Winding through seven states, the North Country Scenic Trail is 4,600 miles long, a footpath that links communities from New York to North Dakota. It’s the longest hiking path in the United States, and its maintenance requires the work of more than 800 volunteers annually. This year, those volunteers included a group of Hocking College students enrolled in the Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Program.
After leaving New York, the North Country Trail crosses Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, before ending in North Dakota. Less than 30 years old, the trail has become popular with outdoor enthusiasts. According to the North Country Trail Association, thousands of hikers journey on all or part of the pathway each year.
In an article in the New York Times, 27-year-old hiker Andrew Skurka talked about his transcontinental trek in 2005 that included the North Country Trail and explained why the trail is becoming so popular.
“If you want to see a huge cross-section of the U.S.A., the North Country is it,” Skurka said.
Too much popularity can be a bad thing, though. One Ohio section of the trail was being damaged by the increasing encroachment of recreation vehicles on paths meant only for foot travel. It was on this section, where the Buckeye Trail joins the North Country Trail, that the Hocking College students joined the volunteer efforts to maintain the trail.
Matt Ressler is a Hocking College student enrolled in the Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Program. This past quarter, he and other students in David Wakefield’s Adventure Leadership class spent three days working on the trail, creating obstructions to block vehicle traffic.
“(On) this specific section off Salem Road, there have been problems with ATVs and other off-road vehicles making way on the trail and degrading soils,” Ressler said. “People were just going down the trail on ATVs and dirt bikes and just tearing it up.”
Wakefield’s students coordinated their service project with Andrew Bashaw, North Country Trail Association’s coordinator for Ohio and Pennsylvania.
“Hocking College has an extraordinary Ecotourism and Adventure Travel Program that incorporates all kinds of learning processes, including cultural submersion, adventure leadership and wilderness skills, and ecotourism and environmental service,” Ressler said. “The students (in Wakefield’s) class had a very successful environmental service learning class on the North Country Trail and the Buckeye Trail.
What did they accomplish?
“Along with some help from a few guys with Wayne National Forest, the students created five rock barriers and a few other diversions in an effort to keep these ATVs off the footpaths,” Ressler said. “These rock barriers were no joke, either. Students split and moved 2,000-pound boulders, then pried and moved them on a mechanical high line into the forest.”
To split the rocks, students looked for a natural fault line in each rock, then scored it with a chisel and hammer.
“You make the line across it and then drill five holes placed evenly across the rock,” Ressler explained. “Then we hammered wedges into each hole simultaneously. It was pretty cool because these big rocks would just split in half. It was fun.”
Metal bars and “come-alongs” were used to move the rocks into place. Students then anchored them in six-to-eight-inch holes to make it difficult to move them.
“We put the cut side down so they look natural,” he said. “They’ll stay in place, and they look good.”
Ressler said the Adventure Leadership class teaches students about back-country camping, weather knowledge, how to conserve energy while hiking and other skills needed for outdoor professions such as mountain guides, ecotourism guides and other careers. Each class has a different trip. One recent class went to the Florida Everglades.
“We learn a lot in the trips,” Ressler said.”Each quarter helps us get ready to be a guide and take people out on trips.”
After completing his studies at Hocking College this summer, followed by an internship, Ressler plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in resource, recreation and tourism at the University of Idaho.
He said the service project helped him appreciate the importance of maintaining trails and other natural areas.
“I learned that a lot of … people don’t care and will throw litter and trash wherever they want. I enjoyed being out there and helping out. That’s a big trail and people like to hike there. It’s important to keep it looking good,” he said. “And we had a lot of fun, too.”
He encourages others to volunteer for trail maintenance by contacting Bashaw at P.O. Box 5, Shawnee, OH 43782, by phone at 394-2008 and by e-mail at email@example.com.