From DeWitt to Dakota: Old Erie Canal State Park can be used to travel to the Midwest, thanks to the nearly complete Link Trail. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
The Central New York chapter of the North Country Trail Association (NCTA) marks the day by leading a work-hike starting at 9:30 a.m. on the Link Trail in Canastota; meeting place is the TriValley Family Practice, 7137 Mount Pleasant St., Canastota. Trail work experience isn’t necessary, but it’s recommended that you bring water, lunch, work gloves and appropriate footwear. Tools will be provided by the club, but bring loppers if you have them; children under age 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
The tentative schedule has the work portion taking place in the morning, with a recreational hike after lunch. But the NCTA’s purpose for staging the work hike isn’t just to get a few hours of free labor: It’s for the benefit of virgin trailblazers who might wander onto the path with the naivete of a child wandering out of the forest.
“The trails are for so much more than just taking a hike,” said Kathy Eisele, NCTA member and coordinator of the event. “Runners, bicyclists, bird-watchers, photographers, families or just people who want to take their mind off things for a little while are frequent users of trails. The National Trails Day hike is our way to raise awareness of what should be obvious, as well as the fact that the trail is a lot longer than they think.”
Many people are probably unaware there’s an alternative, less-traveled green route that connects us with half the country just a short distance from the shoulders of noisy highways and interstates. It’s 4,600 miles long and it’s called the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST). Like paved roads, these trails don’t grow naturally and the majority are man-made, but there is no carbon footprint left behind—just the mark of the bottom of the soles of Birkenstock, Puma, New Balance or whatever else bipeds are sporting these days.
Starting in New York, the NCNST runs through seven states: Pennsylvania and Ohio, up into Michigan and across Minnesota and Wisconsin before finishing in North Dakota. Authorized by Congress in 1980, the NCTA was formed in 1981 and its national headquarters is located in Lowell, Mich. There are 28 local chapters within the seven states that help maintain their area of trail. The Central New York chapter has close to 200 members and is the only Empire State member of the NCTA.
“Right now our main focus is trail building and connecting already existing trails,” continued Eisele. “Most of our group hikes are work hikes because we are always actively constructing and maintaining the North Country trail in keeping up our part to help see the North Country Trail through.” When it’s complete, one will be able to walk a single path from Crown Point, on Lake Champlain, to Lake Sakakwea, N.D.
Eisele estimated that throughout those seven states between New York and North Dakota, more than 40 percent of the NCNST is complete and the entire system is still years away from being entirely intertwined. The trails are on both public and private land; Eisele added that most private landowners are supportive of the venture and they work together to establish the trail without being intrusive. Trail builders will flag the path, then walk it with the landowner for approval; then the landscaping begins.
“When we are looking for a route, we’ll search for an area where we don’t have to do a lot of heavy cutting,” said Eisele of the group’s conservative approach. “There’s not too much overhead cost for that kind of work and we also don’t want to have to go through a forest and cut down trees.”
While it’s mostly brush cutting, every now and then workers will have to erect a small crossing bridge or a stairway for continuity in the trail. Should they need to build, the group applies for grants with the National Park Service, which, Eisele mentioned, “is usually supportive as long as it’s strategically necessary for completion of the trail.”
The Link Trail is a north-south junction that will connect the Old Erie Canal towpath that runs east-to-west in upstate New York with the Finger Lakes Trail that follows the same direction in the Southern Tier. The Old Erie Canal towpath is part of the NCNST.The Finger Lakes Trail has a 562-mile mainline, plus 236 miles of loop and branch trails. More than 300 miles of it is part of the NCNST, but most of it is located in the Allegheny Mountains of northern Pennsylvania. With the Link Trail, northern and southern New York will be unified in holy trail matrimony.
“The most exciting thing about a trail is seeing where it leads and the thrill of the journey,” concluded Eisele. “And as the trails are connected one-by-one, with the price of gas these days, many people might soon be finding their way to the trails for a cheaper and less-frustrating adventure.”
If you are interested in joining the association, or just want to find out more about the National Trails Day event, call 672-5645.