Minneapolis, Minnesota - Close to fifty backpackers and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) enthusiasts spent an afternoon together last weekend at the beautiful Camp Sacajawea Retreat Center, tucked into the trails and woods of Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Veteran trail advocates captivated the audience with presentations on the North Country Trail, the Kekekabic Trail, the Border Route Trail, the Powwow Trail, and an educational slide show, “What Happens on a Trail Clearing Trip.” Listeners learned about trail conditions, plans for volunteer clearing trips, and were encouraged to get out and hike some of the over 200 miles of BWCAW trails. The event was sponsored by the Boundary Waters Advisory Committee (BWAC), a non-profit all-volunteer organization established in 2002 to promote BWCAW trails through advocacy, education of the public, and organizing trail clearing trips in Minnesota’s wilderness.
Matt Davis, Regional Trail Coordinator for the Minnesota and North Dakota Chapter of the North Country Trail Association, gave the keynote address. The North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT) crosses seven states from North Dakota to New York. Minnesota includes long sections of the most premier wilderness hiking along the 4500 mile footpath: the Border Route Trail and the Kekekabic Trail. The Kekekabic trail was an abandoned fire-fighter footpath connecting the Gunflint Trail and Snowbank lake when visionary Martin Kubik, now BWAC President, organized volunteers to clear it 1990. It has been cleared by volunteers every year since then, and now, more than a quarter century later, is a foundation for routing the National Scenic NCT through the BWCAW.
Davis described how severe 2016 summer storms left some sections of long distance trails in the Boundary Waters impassable. The U.S. Forest Service is taking steps to clear a number of stricken trails in 2017 with crews from other states, and volunteers from the NCT’s Kekekabic Trail and Border Route Trail Associations and the Boundary Waters Advisory Committee, in collaboration with the Forest Service, are organizing volunteers now for spring trips to clear the damaged trails.
"It was fantastic to see so much interest in the hiking trails of the Boundary Waters from a diverse group,” Davis enthused after the kickoff event. “Many BWCAW trails desperately need more 'boots on the ground' and the Kekekabic and Border Route Trails need more trail clearing volunteers to help keep this vital unofficial link in the North Country National Scenic Trail open. Hopefully Congress will do its job this year and pass the legislation that would officially take the NCT up the North Shore and through the Boundary Waters as they are very fitting locations for a National Scenic Trail. Thanks to the Boundary Waters Advisory Committee for pulling together such a great program."
Keeping the trails open can be challenging. For example, the Powwow Trail has more than 6,000 tree falls on the thirty mile trail, an undesirable legacy of the Pagami Creek Fire of 2011. “That’s equivalent to twenty to forty times an average annual treefall rate as a result of the fire. We can recruit volunteers, but what we really need is to train more crew leaders. Crew leaders need wilderness, safety and people skills to do the job well,” says Kubik. Kubik is encouraged by the recent passage of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act, HR 845. “There is terrific potential with the new law that should help address cooperation between the Forest Service and established volunteer groups,” said Kubik.
Keeping the trails open can also be rewarding. The Boundary Waters Advisory Committee is excited to be introducing hikers to the unique Powwow Trail and the opportunity to experience the post-fire environment. “Each year since the fire, visits to the Powwow Trail reveal more and different healthy growth. Initially we saw fireweed and asters, then the jack pine, and in 2016 the feathery juvenile black spruce appeared. This chance to walk the tread and to watch the boreal forest regenerate is a gift,” said Rebecca Powell, BWAC member who was presented with the 2016 BWAC Volunteer of the Year at the Kickoff event. Rebecca should know: she has fifteen years’ experience with BWAC and wilderness trails and, she says, “the multitude of dedicated volunteers I continue to meet who work to preserve our BWCAW trails. Volunteering for a trail clearing crew is not a small commitment, but I have never met a crew member who didn’t enjoy their time on trail, and the satisfaction of restoring even a small section.”
About Boundary Waters Advisory Committee
Founded in 2002, The Boundary Water Advisory Committee (BWA Committee) promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the backpacking and hiking trails of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of the Superior National Forest. BWA Committee helps hikers to explore and develop a deep appreciation of the natural world. More information is available online at http://www.meetup.com/Friends-of-BWCA-Trails/ or by contacting Martin Kubik at email@example.com.
With more than 700 members in Minnesota and Wisconsin, the BWA Committee offers low cost wilderness backpacking trips with emphasis on safety, Leave No Trace philosophy and deep appreciation of nature.