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Tales from the Trail

This is where we share our experiences while trail building or hiking the North Country Trail.  If you have a story to share, please send it to the webmaster.  Be sure to include the approximate location on the trail, and approximate date of the experience.


Submitted by Charles Krammin

On June 14th Ron Sootsman, Mick Hawkins, Larry Hawkins, and Dave Goodman all gathered at the Big Boy in Hastings with Trail guide “Hiker Killer” Charles Krammin to take on vittles for scouting a re-route away from the horse trails in Yankee Springs Recreational Area.

Charlie Kramin has the undivided attention of Dave Goodman, Larry Hawkins, Andru Jevicks, and Ron Sootsman.

We proceeded to the Yankee Springs headquarters to pick up Andru Jevicks, Park Supervisor for Yankee Springs.  Andru asked Charlie how he came up with the reroute.  Charlie answered, “You just get out and walk in the wilderness with a compass and a map, and when you get lost, you find your way out.

In the case of Yankee Springs Recreational Area, the Southern Michigan Orienteering Club (SMOC) had surveyed all of the area and placed 4 x 4 posts marking various topographical features.  This map can be viewed on the SMOC Web site.  Charlie had identified a high land area south of Duck Lake and a 1/2-mile long marsh, which he termed the “eye in the needle” for the successful reroute.

As we started the hike from south of Hall Lake, Charlie pointed out two objectives: to cross the horse trail at right angles in case some day we had to install a “kissing gate” in order to limit trail access to hikers, and to avoid a 20% up-slope at the desired crossing.  So we back-tracked a bit to where Charlie led us down a different path, explaining that “you can climb a hill by going around it” — and thereby meet the standards for a premier National Park Service-certified trail.

As Charlie led us into the high ground, he cautioned those of us with weak ankles to be careful trying to follow him, because in places we’d be walking laterally across slopes on our way to the next “saddle” or low area between two adjacent hills.

Charlie then headed to the next saddle walking across a 50% slope, prompting insightful observations that we’d have more than a little benching to do when we actually constructed the trail.

As we reached the saddle, one hiker who was tracking the hike with a GPS unit noted that we had gained 42 feet in altitude.  Trail sage Charlie pooh-poohed the GPS as only accurate during fair weather with no leaves on the trees — and the other hikers prudently declined to engage him in dialogue on this point, preferring not to have to find their own way out of the woods just yet.

Charlie pointed out the beauty of the wilderness we were passing through.  As we continued to gain altitude we noted the presence of game trails, so we weren’t the first to blaze trails through the area.  We then reached a ridge along a very steep gully, which Charlie refered to as Yankee Springs’ “Grand Canyon.”

As we turned more eastward, Charlie called our attention to the tall white pines which were becoming more numerous to our right.  The area was better known to the local people as “The Pines.”  These study white pines were planted in the 1930's by the CCC camps at Long Lake and Chief Noonday.  The trunks are now about 16” in diameter and some time will become as statuesque as the virgin pines that once covered this area. The Yankee Springs Recreation Area brochure once called this one of the high points along with the Devil’s Soup Bowl, Graves Hill, and all the lakes.

As we reached the two track Pines Scenic Trail, Andru said they were planning to close this road to vehicle access and convert it to a foot trail.

As we passed the pines and started across the high spot South of Duck Lake, we heard an unprintable yelp in our rear echelons and turned to find chapter president Larry Hawkins on his face in the duff! Climbing over a large downfall tree trunk across the pathway, Larry’s boot lace had gotten snagged on a branch, and down he’d gone — joining the rest of the downfall. Unfortunately in the fall he re-injured his leg where he’d already been nursing a recurrent Achilles tendon problem.  He could still walk, but he was down for the count as far as the rest of this hike was concerned.

Andru reached another DNR officer with his radio and arranged for a vehicle to pick Larry and Mick up back at the Pines Scenic Trail, and the rest of us continued on toward Norris Road.

We “able” hikers crossed the horse trail at right angles again and proceeded over “The Little Mac” bridge — so designated by Lynn Waldron, the first of the trail builders of the Chapter.  We ended up at the trailhead on the west side of Norris Road which is also a historical point of interest as the site of the old Yankee Springs Stage Coach Hotel built in the early 19th century.

Andru Jevicks, Park Supervisor of Yankee Springs for the DNR, planned to waste no time submitting this proposed re-routing of this section of the North Country National Scenic Trail to the DNR in Lansing.  He felt that the new routing would do much to showcase a beautiful area of Yankee Springs, including The Pines, which was presently under-used.  At the same time it would be safer than the present arrangement of hikers and horses sharing the same trail and would provide for a much more pleasant hiking experience for visitors on foot than has been possible on the horse trail.




