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North County Scenic Trail

It was on this date in 1980 that congress authorized the construction of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a 4,600-mile trail from Middlebury in central Vermont to Lake Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota. In between it passes through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Today marks the 40th anniversary since congress approved this national gift.

Long before the trail was ever thought of, people were intrigued by the idea of long-distance hiking. In the early 1900s, Benton MacKaye conceived of the idea of the Appalachian Trail. But it wasns’t until the environmental movement in the 60s that Congress, in 1968, passed the National Trail System Act, which approved the construction of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. The act also called for the study of 14 other possible long-distance trails, including the North Country Trail.

In 1971 a combined state and federal taskforce began researching the best routes for the trail. It was overseen by David Schonck and later Bob Martin from Ann Arbor, Michigan. In 1973 a young and recently graduated Tom Gilbert started supporting the project by developing materials for public meetings in the states the trail would cross. Gilbert became the first superintendent of the trail. He continued this work until 2011 when he retired.

The trail continues to develop, and as of 2015 there were 2,880 completed miles. It’s estimated that volunteers contributed over 1.5 million dollars worth of labor.

       191 miles of the route are in North Dakota. 80 of those follow roads while 111 are off-road. It starts on the eastern edge by Fort Abercrombie and then passes through Walcott. After that it crosses the Sheyenne grasslands, where hikers can enjoy a North Dakota countryside of pastures, cows, and grain silos. After that it follows the Sheyenne River , winding by attractions like Fort Ransom State Park and Lake Ashtabula. The final stretch is mostly on roads, but permission is being sought to route the trail through the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, the Wolf Creek Wildlife Management Area, City of Riverdale, and across Garrison Dam.

Dakota Datebook written by Lucid Thomas   


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