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Volunteers work to reroute Superior Hiking Trail

A volunteer for the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa uses a mattock to scratch out a reroute of the Superior Hiking Trail north of Gooseberry Falls State Park. (Photo courtesy of the Superior Hiking Trail Association)

Earlier this month, the Superior Hiking Trail was a little less than its tranquil, relaxing self. Instead of bubbling streams and birdsongs filling the air along the trail, the sounds of construction dominated as people used chainsaws and other power tools and volunteers from the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa (CCMI) scratched out a trail reroute for the SHT north of Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Han Taylor, the Superior Hiking Trail Association's trail maintenance coordinator, spent the day with college age volunteers from CCMI to reroute a section of trail that was closed more than two years ago and forced hikers onto the road for that section of the trail. The trail was closed after the private landowner asked that route through their property be changed. The owner, Randy Bowe, said he had problems with littering, trespassing and hikers camping and starting campfires on the property. In addition, Bowe cited several incidents where he or others using his land were harassed for using ATVs on the land or hunting on the land as reasons for closing the trail.

The group wasn't able to complete the reroute during their time on the trail, but they made a good start and SHTA executive director Denny Caneff said he hopes they will be able to finish up by the end of 2017.

The volunteers weren't just working on the trail, they were learning how to build a trail with CCMI will fan out across Minnesota this summer and lead groups of high schoolers on volunteer expeditions to do conservation work across the state. Some will even return to the North Shore to work in state parks along Lake Superior.

For Caneff in his first weeks leading the SHTA, the work of CCMI caused a feeling of nostalgia. As a Minnesota high schooler in 1971, he worked in the Youth Conservation Corps established by President Richard Nixon in Chippewa National Forest near Bemidji. Caneff said he learned about forest management during his time with the YCC and worked for three years as a crew leader, similar to what the CCMI volunteers were training for on the SHT.

Caneff's experiences are part of what has inspired a lifetime of conservation work and advocacy across Minnesota and Wisconsin, particularly his experience approaching a bald eagle nest. In the middle of the 20th Century, bald eagles were nearly driven to extinction by the use of the pesticide DDT and seeing a nest in the wild was nearly unheard of.

"We drove and drove, and walked and walked and then we crawled in the underbrush for 60 or 80 yards because we didn't want to spook them," Caneff said. "To see an eagle's nest, it really stuck with me. What also sticks with me, is that now they are common as seagulls in some places. Back then they were in a death spiral."

The use of DDT was banned in 1972 and since eagle numbers have made a miraculous recovery that was thought nearly impossible 40 years ago. The conservation work that helped with the recovery of the bald eagle population are just one example of the good CCMI and conservation corps around the U.S. can accomplish.

"For me it just means a lot to me that when we are screwing something up, we should stop and we can see the benefits," Caneff said. "Just this continuing thread through our history as a country of dedication to public lands and finding a way to maintain those public lands because it is expensive. A cheap effective way to do it is to create these programs for young people to not only make money but to gain exposure to conservation, natural resource management issues, conflicts between user groups, and the value of having public land."

SHTA purchases property on Encampment River

The SHTA also purchased parcel of land near the Encampment River near Castle Danger that was until recently privately held. The association plans to put a permanent conservation easement on the property to ensure that the trail will have a secure passage on the property event if the SHTA sells the land in the future.

"Our hope is to place a trail easement and it is part of the deed of the property and will transcend ownership," Caneff said. "If we lost that piece at the Encampment River, we'd send people on roads, which we really don't want to do."

The SHTA also noted that the Encampment River currently has no bridged crossing. The river normally is easily crossed with a "hop, skip and a jump," but after snow melt and rain events the river flow increases and hikers should take the alternate 6.8 mile road walk during these times. Road walk directions are posted at trailheads and can be found at www.shta.org.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle in August 2015. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and previously worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. He is the beat writer for the Lake County Board of Commissioners, Lake Superior School District board of education and high school sports in Lake County. 

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