Trekking the NCT: Third State of Being.

March 20, 2022

Rolling Pennsylvania hills show signs of spring

Trekking the NCT: Third State of Being.

By Joan Young, MCP Contributing Writer.

Zoarville Station Bridge- one of two remaining Fink Truss Bridges

On Dec. 1, 2021 Amber Township resident Joan Young began her journey to hike the entire North Country Trail continuously. She began her year-long trek at the Manistee National Forest’s Timber Creek Campground on US 10 in Lake County. The first half of the hike will take her to Middlebury, Vermont. She will then drive to Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota to begin the hike back to Michigan. Young, 73, was the first woman to completely hike the NCT, completing 20 years of segmented hikes in 2010.

I have recently entered my third state on my attempt to thru-hike the North Country National Scenic Trail, Pennsylvania. Michigan is only a quarter done because I started in the middle of the Lower Peninsula. But Ohio, the state with the second highest number of miles, more than 900 of them, is complete. My mileage total is now over 1,400.

The vernal equinox is here, and this far south of Michigan there are definite signs of spring. A few wild flowers, crocuses and snowdrops in lawns, a green tinge on trees and bird songs everywhere are a welcome change from the ice of a few weeks ago. 

To get to this springtime feeling, I’ve walked through more days of snow, then rain and flooding. The past few days, though, have been lovely. The season between cold that requires layers of clothes and heat that makes a hiker droop are wonderful.

Eastern Ohio has a long history of settlement. Many buildings from the first decade of the 1800s remain, a surprising number of them in good condition and being used. Lisbon boasts the oldest brick building in Ohio, 1803. Old Washington, on the National Road, was founded in 1805. At least four settlements west/north of the Ohio River were established before 1800.

Old Washington, Ohio, with its 200-year-old buildings and some of the original paving of the National Road

I’ve accepted that I’m a historic transportation junkie, and the North Country Trail (and Buckeye Trail where concurrent) helps me feed that addiction.

The National Road was the first interstate highway, stretching from Cumberland, Maryland, westward. It was begun in 1811. The NCT intersects it at the village of Old Washington on the east side of the state and at the site of the former village of Tadmore on the west. Tadmore is now less than a ghost town, with only a few broken foundations remaining.

Even before the National Road, settlers were entering Ohio via the Great Trail, a Native American route which connected what became Pittsburg, Penn. with Detroit, Mich. British military used and widened it, followed by in influx of pioneers. It’s an amazing feeling to walk parts of a pathway that has been used for several hundred years.

Of course, the canals were the next great transportation routes. In eastern Ohio, the NCT traces many sections of the Sandy & Beaver Canal, a little-known water route. The Sandy & Beaver boasted the longest canal tunnel ever built: about a mile in length. It took so long to complete that it was only used for two years before a flood wiped out much of the canal infrastructure in 1852. By then, railroads were becoming the commercial carriers, and the canals shut down. Many canal towns are reviving interest in restoration and interpretation of their history.

Perhaps my favorite transportation story on the trail in Ohio is the Zoarville Station Bridge. It was built in 1868, and was originally in a different location. Although it looks spidery and perhaps weak to our eyes, these bridges were revolutionary for the time. It’s one of two known Fink Truss bridges remaining in the United States. So it’s a really important piece of history— on the National Register of Historic Places. But it’s also a story of how each mile of the North Country Trail is pieced together with love and money. The Zoarville Station Bridge needed to be saved, so a foundation was set up to raise thousands of dollars and make it happen. In 1998 the restoration was begun, and in 2000 the bridge was dismantled and moved to a shop where each piece was checked, repaired or remade.
They tried to put the bridge back in place in 2006 and realized the abutments needed to be replaced, so that had to be done. Finally, in 2007, the bridge once again spanned Conotton Creek. It is now for pedestrians only, carrying the Buckeye Trail and North Country Trail across the creek. All that effort for 112 feet of trail. But what wonderful feet! And I finally got to walk across it— after waiting four days for the water to go down.

The Ohio River & Western Railway was the last narrow-gage train to run in Ohio. It changed hands and names several times, and ceased to operate in 1931. I enjoyed several days of what I call “railroad sniffing,” searching for the berms or cuts of the abandoned tracks near the trail.

Perhaps the greatest transportation story along the North Country Trail in Ohio is the site of the crash of the Shenandoah. The Shenandoah was the first American lighter-than-air ship, built in 1923. A dirigible, 680 feet long and 93 feet tall, it was filled with non-flammable helium rather than hydrogen. A showpiece of the U.S. Navy, it was on a tour in 1925. Forty cities were scheduled for stops. However, the ship was caught in a thunderstorm over Ohio, and it broke into three pieces. Miraculously, 29 of the 43 men on board survived. The United States immediately dropped dirigible development and concentrated on airplanes. 

Pennsylvania has lots of off-road miles across its forested hills, and spring should be in full swing within a couple of weeks. I’m ready for the lush greens and bright colors of wildflowers. 

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This story is copyrighted © 2022, 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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