The North Country Trail spans more than 4,600 miles, connecting eight states from Vermont to North Dakota. Douglas County is home to roughly 105 miles of the trail. Most people who travel it find a favorite stretch.
Peter Nordgren is one of the founders of the Brule-St. Croix Chapter of the trail — a section on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota called the MacQuarrie Trailhead. It runs past the man-made Gordon MacQuarrie Wetlands, which are teeming with birds like trumpeter swans, geese, ducks and the occasional loon.
Overlooks into the Brule River valley draw Teresa Nelson, of Poplar, to the Samples Trailhead near Brule.
“It’s where I started,” she said. “It’s really quite beautiful anywhere, but that’s my favorite.”
History buffs can walk along one of the nation’s oldest portage trails, the Brule-St. Croix Portage Trail, and see plaques naming some of the historic figures who walked the same path.
Solon Springs High School freshman Abe Ahlberg enjoys taking the Brule Bog Boardwalk Trail in Solon Springs. The path runs between Palmers' Boat Landing and Croshaw Road and incorporates a wooden boardwalk through cedars and wildflowers.
For Julie Fromm, after-school/community education program coordinator for the school, her favorite stretch is any one she can get to.
“I love the North Country Trail and hike on it whenever and wherever I can,” she said. “Sometimes I leave right from my house in Solon Springs and go as far as I can on the trail and then call home for a ride back.”
Ahlberg and his classmates may have found a new favorite Tuesday, April 20, as they traveled on a portion of the trail that runs from South Reinsberg Road through downtown Solon Springs.
“They usually don’t go through this part of the trail, even if they live in town,” high school math and science teacher Joanne Zosel said. “In the winter it’s so beautiful. There’s a bunch of different bridges like this and creeks.”
Before reaching the village, the trail wound through woods, over creeks and past a fish ladder, which aids fish in moving upstream.
“This is a great spot here,” freshman Kaden Corlett said.
None of the freshmen complained about the hike.
“And even if just one kid learns something about the environment and ‘Oh, I like to be outside'; ‘This is kind of relaxing'; I’m going to do this again by myself' — isn’t that a great thing?” Zosel asked.
School to trail
Solon Springs students of all ages traveled along segments of the North Country Trail last week, an annual activity meant to introduce them to the natural resources in their backyard.
“One of the goals we have for our students is by the time they graduate, they will have had an opportunity to hike all of the North Country Trail segments around Solon Springs,” said Fromm, who launched the annual trail hike initiative in 2015. “Each grade level has a particular section they hike on, so each year they see another part that may be new to them.”
Nordgren said the partnership with the Solon Springs School District has been a great opportunity to get them enjoying the trail that’s right there.
“I hope that they’ll continue to take care of it and understand that we need to have those places and need to keep those places for future generations,” said Nelson, who has led some of the hikes. “Just spark them to be interested in the outdoors and getting outside and walking and exploring.”
That’s Fromm’s hope, as well.
“There is so much for students to be curious about and to pay attention to outside here,” she said. “These are places that are protected, sustainably managed, and ecologically significant and diverse. In other parts of the world, places like this do not exist, or are disappearing.”
Trails take commitment
Nordgren has been involved with the North Country Trail since he helped found the Brule-St.Croix chapter in 1997. Members lead hikes, maintain trails and build new sections. Now living in Cornucopia, Nordgren continues to maintain the MacQuarrie Trail with his son Eric, build new trails annually and work with landowners to find spaces where trails can move off-road. He also serves as membership and communications coordinator for the chapter.
“The thing I personally enjoy most about it is that it is something that has a long-term value. It’s something I can work on that I know will be around that my grandchildren and hopefully their children will get to enjoy if they so choose,” Nordgren said.
The North Country Trail is a unit of the National Park Service, but it is cared for almost entirely by volunteers.
“Which I think is very impressive,” Nelson said. “Forty-seven hundred miles. There’s someone who’s responsible for each mile.”
In 2020, as people sought outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, the North Country Trail was on their radar. Based on emails he received, Nordgren said, interest in the trail shot up more than 50% over previous years. Even with more interest, the trails are a great place to get away.
“When I’m out on the trail, I’m out on the trail quite a bit, it’s rare for me to run into another person,” Nelson said.
The Brule-St. Croix chapter currently has about 90 contributing members, 25 of which are active. More volunteers are always needed, however, to keep the trail system running and growing.
Join members of the North Country Trail Association’s Brule-St. Croix Chapter for a series of spring hikes in Douglas County:
May 8: Hike from the Gordon Dam to Scott Rapids Campsite and back, passing by the historic Gibson Cabin. Meet at the Gordon Dam Trailhead at 9 a.m. for the 6-mile hike.
May 22: View spring wildflowers from the Brule Bog Boardwalk. Meet at St. Croix Lake Trailhead/Palmer’s Landing at 9 a.m. to take part in the 5-mile, round-trip hike.
June 5: Celebrate National Trails Day and Wisconsin’s State Park Free Fun Weekend at Pattison State Park. Participants will hike 3 miles around Interfalls Lake, stop for lunch and tackle the Big Manitou Falls Trail. Meet in the parking lot near the park office at 10 a.m. Free admission.
June 19: Take an evening solstice hike through the Douglas County Wildlife Area, co-sponsored by the Friends of the Bird Sanctuary. Meet at Bird Road Trailhead off County Highway M at 8 p.m. for the 3-mile hike.
June 26: Meet at 9 a.m. at the Highway 53 trailhead for a 5-mile hike to and from Bird Sanctuary Road.
Social distancing will be observed. Participants should bring masks. No carpooling or shuttling will take place. Registration is requested. Visit meetup.com/sscbhikers to register.