrombie to Lisbon. Their work has mostly involved mapping, building, mowing and marking a foot path through the prairies and sandhills in southeast North Dakota. About 45 miles of the trail are off-road, with 35 on-road miles that they try to keep to gravel or minimum maintenance roads.
The trail winds through some of the most beautiful scenery in the six states.
In North Dakota, it’s no exception. Moberg said many people think of northern Minnesota when they talk of beautiful scenery, but there is a lot to offer in North Dakota, too.
“There’s some really unique beauty,” Moberg said.
The purpose of the trail, he said, are to allow the public to see the natural, historic, scenic and cultural resources in America. Thus, many are designed to highlight these treasures.
Matt Davis, the regional trail coordinator who is responsible for North Dakota and Minnesota and works out of his home in Detroit Lakes, said for example the trail goes by North Dakota’s only waterfall in the Sheyenne State Forest near Fort Ransom and through Maplewood State Park in western Minnesota where the spectacular fall colors will splash through the rolling hills of the forestland in the coming weeks.
He’s also trying to work on developing the trail further in central North Dakota along Lake Sakakawea’s shoreline where some “spectacular views” could be added.
Davis said some people enjoy the walk through the prairie, but there are also some fairly boring stretches such as along a path of about 130 miles following a canal that was part of the Garrison Diversion water project that was supposed to bring water from the Missouri River to eastern North Dakota.
Of the 475 miles of the planned trail in North Dakota, Davis said 250 miles are completed. In Minnesota, 600 miles out of the 850 miles have been developed.
Davis has high praise for volunteers such as Moberg and others who selflessly give of their time to work on maintaining the trail.
“Some of the volunteers don’t even like to hike,” he said.
Davis and others involved find it “exciting” to work on building the trail that people will likely be enjoying 100 years down the road.
And it might take years and years to get the trail completed so people like Jordan won’t have to take to the roads and deal with traffic while on a day, week or yearlong hike.
National group meeting in Fargo
FARGO—The North Country Trail Association will hold its national meeting in Fargo at the Cambria Hotel on Sept. 14-17 and about 250 are expected to attend—one of the largest of its “celebrations” ever held.
One highlight will be a hike of 6.5 miles with a retired couple—Ruth and Dan Dorrough—who live near the trail in New York state who are completing the final miles of their walk along the entire 4,600 miles. They completed the trail in sections over the past 15 years or so and will tell the gathering about their adventures.
The other hikes will be along the Red River in Fargo the first day, in the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge area near Detroit Lakes the second day and then hikes in southeastern North Dakota between Fort Abercrombie and the Sheyenne National Grassland southwest of Kindred on the final day.