North Country Trail offers quite a hike
July 14, 2006
By Howard Meyerson
Press Outdoors Editor
WHITE CLOUD (Mich) -- The narrow, pointed stump was a dead giveaway. There were beaver
in the area. No surprise.
The four of us had been skirting a large wetland complex, walking a
scenic five-mile segment
of the 4,600-mile North Country Trai. "That
one had to have some sharp teeth," said Roger Meyer, pointing to a
and pointy stem.
The original trail through this part of the Manistee National Forest
was under water. A new segment
had been routed around the standing
pond created by a nearby beaver dam.
Score 1 for the beavers.
"I like this section," said Meyer, 71, a retired engineer from Grand
Rapids and charter member
of the West Michigan chapter of the North
Country Trail Association. "It's different and it's not hard." To
be sure. And it was proving a delightful hike.
I had met three local NCTA members at the trail, Meyer and Jack and Elaine Buege from Sparta. The
couple are avid hikers who spend their
vacations day hiking or backpacking in the Adirondack high country or
such as Glacier National Park.
The plan was to explore a short segment of a long trail. The NCT is a
4,600-mile National Scenic
Trail that spans from New York to North
Dakota. There are 1,150 miles routed through both peninsulas of
About 749 miles of that is hikeable.
Roughly 120 miles of that runs through the Manistee National Forest.
The 5 1/2-mile segment we
chose runs between 13 mile/Cleveland Rd.
and 16 mile Rd., just north of White Cloud. Hikers can park at the
trailhead lot at Nichols Lake on the south end, but parking is more casual on the north side. We found a place to park off
the road in a woodsy clearing near the trail.
"It's a nice section," said Kathy Bietau, recreation planner for the
Baldwin Ranger District
of the national forest. "It has got some
elevation and has some ups and downs with several nice views of the
The trail passes by five lakes and wetlands along its route -- or what is left of some that are now nearly dry. The
lakes are all that
remain of the glaciers that once covered the area. They are glacial kettle lakes, deep
depressions in the landscape formed eons ago. They were created when big pieces of ice broke off moving glaciers and got buried
in the dirt. When the glacier receded leaving dirt-covered blocks, the melting ice filled the holes.
"They are really popular for fishing," said Bietau, who said they
also are a big draw for campers
Some just come up for the camping. Others throw up a tent as they are
passing through. One nice
aspect of a long-distance hiking trail is
the option to go short or long, adding miles and days if a hiker
Camping is permitted anywhere in the national forest, provided camp
is at least 200 feet from
the trail or any lake. Camping also is
allowed at designated primitive sites located at Condon and Sawkaw
there are wilderness privies and fire-rings but little
else. Rustic camping also is offered at Highbank Lake Campground.
An adventurous hiker with an interest in fishing might consider
packing in a lightweight float
tube and a rod. Lakes such as Sawkaw
and Condon are known for their bass, bluegill and pike, according to
But on this day, fishing was not on the agenda. Our group started out
hiking south from 16 mile
Rd., where the trail starts out relatively
flat. It sets off through a lush green forest, meandering through
a sea of bracken ferns and pine. One quickly notices that the trail is easy to
follow. It is not only well tramped, but
it is also well marked. The obvious head-high blue blazes are easy to spot on trees at a distance. Where you find
two, one over the other, the trail will change direction.
The painted trail markers are the work of NCTA volunteers, people
such as Meyer, who has adopted
a seven-mile stretch in another part
of the forest. Each year, he and the others go out carrying a hand
paint brush and a can of blue paint. They make sure
the trail is free of obstacles and that the route is easily seen.
The blazes lead us on through the forest, which begins to change
before long, becoming lightly
rolling and then ever more so, taking
us gently up to the high ridges that border the lakes.
At no point does the trail become difficult or steep. Where a high
bluff appears, the trail veers
conveniently to a create a low-angled
walk up, with a switchback if necessary.
Three hours plus out, having stopped for lunch at one lake and to
chat with a camper at another,
the four of us arrive back at Nichols
Lake and a car.
The Bueges, who became Adirondack 46'ers last year, which means they climbed all 46 peaks in the
Adirondack mountain range more than 4,000 feet in elevation, said the hike is a good one, a nice warmup for
adventure. "What I like about this trail is that it's not hard," said Elaine Buege, a former Kent County Commissioner.
"You can take your kids on a hike like this, even fairly young kids. People can get out and have a pleasant experience without
©2006 Grand Rapids Press
[Note: 2007 would be the 10th anniversary of this program which utilizes the scenic North
Country Trail, however there has been some talk about cancelling this program from the CAC Director of Camping. The
"NCT" hosts Owasippe's "Manistee Quest" guided trek program. Owasippe uses the nearest 100-mile long segment of it,
closest trail head for which is about 1/2 hour east of Camp Blackhawk near Fremont. If your unit has an interest in
CAC sustaining and offering this guided trek program, you should write to Council President Jack Jadel at the CAC service
center at 1218 W Adams, Chicago IL 60607-2802. Unit signups, though, will work best.]