Thursday, October 9, 2008

North Country Trail Triad- Workshops, Hike and a Bar-B-Q

North Country Trail Triad 2008 participants
some of the Triad 2008 participants ready to hike
by Joan H. Young

Trail folks are always restless when asked to sit in meetings on a beautiful fall day. Nevertheless, day two of the Triad began with three morning presentations.

Robert Wetherell of the Allegheny National Forest brought everyone up to date on chain sawyer certification. This was followed by a presentation on the use of GIS information for planning trail routes and tracking its completion. Andrew Bashaw, Ohio-Pennsylvania Trail Coordinator for the NCTA covered this topic, and then also discussed illegal uses of the trail, primarily by off road vehicles. The damage done to hiking trails by such use is often devastating and irreversible. The NCTA is creating a database of techniques that have been shown to reduce the problems.

Finally, the group moved to the NCTA Schoolhouse north of White Cloud, and headed outside to play. The group began hiking north on the North Country Trail, and returning via the Birch Grove Trail loop option. By turning off at various locations, hikers were able to take a short, medium or longer (6 mile) hike, and return to the schoolhouse. This was followed by grilled brats, fresh salads, baked beans, and apple crisp provided by the West Michigan NCTA Chapter.

John Romanowski
John Romanowski (left) makes comments on the trail
It was noted by John Romanowski, of Region 9 Forest Service, that the Triad has now been held for ten years. Over that time a number of significant accomplishments have been made.
  • The DFC, desired future condition, for the trail– to be managed primarily for hiking and backpacking– has been incorporated into the Forest Plans of all the National Forests through which the trail passes.
  • Sawyer training and certification which will be recognized by both the Park Service and Forest Service has been agreed upon. Training is being offered on a somewhat regular basis, making it possible for volunteers to do trail work legally and safely.
  • The giving of a higher priority to the building of shelters was explored, but it was decided to focus on other needs.
  • During this time period, the Forest Service issued Trail Accessibility Guidelines standards for building trail. With the input of NCTA, reasonable considerations for the building of back-country trail for hikers was taken into account. This means that not every trail in National Forests must be four feet wide and paved.
  • The Triad has also helped to give the NCTA credibility as the nine National Forest units worked more closely with staff and volunteers.
  • Perhaps the most important benefit of the Triads has been the ability of the three groups to get to know individuals across the trail. Instead of a key NCTA volunteer simply having a sense of some anonymous government unit, he or she now knows real people from a particular Forest and has a sense of their commitment to the North Country Trail. In response, agency personnel have increased trust and respect for volunteers.

With declining Forest Service budgets, the future of the annual event is unclear, but everyone expressed high hopes for continuing the gatherings in some format.

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