Notice: I've taken a part-time job, and it's definitely affecting my blogging time. I'll continue to add content here as often as possible. Pertinent guest posts are always welcome.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Partnership Creates Premier Experience

worker drilling holes for boardwalk
Jim Heaton of Kalamazoo prepares understructure for boardwalk

by JHY

Sterling Marsh? Where the heck is that? Well, thanks to the partnership efforts of the North Country Trail Association (NCTA), National Forest Service (NFS) and National Park Service (NPS), Sterling Marsh should soon become a popular local wildlife watching destination.

Located in Lake County, Michigan, along the course of the North Country Trail, Sterling Marsh has historically been anything but a popular destination. In fact, it’s been one of the more dreaded sections of NCT in Michigan. Sometimes knee-deep in water in spring, and seriously muddy at most any time of year, thru-hikers sighed and slogged through while day-hikers simply avoided the place.

Yet, for the brave, the area is rich in wildlife. Birds enjoy the open water portion of the marsh. Local frog census taker for the state, Vicky Kelly of Baldwin, visits there regularly as a locale on her counting route. She and partner, John Cooley, are also the volunteers who regularly maintain that section of trail. “It can be pretty tough to get through in the spring,” Vicky commented. But that is changing.

muddy area near boardwalk
note old trail and too-low bridge beside new boardwalk- taken in April 2010
For two summers, the Spirit of the Woods Chapter (SPW) of the NCTA has been making a lot of noise in the woods between Jenks Road and 96th St south of the 76th St. trailhead. They are nearing the end of year two of a three-year project to get the Sterling Marsh trail out of the mud by building a raised boardwalk through the area. When complete, there will be over a half-mile of dry wooden walkway. Following a recent group effort by volunteers, over 1700 feet are already complete.

The project is a perfect example of how partnerships create better trails. The NPS is the managing authority for the trail, and in that capacity offers competitive matching funds for improvements to the North Country Trail. The match can be made in volunteer hours. Local groups, such as the chapter, are usually willing to work, but can’t possibly come up with the money to build large projects like this. The NFS comes into the picture because they manage this section of land within the Manistee National Forest. They had to approve building such a project, and in this case they have also supplied some of the materials. This is allowing the chapter to extend the boardwalk even farther than the original plan.

This past week, the chapter hosted a Volunteer Adventure week, organized by the NCTA. People signed up to come camp and work hard for a whole week. Their only reward was free food and seeing a job well done. Over 15 people showed up at various times from as far away as Kalamazoo, Holland and Stockbridge, MI. About half the volunteers were regulars from Spirit of the Woods. With the help of two portable generators to power the drills and saws, and a power wagon to aid in transporting the wood, the workers saw their product slowly snaking behind them through the trees– a lovely raised walkway.

people adding boardwalk decking
Peg Roth and Loren Bach add decking boards
A small deck has been added near the middle of the structure. The NFS has agreed that it makes perfect sense to make the approach to the north end accessible, and will fund construction of this detail. Thus, when complete, the entire boardwalk will be wheelchair friendly, a great addition to local trail opportunities.

SPW trail work coordinator, Ed Chappel of Irons, has overseen the huge project, and reports that thousands of volunteer hours have been invested so far, with more to come.

So, next time you are wondering where to find a piece of premier trail for a stoll, think Sterling Marsh. Happy birding... frogging... hiking!

This segment is on NCTA map MI-05

See Spirit of the Woods Chapter of the NCTA

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