Hiking the North Country Trail

Another long but productive day in the North Woods. I’m shooting video footage for a Public TV documentary that will accompany the new Ken Burns documentary on the National Park System slated to air in September.

TV crew (Michael Garvin & Gail Grzybowski) and I joined Tom Gilbert, administrator of the North Country and Ice Age National Scenic Trails and a group of volunteers to hike selected segments of the North Country Trail in Douglas County, Wisconsin today.

We checked out a boardwalk constructed by Bill Menke, a retired NPS employee who now works part-time for the North Country Trail Association. Bill coordinates volunteer activity in WI and MI. He designed and oversaw the construction of nearly a mile of boardwalk through the St. Croix Bog near Solon Springs. This amazing segment of trail passes through a white cedar/black spruce bog that lies on the headwaters of the Brule and St. Croix rivers. The vegetation here consists of mosses, ferns, the trees mentioned, some black ash and some rare orchids, whose exact name I have forgotten. Showy Ladyslipper, perhaps?

From there, we checked out the Catlin Creek segment and campground, then hiked a half-mile up the historic Brule-St. Croix portage section of the trail. This leg skirts the bog to connect the two rivers along a route that local NC Trail Association chapter founder and former president Peter Nordgren told us was likely used by the first native inhabitants of the area at the end of the last Ice Age, some 10-12,000 years ago. It was easy to imagine their moccassined feet trudging the same, now deeply rutted, path that we took uphill to an overlook and series of stones taht bear plaques inscribed to memorialize some of the early Europeans who traveled this route: DuLuht, Schoolcraft and others.

After lunch, we cut cross-country through the pine barrens on sand roads to the Brule Valley, where we stopped at the Gaylord Nelson portal to the trail and hiked the Winnaboujou Ridge section of trail. On the way, I thought we might see a wolf or black bear, but none appeared.

Retracing our route through Solon Springs, we made our last stop at the Douglas County Wildife Area, a 5,000-acre section of the pine barrens maintained by WI DNR for sharp-tailed grouse and other prairie and brushland species.

The contrast from segment to segment was striking: bog, pine upland, hardwood upland, glacial outwash plain, each with its unique vegetation and – if we had had the time to wait for them to appear – wildlife species.

Hats off to Bill and all the volunteers who built and maintain the trail here and through all seven states through which it passes.

Tomorrow, we head back to the Namekagon to pick up a few shots of folks using the river and the visitor center. Tonight, I’m staying at the St. Croix Inn in Solon Springs. I am grateful that they have wifi here so I can post all these updates.

About an hour ago, I was sitting here in the lobby when Judy Nugent walked in with her family in tow and her hands full of fishing gear. If you don’t know her, she co-hosted the radio show with me for two years and still produces segments for Outdoor Wisconsin. Coincidently, she and her family are vacationing here this week.

And Saturday, I’ll be riding in the Glendale July Fourth Parade. Jay Dillig will be towing me in my Crestliner 1750 Fish Hawk. If you’re there, be sure to wave!


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