A group of dedicated volunteers helps to maintain 100 miles of the North Country Trail as it traverses the Allegheny National Forest.
The local group, numbering 189 people if you include this year's Allegheny 100 Challenge participants (first-year membership is included in challenge registration), has 20 "adopters" who overlook 19 sections of trail, according to the group's president Jeff Manelick. Four sections are in need of adopting. Adopters "walk the trail," Manelick explained, and do needed trail maintenance they are able to and report back to the group if a larger work detail is needed, like for big "blow downs," Manelick said. When a tree is down across the NCT, "sawyers must be Forest Service certified."
The group has a "very close working relationship" with the U.S. Forest Service in the ANF and nationally, Manelick explained; Forest Service liaison Linda White attends the local chapter meetings.
Tyler Winters, Mike Toole & Jim Huston building Queen Creek shelter in September 2012
Mike Toole removing downed tree from trail last November
Ryan Winters digging a
drainage ditch, April 26
Mike Toole & Randy Thomas placing newly built bridge, April 26
Mike Toole & John Cook building water bar
to deflect water off trail, May 10
"The Forest Service provides guidance and expertise on maintaining and promoting the trail," Manelick added.
Other trail work includes cutting back brush, updating blazes (trail markers) and water issues that might need a bridge (bridges may also need ANF certified engineering or building). And, the Forest Service occasionally provides their own trail crews during the summer months to do larger projects independently.
NCT chapter members "have worked with them," Manelick said, but that's unusual.
Basically, the group helps to develop, maintain, protect and promote the North Country Trail. In the order of protecting, the group has worked with gas and oil drilling companies to reroute trails.
Manelick sees the local NCT chapter as a "continued effort that brings people to the Allegheny National Forest," he said. "There are so many activities ... so much to be maintained."
Trail work days are planned for Aug. 2, Sept. 6 and Oct. 4, and work will be planned based on the reports from the adopters.
Meetings are held monthly and are attended by dedicated members from throughout the region.
Volunteers are always needed.
Dues are paid to support the local and national organization. Money goes to materials like building bog bridges and shelters.
"Much of the material must be purchased" for any construction on the trail, Manelick said, "but we do get some donations."
Although other groups in the area clear and maintain trails throughout the county and build bridges and shelters for them, the ANF Chapter focuses solely on the North Country Trail in the Allegheny National Forest.
For example, Friends of the Allegheny Wilderness has, as its name implies, focused on specific wilderness areas, and the Allegheny Outdoor Club - which has weekly recreational opportunities in the region - has partnered with the ANF Chapter on some trail work.
According to the Keystone Trails Association, the North Country National Scenic Trail is a premier pathway that travels through seven states, including Pennsylvania, and stretches from Crown Point in eastern New York State to Lake Sakakawea in western North Dakota. Built and maintained primarily by volunteers of the North Country Trail Association - like the local NCT chapter - its planned route of 4,650 miles will make it the longest of the country's 11 National Scenic Trails. The North Country Trail in the Allegheny National Forest (NCT in the ANF) extends from the New York border through McKean, Warren and Forest counties. The NCT in the ANF Chapter maintains almost 100 miles - all developed - trail before it enters Clarion County.
This fall, the group hopes to do maintenance work and build a shelter in the Gibbs Hill area north of Rt. 6.
Their goal is simple, to maintain the North Country Trail for use by outdoor enthusiasts.
At a recent bridge repair at Chappel Bay, Manelick said, they swung the improved overpass over the water just in time for a hiker from Ohio to cross.
"It's nice to see people do use the trail," Manelick said.
For more information or to join the ANF Chapter of the NCT, contact Manelick at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 563-7934.