Submitted by Larry Hawkins

I am writing this in a spirit of self defense before Charlie Krammin or Cal Lamoreaux have the opportunity to spread their versions of our morning’s misadventures on May 5th. 

My brother Mick and I left the Kellogg Forest, having met with and photographed the Trail Adopters, and headed north to Middleville to participate in the Volkswalk/Volkscanoe sponsored by our AVA friends in Middleville.  I should have heeded the evil omens when the “Service Engine” warning light came on just down the road from the Forest.

Redbuds on the Thornapple -- as viewed safely from dry land....

True to his word, Charlie Krammin was waiting with the canoes at the Irving boat launch on the Thornapple River.  As we put our gear into the canoe, we did the only smart thing that we did all morning: we put on our PFDs.  We launched into the river.  Mick had been in a canoe before but either on a lake or a slow shallow river; so we did a little quick teaching job on surveillance for sunken logs and paddling like mad to maintain steerage.

We met our first obstruction at the railroad bridge and managed to get around it without shipping too much water.  The river was beautiful with red buds blooming and vast beds of trillium along the banks, and we were enjoying ourselves greatly.  When we got to our first log in the river, I had the opportunity to teach Mick how to paddle backwards.  We did manage to circumnavigate the log and start paddling in the right direction.

What happened at this point is not really very clear in our minds.  Retrospectively, I think I forgot the lesson that says “When the canoe begins to tip to the left, you must lean to the right.”  I remember seeing Mick throw his arms in the air, lean over backwards, and then suddenly it was very wet and very cold.  It was also very deep, as our feet did not touch bottom.  It was at this point that Mick announced that he couldn’t swim.  No problem!  We had our PFDs and a floating canoe, so I told him to stay with the canoe as I watched his water bottle and hiking staff float down the river.

Eventually we made it to the bank, and Mick gracefully mounted it while I worked the bow of the canoe up onto a log. With a little effort we emptied the canoe of water, righted it, and, with a little coaxing, I got Mick back in the canoe, leapt into the canoe with amazing agility (in my own imagination), and off we went congratulating ourselves that we still had “most” of our equipment including our hats.  Log #2 was patiently waiting for us just down river.

As we paddling I noted two lady volksmarchers in fluorescent green vests whom we had seen at the railroad bridge. They had passed us on the way back. What nerve!  I dug in and we zoomed on toward log #2 lying in wait for us.

Log #2 was a submarine obstacle.  We hit it, rolled, and doggone it!, there was Mick with his hands in the air leaning over backwards again!  Will he never learn?  Splash!  The river hadn’t warmed up any.  To make things worse, this time, I lost my hat.  I also lost my brother.

Realizing that the canoe was probably more valuable, I elected to stay with it and let him fend for himself.  Not to seem too cold-blooded, I must point out that we could, after a couple minutes floating, touch bottom here. We worked the canoe to the bank, almost lost the paddles, and, with a great deal of effort, emptied it once again.

At this point, Mick was shaking like a leaf, and I’ll admit to being a little chilled myself.  He announced to me that he "couldn’t do this anymore."  When I pointed out to him that he was sitting on a log on an island, he revised his thinking and was willing to get back in the canoe.

As we paddled into Middleville’s dam pond, I was chagrined to see that the lady volksmarchers had passed us again!

We paddled up to the Canoe Portage across from Stagecoach Park, and all Mick could see was dry land.  At this moment I realized that I had forgotten to teach him one more piece of canoe etiquette, the part where the first guy out of the canoe holds it for the second guy.  As soon as he was out, the tail on the canoe started swinging around and was heading for the dam!  With my usual grace, I tried to leap out of the canoe and keep it from floating away and managed to end up in the drink....again.  Mick, in a very loud voice pointed out to everyone in Stagecoach Park, that he had only fallen in the river twice and I had gone in three times!

Charlie Krammin showed up at this point, wrapped Mick up in a jacket and put him in his warm van before he got anymore hypothermic, and we loaded up the canoe. We stopped at Stagecoach Park and paid our AVA fees with very soggy currency, decided to forego the hike back to Irving in wet shoes and socks, and Charlie drove us back to Irving with the heater blasting, lecturing us all the way about how “smart” canoe people don’t take their wallets, cameras, cell phones and pagers with them and put things like that in waterproof bags. Will I ever stop learning from Charlie?

Addendum:  As far as I know, Mick and I were the only ones who did the Volkscanoe, and somehow I doubt that we’ll get AVA credit for the Volkswim 5-5-7.

