I have mentioned here that I have been hiking and building hiking trails. Three major long distance trails cross southern Ohio. The most nationally visible of these is the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST). Just like its older sibling the Appalachian Trail, it is an official trail of the United States National Park Service.
As far as trails go, it is a relatively new one. It is ten years old. It was intelligently conceived and connects many major state and local trails as it travels between the New York-Vermont border and west central North Dakota. Here in southern Ohio the North Country National Scenic Trail utilizes the pre-existing Buckeye Trail. When you hike footpath of the Buckeye Trail in my area you are hiking three different trails at the same time. One of these trails is the NCNST.
Even though the trail is part of the National Park Service, a non-profit association has come into being to support the mission of the trail. The North Country Trail Association (NCTA) develops, maintains, preserves and promotes the NCNST through a trail-wide coalition of volunteers and partners. Because of the length of the trail there are 34 regional chapters of the NCTA. The Buckeye Trail Association is an affiliate partner here in Ohio. This means that all of my volunteer hours building and maintaining trail near my home counts twice. Once for the state of Ohio for funding of the Buckeye Trail, and again for the federal government for funding of the NCNST. I have joined both associations to show my support of both efforts.
The North Country Trail Association has a by-monthly magazine that it provides to its members. For a non-glossy magazine, I have to say that the North Star is of very high quality. It contains the normal overview of events and news that fill most publications of this sort. The North Star also seems to be able to carry at least one article per month that focuses in on an aspect of the trail, its volunteers or nearby communities.
Because of the federal rules for certification of National Park Service trails, parts of the Buckeye Trail can not be used as part of the official NCNST. The main sticking point are the parts of the Buckeye Trail that utilize roads open for vehicular traffic. While this may seem to be an unnecessary rule, there are good reasons for it. The main one is safety. When the Buckeye Trail first laid out its route, remote and lightly used roads were chosen to be part of the trail because they would not need to be maintained. As the decades have rolled by many of these sleepy back roads have become major thoroughfares. The Buckeye Trail Association (BTA) is looking to move much of its on road trail to off road foot paths. It is in the best interest of the BTA to cooperate with the NCTA, and as a major affiliate partner they are doing just that.
This partnership benefits both organizations. The NCTA gets the use of the BTA trail building crew, and its myriad of trail maintainers. The benefit to the BTA is a little more subtle. The BTA can use the national status of the NCNST to their benefit. The most visible example of this is the trail tunnel that runs underneath the new section of US35 east of Chillicothe, near Richmondale, OH. When this new highway was being constucted, the National Park Service was able to get the tunnel inserted as part of the planned construction. This is a huge benefit. Not only can hikers cross a major highway in safety, but it happened at zero cost to the BTA and the state of Ohio. There is no way the BTA could have had this tunnel built on their own. Similar nationally funded projects can also be leveraged to the benefit of the trails. It just so happens that the section of trail that I maintain starts at this tunnel and runs west to the eastern edge of Scioto Trail State Forest.
I have not participated in any NCTA activities other than those co-sponsored by the BTA. The nearest NCTA chapter to me is the Adams County Chapter. I plan on attending one of their meetings in the near future. I hope to be able to hike part of the NCNST in the upper peninsula of Michigan in the near future. My parents will be vacationing up there later this summer and Doris and I have been invited to join them for a few days to hike and explore a series of waterfalls that dominate one area. I am fairly sure that the NCNST uses the same trail. I need to do some investigating to be sure.
While I have not participated with the NCTA much, I am still proud to be part of it. Any organization that has the vision to attempt such a long hiking trail, and has the intelligence to understand that this federal trail needs the help of state and local governments and organizations, deserves my support.