Amber resident Joan Young to hike North Country Trail continuously. 

November 3, 2021

Joan Young stands near a NCT sign on Five Mile Road in Lake County.

Amber resident Joan Young to hike North Country Trail continuously. 

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By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

SWEETWATER TOWNSHIP (Lake County) — In 2010, Amber Township resident Joan Young became the first woman to completely hike the 4,600 miles long North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT). Her journey began in 1991 and was completed in sections. On Dec. 1, 2021, 30 years after the start of her first NCT hike, she plans to break a new personal record by continuously hiking the trail. She estimates the journey should take her 12 months. 

“I had been saying ever since I finished my first North Country Trail hike in 2010 that I wanted to do it again,” Young, 73, said. “But, I couldn’t figure out how on earth I could pull it off. A couple years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with the idea of how I could actually do it in a year. I cannot do 25 miles a day, which is the expected average in order to complete the trail in 10 months and avoid the worse of winter. I could do it in 15 miles a day, though.

“Personally, it’s a huge challenge. The longest I have ever gone out in one stretch is five weeks. I’ve always wanted to do one long hike. A lot of people have asked me why I don’t do the Appalachian Trail, but I just love the North Country Trail.” 

The North Country National Scenic Trail, generally known as the North Country Trail or NCT, extends from in Middlebury in central Vermont to Lake Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota. It connects both the Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail with the Lewis and Clark Trail. For comparison, the Appalachian Trail is 2,200 miles long compared to the NCT, which is 4,600 miles long. The NCT passes through eight states including Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. It is the longest of the 11 National Scenic Trails authorized by Congress and it is administered by the National Park Service. As of 2019, 3,129 miles of the trail was in place. 

Young is going to hike what is called a North Country Trail “flipflop” by beginning in the middle of the trail and heading in one direction, completing that trek and then driving to the other end of the trail and hiking back to her starting point. She said this is traditionally done with the hiker beginning in Ohio. However, she wanted to leave from the closest point to her home, which is the Timber Creek Campground, located in the Manistee National Forest near US 10 in Lake County’s Sweetwater Township, about three miles east of the Mason County line.

“That point is the closest to my house, about 13 miles,” she said. “I thought I would like to start there and then hike south.” 

Young won’t be alone in her journey. She will be joined by various friends, relatives and her husband, who have committed to hike with her at certain points and drive her 13-feet long 1985 Sunny camper. 

“My concession to old age is that the hike is mostly going to be supported,” she said. “My little trailer is going along and there are people who have committed to coming along. Many of them will come along for a month or more. There will be there to pick me up at night and drop me off in the morning. Most of the time, they’ll reach the pickup point and hike in a few miles and then hike back with me to that point.” 

Young has restored a 1985 Sunny camper to go along on the trip.

While the camper will be a comfortable resting spot, Young is going to stay outdoors, in a tent for the first four nights of the journey, which should get her to Croton Dam in Newaygo County, the southeastern edge of the Manistee National Forest. 

Joining her at various portions of the Manistee National Forest hike will be Cathy Laman of Ludington, Monica Hatch of Scottville and David Snoek of Hudsonville. Then, her friend Sue Crawford of Baldwin will meet up with her with the trailer and spend the rest of Decemer with Young. 

“I’ll be doing continuous day hikes and eating dinner and sleeping in the trailer at night,” Young said. “Sue will drop me on the trail in the morning and pick me up in the afternoon. So far, eight different people have signed on to do portions of the support of the complete hike.”

Her husband, Omer, has also committed to join her for part of the hike. 

“I don’t want company the whole trip, but I’m good with it if people want to join me here and there.” 

Young said if all goes well, she should be hiking through Ohio through most of early winter (following winter solstice) and reach Pennsylvania by March 1. She acknowledged that winter may be a challenge and she does have lightweight snowshoes to help hike through deep snow. 

“It’s hard to plan every single day and still account for unknowns.” I plan on walking 15 miles a day with a day off every 10 days.” 

At that pace, she will make it to the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York by April and the southern end of the trail in Vermont in June. 

The Adirondack Mountains form a massif in northeastern upstate New York. They cover 5,000 square miles. Young said much of the NCT in the Adirondacks is still in development but she has hiked that area enough and has enough skill to navigate along the designated NCT route. 

The NCT, while administered by the National Park Service, is managed by the United States Forest Service and other federal, state, and local agencies, and built and maintained primarily by the volunteers of the North Country Trail Association (NCTA) and its partners. There are 28 chapters of the NCTA with over 3,200 members. Young is one of the volunteers who takes care of the trail as it runs through Lake, Mason, and Manistee counties. She also volunteers in other parts of the trail as well. Locally, the NCT is maintained by the Spirit of the Woods chapter of the NCTA. 

She said much of the NCT has changed since she began her original journey 30 years ago. While some portions of it continue to be on roadways, such as a few miles such as an area near 5 Mile Road (Loon Lake) in Lake County, many other areas have been converted to actual trails. Young said some areas are difficult to convert to trail, such as in the Loon Lake area, due to the dense population in that area. 

Once she reaches the eastern trailhead of the trail in Vermont, Young will take a short rest and then head to North Dakota, where she will start hiking from the western trailhead back to Lake County. She plans to make it back to Timber Creek by the beginning of December 2022. 

Young will be posting stories from the trail here on Mason County Press throughout her journey. 


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