Webmaster's comment:   Uh ... no comment....




Submitted by Larry Hawkins


We were a little light on workers and heavy on work for our April 28th workday, but we tackled it in good spirit.  It was a gorgeous spring morning, and the Chief Noonday group minus one “marshaled in Marshal” at the I-69 commuter parking lot, which was surprisingly full for a Saturday morning.  Ron Sootsman, Larry Pio, Jeff Fleming, and Larry Hawkins met Steve Hicks (with trailer attached).  We consolidated vehicles and headed off down I-69 and off into the hinterlands to the Lost Nation State Game Area where we met Mick Hawkins, who was standing in the road to inform us that the hitherto nice parking area at the Gilbert Road trailhead had turned into a swamp featuring a small lake.


Getting acquainted at the Gilbert Road Trailhead before heading into the work zone.

At the trailhead, the crew from Chief Baw Beese Chapter began to join us.  We met Steve Vear, the president of Chief Baw Beese Chapter, Ryan Bowles and Ralph Powell from Ann Arbor, Matt Chase from Jackson, and Jeff Ward from Tecumseh.  Ralph was the most senior member of the party and proved to be the trail adopter for the section on which we planned to work.  Last, but certainly not least, Clare Cain, the NCTA Director of Trail Management, pulled into the trailhead. 


After a few get-acquainted minutes, we unloaded the tools, packed up, and headed down the trail to seek out work.


Mick and I had earlier scouted this area and found a couple of areas that were badly washed out and basically required reroutes to prevent further erosion.  Fortunately, Ralph had already scoped out one reroute which we further refined, and we went to work.  Ron Sootsman, fresh from his Chain Sawyer Certification Course in St. Ignace, donned his chaps and helmet and set to with Jeff Fleming's backup.  When the big stuff was done, Steve Hicks fired up our mighty DR Mower and made a couple passes chopping up the smaller trees and bushes.  He then headed off down the trail with the mower to clean things up.  Ever see Steve mow a swamp?  The rest of us took up loppers, MacLeods and Pulaskis and set to building a trail.  Trust me, when we finished it was a fine piece of work.


Ryan Bowles (left) and Ralph Powell (right) of Chief Baw Beese Chapter break for lunch in the sun on the new trail with Larry Hawkins, president of Chief Noonday Chapter.

Ron and Larry joined Ryan Bowles to scope out the next reroute which was, again, around rather than over a hill.  This area was more open and therefore very heavily brushy, much of which proved to be wild rose.  More than one of us was bleeding by the time we had this one open.  Once again, the DR Mower proved invaluable as Steve made repeated passes opening up a beginning path for us to follow around the side of the hill.  Some lopper work to clear the overhead, and we were ready once again to build trail.  Steve, Ron and Mick headed out to carry out some mowing and chainsawing that we had anticipated and left the rest of us to man the trail building tools.


I must digress here for a moment to fully explain the moment, so those who were not present can fully appreciate what we did.  Though it was a gorgeous day, two inches of rain had fallen over the two previous days, adding to the fact that this was one of those hills that have springs seeping out at intervals.


In addition to this I have to add in the “Clare Factor.”


After my experience building trail with Clare Cain in Pennsylvania, I discarded all my previous medical definitions of “Physical Fitness.”  To me, being physically fit is to be able to “almost keep up with Clare.”  I have seen grown men weeping at the end of a day building trail with Clare.  I have to admit to a wee bit of sadistic glee as I watched these guys trooping off into the woods with Clare that morning.  My fun was spoiled a bit by my brother who also had worked with Clare in Pennsylvania.  He hollered “uncle” right at the outset and went off with his loppers and bow saw to do his own thing, and I never saw him again until the end of the day.  Our mother didn’t raise two fools.  I was, of course, the one walking down the trail behind Clare.


Our second reroute involved heavy duty benching into a hillside overlooking a beautiful little lake.  It was longer than our original piece of work and a whole lot muddier.  It took us about four hours to accomplish the connection back with the trail on the other side of the hill.  Though it was still muddier than we would have liked in a couple of spots, we had a good trail by the end of the day.  We had some attrition during the afternoon, and by the end of the project, it was Ryan, Jeff and I with Clare.  I have to admit, it was really three gasping guys leaning on tools watching Clare move dirt with her MacLeod.


We dragged our tools and our bodies back out to the trail head and packed them away.  It did my heart good to hear Clare admit that she was “tired.”  Steve, Ron and Mick pulled up shortly after that to report that they had mowed some areas that I had thought were inaccessible and sawed up a lot of trees that were downed over the trail.


