Submitted by CAROL FRYDAY, Beaver Resident
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.” – John Muir
Like most who head for the hills, John Muir instinctively knew what science took years to work out—that tramping through the woods is powerful medicine. Turns out that time spent in nature not only calms our overactive minds, but also lowers our blood pressure and boosts the immune system.
Clearly, there is much to be gained by venturing into the wild and Beaver residents are fortunate to have plenty of options. Those looking for an easy woodland walk can head to Brush Creek where trails course over gentle terrain. For more of a challenge, Brady’s Run offers a moderately difficult six-mile loop, while Raccoon State Park has forty miles of trails, including a nine-mile, boot-buster.
But the beautifully maintained North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT), which crosses a variety of terrains, is likely the easiest to navigate. Large signposts, like the one pictured, clearly denote trailheads and once on the Trail, hikers will find bright blue blazes painted at close intervals to keep them moving in the right direction.
Originating in the North Dakota plains, the NCT is the longest footpath in the United States, traversing some 4,600 miles before reaching the mountains of Vermont. Along the way, it ventures into Beaver County at the Ohio state line, meanders fourteen miles along the Little Beaver Creek watershed, and exits at Lawrence County, just shy of Enon Valley.
Our local section of the Trail crosses densely forested game lands, skirts fields of summer hay, and rewards the adventurous with expansive views. It also reveals traces of our historical past. Within the span of just a few short miles, hikers will discover the foundation of an eighteenth-century mill, the moss-covered ruins of a nineteenth century homestead, and vestiges of long abandoned coal and limestone mines.
Though part of the National Park System, each segment of the NCT is built and maintained by volunteers from its local chapter. In Southwestern PA, volunteers from the Wampum Chapter not only build and maintain the trail, but also construct and install foot bridges, trail markers, shelters, benches, and hiking boxes that contain first aid, small gear, and a log book where visitors can record their hike.
Recently, trail maintenance volunteers, including Bridgewater resident John Rarick (pictured second from left), cleared land and erected fifteen artfully engineered footbridges along a new segment of trail. A long- standing member of the Chapter, Rarick concedes that trail maintenance is hard work, but it is also, by his accounting, deeply gratifying.
For those ready to lace up their boots, there are several ways to explore the NCT.
Those planning to navigate the Trail on their own will find it convenient to start at one of the trailheads with designated parking, as shown on the Trail map. However, before setting out, it is advisable to take an excursion to the Wampum Chapter’s homepage at northcountrytrail.org/wam, which provides detailed maps, and further information about the Trail.
For novices, group hikes are a great way to get started. Chippewa resident and NCT Trail Guide, Tina Harkins (pictured far left) notes that participants need to wear the right footwear and dress for the weather. “Wear boots or hiking shoes,” she advises, “and use a walking stick or a set of hiking poles.”
This summer, the Wampum Chapter is offering several group hikes, including a July 16, 2022, excursion to the newly built
Enon Valley Bridgewalk. Details about this hike and other upcoming outings are available at the Chapter website. To sign up for upcoming group hikes, community events, maintenance, and other opportunities, check out the Wampum Chapter’s Meetup or Facebook page (@WampumChapter).
About the author: In 2021, Beaver resident Carol Fryday and her intrepid dog, Mr. Ned, hiked 100 miles to complete the NCT 100 Mile Challenge. Both were awarded medals.