On Saturday, we drove southeast about 45 minutes to the village of Fife Lake. This is a town we have a long history with, as stated in an earlier post. The Grand Traverse Hiking Club chapter of the North Country Trail Association was celebrating the designation of the village as a ‘Trail Town’. They were also dedicating the completion of the 21 mile Fife Lake Loop on the 4,600 mile long North Country Trail (NCT), along with a one mile spur trail that connects the NCT to the village. The celebration included a 2.7 mile hike. We were shuttled out of town and we hiked back in.
There were around 40 people on the hike. The weather was perfect: dry, clear and in the low 70’s.
The point that we started from was about 1/2 mile from where Diana’s parent’s cottage was. We used to cross country ski on this portion of the trail when it was just a local pathway through the woods, so it was exciting for us to see it being administered by the National Park Service now. More than half of the North Country Trail is complete (2700 miles); an amazing accomplishment, seeing it was just established in 1980.
The trail is well marked with blue blazes on the trees.
There are also signposts all along the trail, so it is fairly easy to follow.
The NCT skirts through Spring Lake State Forest Campground. Spring Lake is a little body of water that connects by a small channel to Fife Lake. It is very peaceful in the campground, even though it is fairly close to US-131.
After we left the campground, we met Luke Jordan, a gentleman who has hiked the entire trail, even along the incomplete portions. He is in the process of having his book about the experience published.
At one point, the trail crosses the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad. These tracks are used maybe one or two times a week. This is the route that Ernest Hemingway used to take on his trips north to Walloon Lake from Chicago.
We also traversed a newly completed bridge over a small creek.
When we were hiking on the spur back into town, we met Linda Forwerck. She is the Fife Lake Township Supervisor. We had a delightful conversation with her about all of the exciting things that are happening in the area. Fife Lake was a logging center in the 1800’s, and at one time there were three sawmills on the lake. Today, there are several businesses in town, all doing quite well. The trail town status will bring even more business to the village.
Some are housed in century-old buildings. Diana’s dad used this hardware store often.
The hike ended up at Fife Lakeside Park. The North Country Trail Association had tents set up, handing out information about the trail and volunteering opportunities. They also had food and soft drinks, along with a trio playing contemporary music.
The park has a small beach, and is located next to the state boat launch. Fife Lake is best described as one mile in diameter, and is fairly close to symmetrical. There are two small islands in the southwestern portion of the lake. This photo looks towards those islands, and the cottage Diana’s parents owned is just to the left of the islands and just to the right of the tree in the foreground.
The Grand Traverse Hiking Club had their trailer at the event.
Inside was just about anything they would need to construct a trail. They are obviously well organized!
While we were at the park, we heard a commotion by the tracks. We went over to investigate.
We saw these little restored railroad service cars coming down the tracks. After a little investigation, we found out that they are part of an organization called the North American Railcar Operators Association. They are all privately owned, and they take tours on local railroads. This particular event had 40 cars and went on a round trip from Traverse City, through Petoskey and Cadillac. It cost each car a little over $500, and that included two night’s lodging. We’ve never seen anything like it. Their air horns were particularly amusing!
After the event, we took the Escape out on the two-track seasonal roads south of town. We were curious to see some of the outlying portions of the trail.
This is Headquarters Lake, which is a large wetland. It is fed by Fife Lake Creek, which is the outlet from Fife Lake. The water finds its way from Headquarters Lake into the Manistee River, then into Lake Michigan and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. The NCT runs alongside the creek and Headquarters Lake.
We used to snowmobile and ski along these two-tracks. It was a lot easier to find our way this time, as we had Google Maps to guide us!
At the southern end of the loop trail, we came to the Old US-131 State Forest Campground. It is located on the Manistee River. Part of our reason for checking it out was to find a kayak take-out point on the Manistee. The canoe launch looked like it might be difficult to use to disembark.
We did find this trail sign though. Looks like an easy 2400 miles to go to get to the eastern terminus of the trail in New York! Eventually, they will link it to the Appalachian Trail in Vermont.
After leaving the campground, we headed down to the rest area on the new portion of US-131. There is a boat launch at the south end of the rest area, and it has a nice concrete ramp. We decided that this would be an ideal place to use as a kayak take-out. Plenty of parking to stage a vehicle also. We talked to the owner of Missaukee Paddlesports at the ramp, as she was waiting for a group of paddlers to come in. She tipped us off to a put-in a little ways up the river. Looks like a paddle day is in our future.
On our way out of the rest area to go check out the put-in, we noticed this sign for the NCT. Looks like an easy 2200 miles to the western terminus of the trail in North Dakota. There it links up to the Lewis and Clark Trail.
All in all, it was a tremendous day to get out in the woods. What made it better was the fact that we were familiar with these pathways, and to see them being celebrated as a national treasure just made it that much sweeter.
Do you have a favorite trail that you would like to share? We would love to hear about it!