All in all, we had a great work day in a beautiful area.  I’m kind of hoping that maybe we can plan a hike down there in the Fall, so the rest of you can enjoy a beautiful natural area -- as well as see the trail we built.


Larry Hawkins — a “survivor”



Adventure on the North Country National Scenic Trail

Submitted June 2004 by Steve Hicks (email hicks@voyager.net)


I do volunteer work for the North Country Trail Association, Chief Noonday Chapter, which builds, maintains and promotes the trail as it passes through Barry County.


On Friday, May 21, about 11:30 AM, I arrived at the B/E Avenue crossing of the trail through the Kellogg Biological Station property to start the spring mowing season. The weather was rather dismal and cloudy. I unloaded the mower and managed to mow a doublewide path a half mile to the north in about a half-hour.


Back at the trailer I stopped for a break and to check the equipment. I noticed that the sky looked rather dark to the north. By my reckoning, I figured that I could finish the next ¼ mile north to the next fence crossing and sitting bench before the weather got worse. As I departed for this section I thought that I imagined some flashes in the sky.


After passing through a short wooded section I broke out in to an open field. At this point it was apparent that there was a lot of flashing going on and the storm was getting closer. I still reckoned at this point that I could reach that fence crossing and make it back to the trailer before the storm. By the time I reached the fence, it was apparent that the weather was getting much more active. I mowed to the fence and around the bench as fast as I could and started my return trip.


I could feel sprinkles almost as soon as I started back. About half way back I broke out in to the short open field and could sense that it was getting much darker and windy. At this point I turned off the mower blade and shifted the mower to high speed to get back to the trailer.  It got so dark coming through that last wooded section that I could barely see the trail.


At the end of this woods I passed under two large hickory trees at the side of the road. By now the wind was increasing dramatically, and rain and hail were starting to come with it. I crossed the road and arrived at the supply trailer. Shutting down the mower I rushed to the truck to get my rain jacket. I debated for a few seconds, then got back in the wind and driving rain to load the mower into the covered trailer.


Back in the truck, I noticed that the wind was rocking it around quite a bit. Suddenly I heard or sensed a large thump or boom. With the windows fogged up and the driving rain outside I couldn’t tell what had happened.


Turning on the radio I soon found out that there was a tornado warning centered on the location where I was sitting. No kidding!  By now I noticed that my cell phone was signaling that I had a message. This turned out to be messages from both my wife and daughter, trying to inform me of the tornado warning.


All this time the truck was still rocking and rolling. I started the engine and turned on the defroster to try to clear the windshield. In four-wheel drive I managed to drive the truck and supply trailer on to the road and turn back in the direction of the trail crossing. I soon noticed a fresh break in one of the large hickory trees that I had just passed under. On the ground were the entire remains of the top of the tree, resting on the freshly mowed trail. I am guessing that the thump or boom that I heard earlier was that tree coming down. That would put the timing of that tree coming down at less that five minutes after I passed under it.


I then contacted all the concerned parties and assured them of my safety.


His eye is on the sparrow

And I know he watches me


March 20, 2002:

Ott Biological Preserve dedicates boardwalk and bridge;

North Country Trail Association kicks off ‘Trails for Health’

Three groups came together Wednesday (March 20, 2002) to celebrate spring in a special way. North Country Trail Association, Calhoun County Parks and Recreation Commission and the Friends of the Ott Biological Preserve officially dedicated the Preserve’s new boardwalk and an historic iron bridge which now allows the North Country National Scenic Trail to continue on its journey. Also part of a ceremony was the kickoff of the 10th annual National Trails Day.

The North Country Trail Association (NCTA), an alliance member of the American Hiking Society (AHS), announced its 10th Anniversary theme ‘Trails for Health.’ The AHS is the only national organization dedicated to establishing, protecting, and maintaining America’s foot trails.

The NCTA covers 7 states and more than 4,200 miles of trails from Lake Champlain in New York to Lake Sacagawea State Park in North Dakota.

"The official National Trails Day is the first Saturday of June," said Tom Garnett, vice president of administration of the Chief Noonday Chapter of the NCTA. "We announced the anniversary theme early so we could encourage local area citizens to plan on taking to their local trails including the North Country National Scenic Trail and enjoy their environment responsibly."

At the same time that the local groups were celebrating in Battle Creek, American Hiking Society members in Colorado, Texas, Missouri, and Kansas were also kicking off trail activities as they too participated in this coordinated national effort.

Aventis Pharmaceutical Inc., makers of Allegra allergy medication, partnered with the American Hiking Society with this promotional effort.

