Last year at Quiet Water Symposium, I presented a brand new program “5 Popular & 5 Not so Popular segments of the North Country Trail”
I’m renaming it to “5 over-run segments and 5 segments you won’t see another soul”.
In recent years, the number of people who backpack and day hike has grown. A lot. Exponentially? Maybe not, but there are sure a lot more people hiking our trails now than ten years ago. Which is a great thing, knowing so many people are enjoying the natural beauty Michigan has to offer.
However, with growth, comes challenges.
Most recently, Porcupine Wilderness State Park has implemented a new policy that requires reservations for their backcountry sites. There are 63 sites, and, it was a first-come, first serve, and if full, wandering into the nearby woods to set up camp was an accepible practice. Until people forgot that whole pesky “Leave No Trace” thing. Its now the point where there is so much toilet paper on the ground it looks like it grows there naturally. The campsites are beaten down, there are a gazillion social trails.
Not exactly the backcountry experience one was expecting.
Therefore, the MDNR Parks has implemented a policy of one group: one campsite.
Amazingly, this policy has upset those that forgot the #1 LNT princilple: “Plan ahead and prepare”. As an outfitter, I can tell you the #1 reason people get into trouble on trips like this leads right back to a lack of planning. But, the disconnect is real, as those that seem to be most upset about it are 1)those that wing it and/or 2)Ignore #1 LNT rule. Actual comments:
“man that sucks… a lot. Less and less places to just head out on a whim and camp in the wilderness.”
“That’s really lame, but perhaps understandable due to problems last season? This was a destination to hit up this year but it seems that I will not be going. ( I’m a last min decider.)”
“Personally I hate this policy. You enter a park with your hiking limits in mind only to find the ideal campsite is reserved. So is the next one. And the next one. Now you have two choices, give up your trip and drive 10 hours home or sign to a marathon death march itinerary to reach the only available campsites. “
“If campsites were first-come-first-serve then people could disperse camp if campsites were taken and otherwise adjust their itinerary if they find terrain and conditions don’t allow the miles they thought they could hike. I’ve done that at the Porkies and had a blast. No fires when dispersed and leave no trace. I’ve advocated that parks like Tahquamenon Falls follow the Porkies backcountry camping rules. Sad it’s now the other way around.”
I’ve never understood the whole “winging it” to places that recommend or require reservations.
And of course, there are those that think it is a money grab. I just want to shake these people and tell them “You know, if everyone practiced LNT, there wouldn’t be a need to have a reservation system because, get this, they wouldn’t know you were there!”
And, it’s frustrating reading about “stealth camping” & not paying fees. Then, out of the other side of their mouths they will gripe about trail conditions or lack of backcountry wifi or some other nonsense.
“Totally sucks, I hate Lansing”
“It’s all about the fees $$$$$$$$$”
The disconnect is strong with this one: “I mean… im ok with paying if it gets me some services…. but if its literally just going to be a poorly maintained path in the woods… f*ckoff with those fees.”
And here we are, loving these places to death.
When someone posts the question “I’m looking for a two day loop hike” in one of the hiking forums to which I belong, seventy eight responses in a row are “Manistee River Loop”. Seriously. It has gotten to the point where the admins set an over/under every time this question is asked.
What are the over-used trail systems, you ask? To make this more relevant, I’ll categorize them like we do rare animals. Instead of Endangered Species, lets call them Threatened & Endangered Trail Systems.
Manistee River Loop (No permit system, no limits, toilet paper has come part of the flora)
Jordan River Loop (No permits, no off trail camping but people do anyways)
Porcupine Mountains (Permits required)
Pictured Rocks (Permits required–however, squatting is problematic & TONS of day hikers)
Grand Island (No Permit system)
Nordhouse Dunes (No Permit system, its the place to party-hike)
Fife Lake (No Permit System)
Hoist Lakes (No Permit System)
Isle Royale (Permit System)
North Manitou (Permit system)
South Manitou (Permit system)
Sylvania (Permit system)
High Country Pathway (No permits)
Pigeon River Pathway/Shingle Mill/Green Timbers (no permits)
Tahquamenon Falls (campsite reservations)
Craig Lake State Park (campsite reservations)
….and the other 1000 miles of North Country Trail outside of these places.
Do you see a trend here? I certainly do.
The most popular trails are those that have loop systems. A common and constant conundrum (and complaint) for using the other two thousand miles of backpackable trails (1100 miles of it on the North Country Trail) is logistics. You either double back, spot two cars, pray LYFT is available (its available statewide in Michigan), have a friend spot you/find you, hitchhike, or, use an outfitter to spot you. My recommendation is to embrace one of these options in order to hike a linear trail.
Did you know that Indian Trails stops right on or very near the North Country Trail in several places? If you wanted to do a section hike of more than a few days, there are plenty of stretches on the NCT statewide where you could do this.
The Bus stops ¼ mile from the NCT in Battle Creek, on the trail in Rockford, 6 miles from the trail in Manton, on the trail in Petoskey, ¼ mile from the trail in St. Ignace, 5 miles from Strongs Corners, 1 ¼ mile from the NCT in Marquette, and 4 miles from the NCT in Ironwood. Heck, it crosses the trail
In the Upper Peninsula, Trailspotters has the ENTIRE Upper Peninsula covered when it comes to spotting on the North Country Trail. There is no excuse anymore to make a linear trail work for you.
We need to spread out more. We need to practice LNT. We may need to browbeat those that don’t, because, it is their actions that ruin it for those of us that do.
I will always be a strong proponent of Leave No Trace. I challenge you to as well. I also challenge you to NOT visit any of the places on the Endangered or Threatened List until you’ve hiked 100 miles outside of these areas.
And when you do your 100 miles, please, Plan and Prepare.
I recently presented at Quiet Water Symposium in East Lansing.
I’ve uploaded my presentation as a pdf file. Enjoy!