Will Americans Ever Get to Hike the 4,600-Mile North Country Trail?

It was proposed in '66. Fifty years later, it remains undone.

By Athena Wisotsky

 
Will Americans Ever Get to Hike the 4,600-Mile North Country Trail?
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04 June 2018

The dream of the North Country Trail has been simmering in the minds of American outdoorspeople for nigh on 50 years, but still the 4,600 mile trail hasn’t had its ribbon-cutting.

The cause, as you might imagine when considering a project of such magnitude, is political infighting.

But a glimmer of hope we’ve just been given: late May saw the House Committee on Natural Resources unanimously approve a revision to the route of the trail, a big victory for those behind the scenes. As North Country Trail Association Executive Director Andrea Ketchmark explained in an interview with Outside: “We’ve never made it this far in Congress before.”

Which is a big deal, considering the initial trail was proposed in 1966 and federal approval of that plan wasn’t too long behind. Outside reports on some of the main causes of the delay, and sadly two familiar phrases stand out: a paltry budget and inadequate staffing.

Oh, and there’s the not-small issue of where the trail itself will actually lie, and the fact that early route plans were riddled with issues. According to Outside, “in its original iteration, the North Country Trail was envisioned as a 3,170-mile multi-use trail connecting the Appalachian Trail in Vermont to the Lewis and Clark Trail in North Dakota.” At least 100 of those miles, in Minnesota, were once straight-up swampland.

Another problem crops up with proposed revisions to the National Scenic Trail, that “requires a byzantine process that begins at the committee level in both the House and the Senate and must end with presidential approval.”

For years the NCTA have sought to get the revisions approved, but were stymied by Republicans who were afraid that “the trail would be an excuse for the federal government to acquire private land and that it would block energy projects.”

So for a time, there was no progress.

But then last month, and without a clear impetus for the about-face, Republicans began to soften. Republican committee chairman Rob Bishop of Utah told Outside, “This bill helps get more Americans outside and is a win for recreation, public access, and the enjoyment of our nation’s beautiful scenic trails.”

While all involved seem hearted about this change of tune and what it means for the trail’s completion, here’s what’s left to do:

  • The full House and Senate must approve the reroute
  • 1,500 miles of trail still remain to be built
  • Donald Trump needs to sign off on all of the above

We’re gonna take our cues from Outside on this one, crack a hopeful smile and hope for a ballpark completion date sometime soon (although Ketchmark herself can’t even hazard a guess at when this will come).

See you out there?

Main image by Rob Boursaw

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