Outdoors: Connecting Mason County with the Adirondacks

September 7, 2021

Outdoors: Connecting Mason County with the Adirondacks

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

How are Mason County and the famous eastern mountains related? Of course you can go by road- Interstate highways can zip you there at 70 mph. I-96, US23, I-80, I-90, and I-87 which at least has a tantalizing name- The Northway. And there you are in the land of blue mountains and lakes, spruce and hemlock and chilly mornings even in mid-summer.

But how much better to walk all that way? Infinitely better in my mind. And there is a path on which you can do just that. The North Country Trail connects the northeast corner of Mason County through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, ending in Vermont. But for years, the trail through the Adirondack Park has been only a dream. 

The Adirondack Park is an amazing piece of public property. It is 6 million acres large, protected in 1894 by the “Forever Wild” provision of the New York State constitution. Until the expansion of Alaska’s Denali National Park in 1980, it was the largest public property in this country. It is larger than Olympic, Glacier, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon combined. It has its own management authority and its own rules. These rules are quite stringent. 

The park is divided into management units, each with a unit management plan. Even after the park officials decided that they would allow the North Country Trail passage, around 2007, the trail had to be written into the plan of each unit through which it would pass. That totals six units, with several years required to jump through each of these administrative hoops. 

At long last, just a few years ago, some trail was actually being built. One section, through West Canada Lakes Wilderness is completely built and marked. Last week, I had the opportunity to join a volunteer work crew in the Hoffman Notch Wilderness of the Adirondack Park. This fulfills a personal dream of mine to help build Adirondack NCT. There was no trail yet in place when I completed my own End-to-End hike. I followed other Adirondack pathways. 

We went expecting that the work to be assigned would be raking tread and lopping small branches. What we discovered was that we would be doing heavy rock work. Wow! The joke was that the oldest known crew was doing some of the hardest trail work. But no one complained. In fact, we mostly enjoyed it and found it satisfying. Our task was to continue to place rocks to build up an edge for turnpike sections through mud. This will be filled with gravel and then dirt by a prison work crew. 

One of the most fun things we did was build a 20-foot-long rock water bar. This is technical trail work as the placement of the rocks is very important to the functionality to drain water from the trail. The picture shows the water bar before dirt was filled around the rocks. The crew that built this were ages 68, 69, 73, 78, and 81. Nothing wimpy about us!

We finally did get to spend a half day raking. This helps establish the tread way, since the section doesn’t see much use yet. The park authority will not allow the trail to be marked with the familiar blue blazes until tread is completed “road to road.” This means there will be no marking in the Hoffman Notch Wilderness until the 200 feet of turnpike are finished, and over a mile of benched trail is built up the east side of Jones Hill. Winter will be here before this is all finished, so the best hope for the opening of this section is in 2022.

This route over Jones Hill affords a nice view of Hoffman Ridge.

Local trail enthusiast, Monica Hatch of Scottville, who has recently discovered hiking, says, “The actual trail building is fascinating, and when I envision these things happening in all the states over the years…. Mind blowing!! Also gives me a much greater level of appreciation for the trail.”

Where would you like to walk? To Vermont? To North Dakota? To the Adirondacks? The North Country Trail can help you meet your dream.

Joan Young, who lives in Amber Township, is an avid hiker who has the honor of having been the first woman to hike the entire North Country Trail.

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This story is copyrighted © 2021, all rights reserved by Joan Young, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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