For more information on the North Country National Scenic Trail and other local trail opportunities in the Battle Creek area call Annette Chapman, director of the Calhoun County Parks and Recreation Commission 269-781-9841, or email at achapman@internet1.net


2001-11-23:  Letter from Larry Hawkins, who surveyed the damage from a severe wind storm on the trail:

Dear NCT friends,

At last week's meeting, Steve Hicks did not have an opportunity to relate to us the extent of the storm damage to the trail north of Augusta; so I thought I would send out a note about it.

This week, our crew made up of Neil, Steve Hicks, John Rudnicki, Fred and I cleared a few trees in the Ft. Custer Trail.  Fortunately, most of it was clear of debris.  We then moved up to the area north of Augusta to pick up where the last workday's crew left off.

Last workday, Charles, Neil, Larry Pio and the two Steves did an incredible job cutting a path through the Stafford property north of EF Ave.  I literally do not know how they accomplished so much. It appeared as though a tornado had followed our blue blazes right down the trail.  It was like walking through a gigantic game of jackstraws except that the straws were great, full grown trees. The crew made it to what's left of the stile over the fence into the Kellogg forest.  The stile is buried under a huge tree.

When we looked over the fence, it appeared that we were at the end of a road to nowhere. As far as we could see were downed trees. We decided to survey the damage from the other side as things looked hopeless.

The Kellogg forest was devastated by the storm.  They have hired several crews of professional loggers to come in to clear it.  They now have all their main roads open. There are piles of beautiful logs all over, a statement to the number of stately trees they have lost.  We walked to the south fence line where our trail traverses east and west.  As you may know, there is a large field south of the fence line. The wind must have picked up momentum crossing that field and as it hit the treelike, literally every tree was either uprooted or broken off blanketing that section of trail in an almost endless tangle of trunks and limbs.  We walked along outside the fence and saw one area of 1-1/2 to 2 acres where a grove of pines 8 to 12 inches in diameter were snapped off anywhere between ten and thirty feet off the ground.  Most of then were stripped of their bark. John Rudnicki made the apt comment that it reminded him of the damage done as Mt. St. Helen erupted. I regretted that I did not have a camera to record the devastation.

We sort of came to the conclusion that our only choice at this time is to push a little further north on the Stafford property where we can cross the fence and temporarily join up with one of the forest paths down to the road. That's up to Charles to decide.

If any of you have the time, I would encourage you to take the time, go with your cameras to the Stafford section of the trail and the Kellogg forest and record this example of Nature's inexhaustible power.

Happy Hiking!


On Friday ,Jan 12, 2001, I, Tiffany, and Regan of the Barry State Game Area headquarters, hiked on Snowshoes, from Hall Lake Trailhead to Peets Rd, about 8 miles with BSGA GPS unit.  Tiffany was completely drained as her snowshoes snow balled up at 37 degrees, Regan's groin ached because of the wide stance of web snowshoes, and the "Oldman" was on his reserve tank. The job got done and I asked Tiffany to work on a new maps all the way to the Kent County line, using a map I provided her on the Middleville State Game Area, plus the text on the Web page. If you talk to Tiffany, thank her for her dictation and trying to keep up with the "Oldman". I would like people to hike the  Middleville State Game Area and Paul Henry Bike Trail and give me feedback.  I would like to lead a group and board hike after the spring turkey hunt season for formal consideration of this segment.                                                

"Oldman" MI Plowboy", Charles Krammin"


Mackinaw Bridge Walk. September 2000. The weather was rain and mist when the Chapters met at Headlands Lodge on Lake Michigan. Our Chapter was well represented as tee shirts for volunteers were handed out and instructions given for the walk the next day. We all met Labor Day morning at 5:30 am at Tundra Outfitters, I drove six volunteers over the bridge to the north side where the began handing out National Millennium Trail neckerchiefs prior to the big walk. As the walk began the sun was out for the first time on the weekend, and a stiff breeze made it quite cool. The crowd was estimated at 65,000 and locals said there had never been so many folks in attendance. We will have to wait for Bob Papp's take on the event but I think it came off well. Submitted by Bob Benham.

Wild Turkeys.  August 2000.  Hallock Road.   We were on the trail.  About 50 yards ahead, we saw what looked like a wild turkey cross the road.  It was a curiosity, but no more.  A couple of minutes later the turkey crossed back to the original side of the road.  Again, no big deal.   But then a moment later, it crossed again, this time with at least a dozen baby turkeys following!  We got up to the point where they crossed the road, and could find no trace of them.  They just vanished into the woods.  (Submitted by Mike & Gail Speer.)


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