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SHTA Launches Trail Renewal Program

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SHTA Launches Trail Renewal Program

Here are some basic facts about the Superior Hiking Trail:

1. It is beloved by tens of thousands of users nationwide.

2. It is 32 years old and showing its age, especially in those sections that were built first.

3. The Superior Hiking Trail Association must up our game to keep the SHT a memorable and resilient outdoor recreation amenity that will endure all that confronts it in the 21st century.
 
With these facts in mind, we’re excited to launch the new SHT Trail Renewal Program!

We’ve developed what we call the “Trail Renewal Program” that will enable us to plan for, manage and implement all the work that is essential to keeping the Superior Hiking Trail a superior outdoor experience.

Here are its essential elements:

Trail Operations Director: We have hired Tamer Ibrahim on staff as our full-time Trail Operations Director to oversee all maintenance, building and renewal activities on the SHT. Tamer will ensure that trail work on the SHT adheres to national trail building standards; that volunteers are properly trained in safe practices and deployed in ways that optimizes their time; and that the highest-priority projects get done first. (Those priorities are problems on the trail that endanger users, pollute water or degrade the land, and are concerns for landowners [either public or private]).

Volunteer Crew Leaders: These highly-trained volunteer trail workers will lead small groups of volunteers to take on small- and medium-scale projects. Their preparation for this role will emphasize safety and effective volunteer leadership, in addition to modern trail-building theory and methods.

All-In Mobilization: We occasionally face a really big project – several hundred feet of board walk to build, or a long section of new trail to build. For those projects, which will be carefully planned out months or more in advance, we will deploy all our Volunteer Crew Leaders, staff and scores of volunteers over several days to complete the project.

Our amazing volunteers building a bridge along the SHT over the Red River in 2017. Photo Credit: Roberta Laidlaw

All projects, whether requiring an All-In Mobilization or just a Volunteer Crew Leader and a few volunteers taking on a stairway construction, will adhere to modern trail-building techniques as used by our sister trail organizations and state and federal agencies. We will comply with state and federal land and water conservation rules and regulations. And, while we’ve been lucky to have few, if any, accidents or incidents with volunteers, we will emphasize anew safe and effective trail work techniques for volunteers.

 

The Big Bad Five Get First Dibs

Last fall we conducted a first-ever systematic “conditions assessment” of the SHT, focusing on sections in Lake and Cook counties. While we found several small problems (and lots of Trail sections in fine condition), we also found sections of the Trail in pretty rough shape that will get a good share of our attention in the coming two years. We’ve come to refer to them as the “Big Bad Five.” If you’ve been in the area of these sections in recent years, you will know what we’re talking about.

Gooseberry Re-route: We’d intended to open this new section of the SHT, north of Gooseberry Falls State Park, in the fall of 2017. But we had the new route delineated for wetlands and found we would need to build at least 3,000 linear feet of board walk. We’ve decided to not only delay the opening of that new route, but also try to find a shorter alternate route that would take the SHT through higher, drier ground. (See the current detour here.)

Split Rock River Loop Trail: The trail that leads from the wayside at Hwy. 61 along the Split Rock River is heavily used – and it shows. Beefing up its resiliency is a priority. (See our recent blog post for news on the Split Rock River bridge.)

The Land of Mud (between Britton Peak to Oberg Mountain, and on to Lutsen Mountains): We count these sections as two of the Big Bad Five. These sections were built in the early days of the SHT, before modern trail-building standards were established; they get heavy use; and much of the ground the Trail passes through are wetlands.

A stretch of the SHT near Onion River Road. We’re not joking – it gets muddy here!

Bean and Bear, Hard to Get There: The loop that takes you around Bean and Bear Lakes, between Silver Bay and Tettegouche State Park, is beloved, and therefore well-worn.

You and your friends probably recognize this view of Bear and Bean Lakes. This stretch of the SHT gets a lot of traffic each year. Photo Credit: Nathan Lodermeier

What To Do

Thanks to a grant from the LCCMR (Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources), SHTA will contract with trail experts from this region to walk these sections of the SHT, this summer. They will document the issues and make specific recommendations and prescriptions for how to repair and improve them – how we can make them resilient to heavy use and survive the ravages of inevitable climate change. (We have to plan for more water landing on the Trail.)

We’ll seek other grant funding to actually carry out the work the experts recommend be done. We’re throwing a dart at the wall here, but it’s not a stretch to say getting just the Big Bad Five in good shape could cost several hundred thousand dollars. Our members, donors, and volunteers are what fuel the Trail Renewal Program, and we’ll need your continued support!

It’s important to point out that while we are concerned about the health of the current Trail, we plan to add loops, spurs and overlooks to enhance your experience. We want to keep you continually surprised and excited about the Trail’s offerings.

 

Make a gift today to support the Trail and power the Trail Renewal Program!