MARQUETTE - Sixteen volunteers had the chance to experience the Upper Peninsula's beauty, many for the first time, while helping fellow Michiganders last week.
The group of Americorps members ages 18-24 made the trip up to Marquette from Grand Rapids to help maintain some of the hiking trails in the area. The North Country Trail Hikers, which is the Marquette chapter of the North Country Trail Association, put in a proposal to Americorps, a non-profit service-based program, for help. The NCTH also teamed up with Plum Creek Timber Company which supplied all the materials to help maintain the trails and owns the land.
Wetmore Pond was one place that really needed some help. Some of the volunteers stayed there to help while others went to work on trails at the McCormick Tract wilderness area and Silver Lake.
From left, Ben Graves, Americorps worker, and Reggie Krueger, member of North Country Trail Hikers, work on laying new wood down to replace the old, aging boardwalk at Wetmore Pond. In the background holding the board is Chip Kragt, an Americorps alumnus. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
The Old Growth trail near Wetmore Pond is almost a mile loop located on top of a bog habitat. The existing boardwalk had timbers that were around 18 years old.
"They are deteriorated from the time and use, so we are replacing them," said Steve Nelson, forester for Plum Creek.
Nelson said the bog has served as a classroom setting for many students to study hands-on science and biology.
According to the Department of Natural Resources website, a bog is a unique wetland habitat that receives very little influx of fresh water. The vegetation in a bog decays, causing the water to become acidic. A fragile community of specially adapted plants and animals are then supported, including spahagnum moss and carnivorous pitcher plants. The unique pitcher plant attracts and digests insects to supplement the scarce nutrients available in the acidic environment. During the spring and fall migrations, ducks and geese congregate on the bog, providing excellent viewing opportunities. White-throated sparrows and ovenbirds are also quite common.
"We want to continue to keep these trails working," said Nelson.
"Being able to make hiking more accessible is great," said Chip Kragt, Americorps alum, "We're helping to keep the trail working for people for long throughout the season."
Some of the trails that the volunteers were working on are also part of a bigger project. The North Country National Scenic Trail is currently a trail from New York all the way to North Dakota, but has bits and pieces that still need to be connected. They are helping to do that.
The volunteers, along with the help and guidance from NCTH members, ripped out the old, rotting timbers and replaced them with new ones. There was lots of mud and mosquitos. The manual labor was hard, but welcomed.
"It's been fantastic," said Ben Graves, serving with the Red Cross through Americorps,
"Most of us have desk jobs so it's very refreshing and rewarding to get outside and do some manual labor."
All of the Americorps volunteers work 40 hours a week in the Red Cross office in Grand Rapids, and this was their one-week service project. At the end of their 10-and-a-half month service, they are sent to work somewhere in Michigan or to another state to help with disaster relief.
This group was sent north.
"Quite a few of us have never been to this part of the state," said Graves.
"Down where we're from it's doesn't look like this," he added.
Danielle Pemble can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 256.