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MN – Special Report: Trail’s End

From the Canadian border to the Minnesota-Wisconsin boundary south of Jay Cooke State Park, the Superior Hiking Trail captivates with beautiful overlooks and quiet trails through the North woods.

This year, the trail is celebrating its 30th birthday.

“We’ve been building trail for the last 30 years. Ever since Superior Hiking Trail Association became a thing, we’ve been building trail,” Jo Swanson said.

Swanson is the outreach coordinator for the Superior Hiking Trail Association.

“The North Shore is incredibly beautiful, and we’re very lucky to have this in our backyard,” she said. “The Superior Hiking Trail is a great way to explore different parts of the North Shore and to see places you wouldn’t otherwise get to see.”

Just in time for its 30th birthday, the association can also celebrate the trail’s completion.

“We’re building the final stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail this year. That stretch will go from Wild Valley Road, which is near Jay Cooke State Park, and it will go to the Minnesota-Wisconsin border,” Swanson said.

The final two miles are about half constructed right now, and that section is expected to be open by the end of September.

In all, the trail covers more than 300 miles if each section is hiked separately. It features several state parks along the way, including Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Tettegouche State Park and Cascade River State Park.

“The Superior Hiking Trail is definitely not flat. We have a lot of elevation change,” Swanson said.”Sometimes sections of it are really dramatic.”

That’s what makes it so attractive to brand-new hikers, destination backpackers and folks that have lived in the Northland for years.

“For 20 years now, we’ve walked pretty much every day,” Ben McKnight, a Duluth resident, said. “They’re just beautiful trails, and we’re really close here on Skyline Drive to many trails that we’ve walked. They’re in the Jay Cooke area, they’re all over.”

Larry Sampson also knows the trails like the back of his hand because his hands have spent 10 years working on them.

“I love the forest, I love the outdoors,” Sampson said.

He is the trail’s construction and maintenance coordinator for the section that stretches from Two Harbors to south of Jay Cooke State Park.

“It started out as a trail – a dream – back in the mid-80s. And it was just going to be basically from Two Harbors to the Canadian border,” Sampson said. “And then all of a sudden, somebody said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have the trail through Duluth?'”

While many hikers may think it’s the soles of their feet that keep the trail worn and clear, but it actually takes a lot of work.

“It needs to be weed whipped at least once every year to keep that woody growth from overtaking the trail. Nature will overtake it, even a well used trail,” Sampson said.

All that work needs a lot of volunteers are needed. Sampson said he has a list of about 250 that help. Some come weekly, some help once a season.

“I don’t know what would happen to the trail without volunteers,” he said.

For volunteers and hikers alike, the Superior Hiking Trail is a getaway and a place to reconnect.

“It’s giving back, it’s giving people a place to go out and recreate quietly and to see nature the way it’s meant to be,” Sampson said.

“Even though a lot of people come to the trail, it still doesn’t feel crowded,” Swanson said.

“Anytime we get a chance to get into the woods and hike a trail, we’ll do that,” McKnight said.

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