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 where 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 back country sites. There are 63 sites, and, up until this season, back country sites were available on a first-come, first serve basis. If full, wandering into the nearby woods to set up camp was an acceptable practice. That is, until the MDNR Parks staff noticed people forgot that whole pesky “Leave No Trace” thing. It’s now to the point where there is so much toilet paper on the ground, it looks like it grows there naturally. In addition, the campsites are beaten down and there are a gazillion social trails.
Not exactly the back country experience one was expecting.
Therefore, the MDNR Parks has implemented a policy of one group, one campsite, via advance reservation. No more winging it.
Not surprisingly, this policy has upset those that forgot the #1 LNT principle: “Plan ahead and prepare”. As an outfitter, I can tell you the #1 reason people get into trouble on back country trips leads right back to a lack of planning. But, the disconnect is real, as those that seem to be most upset about it not only ignore rule #1, but like to wing it as well. Here are some comments on a few hiking forums to which I belong. I am paraphrasing the comments as to protect the disconnected, as, I’m sure some of them will read this blog:
“This stinks! Less places to head out on a whim and camp in the wilderness.”
“This is really lame! The Porkies were a destination to hike this year. I will not be going since I like to wing it.”
“ I hate this policy. You arrive only to find the ideal campsite is reserved. So is the next one, and all the others. You have to choose between leaving or hiking 10 miles late in the day to reach the only available campsites. “
” I’ve advocated that parks like Tahquamenon Falls follow the old Porkies backcountry camping rules. Sad, now I have to make an advance reservation.”
I’ve never understood the whole “winging it” to places that recommend or require reservations.
And of course, there are those who 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, a lack of backcountry wifi, or some other nonsense.
“This stinks! I hate Lansing!”
“It’s all about the $$”
And, The disconnect is particularly strong with this one:
“I’m fine with fees if I get something for it. But if its a poorly maintained trail…well, 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 out of one-hudred 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, beat down campsites)
Jordan River Loop (No permits, one campground, no off trail camping allowed but people do anyways)
Porcupine Mountains (Permits required, social trails, toilet paper part of the flora)
Pictured Rocks (Permits required–however, squatting is problematic & TONS of day hikers)
Grand Island (A few campgrounds require permits, most of island is LNT camping)
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.
Indian Trails bus stops near or on the NCT include:
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
4 miles from the NCT in Ironwood.
Therefore, you could self-shuttle yourself using Indian Trails.
In the Upper Peninsula, Trailspotters has the ENTIRE Upper Peninsula covered when it comes to spotting on the North Country Trail. There are no more valid excuses to make a linear trail work.
We need to spread out. We need to hike in less traveled areas. 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.