Sugarloaf Re-route on the Superior Hiking Trail, June 12-14
By Stephanie Hoff
When I first heard about an opportunity to reroute the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT), I said hell yes! There is nothing like building a new piece of trail, having hikers enjoy it, and being able to proudly say, I BUILT THAT! To me, it is truly one of the best feelings on earth.
We were fortunate that we got both the Schroeder town hall and all of the food donated for the Sugarloaf reroute by Upper Midwest Trail Runners. When people can come volunteer and not have to worry about paying for lodging or food, it makes the experience possible for everyone.
Tamer, Trail Operations Director for the SHT, and I had pre-marked the reroute with pin flags and distance markers so we knew how long each section was. When you do a reroute, it works best if you split the project up into smaller sections. These sections are then worked on by one crew leader and his/her crew. For this project, we split it up into 9 mini sections: we had three crew leaders and three days to complete the project, so the hope was that each day, each crew leader could finish one section.
Tamer and I pre-marking the reroute with a measuring tape and pin flags in the middle of May
On Wednesday June 12th, the first day of the project, all of the volunteers, crew leaders, Tamer and Denny (the Executive Director of the SHT), met at the Schroeder Town Hall. We went over the project, showed a map of the area, talked about safety and then we were off to the worksite.
As much as our goal was to build trail, there are two rules even more important than building a trail. Rule number one - be safe, rule number two - have fun. After those two rules, if we get some trail built, then we’re pretty dang successful!
My mom’s truck was loaded with the lumber she picked up in Duluth, to be used for a section of new boardwalk. We got to work unloading the lumber, and staged it to be used on day two.
My mom’s truck riding low
Once the lumber was unloaded, we headed onto the trail to walk the new section. I like to walk a new section prior to starting. I’ve found by physically walking it, it really gives you an appreciation for what we are about to tackle. We could barely pick our way through the new reroute section we were about to create. There were trees in the way, lots of brush, and a low bog area.
Tamer going over tool safety
We divided the volunteers up into three crews; Michael, Tamer and I took our crews and got working on the tread. Tread is the main part of the trail that hikers walk on. You need to dig down, past the organic matter to the soil. Our goal was to build a 24” tread. The first section my crew worked on was mini section number one. We got lucky with pretty good soil, minimal rocks and roots. Just before lunch, we walked our section again and talked about what we were going to do after lunch. I find that by walking the section several times throughout the day, it really shows the crew what progress we’ve made. By lunch time we had most of the tread built and just had some fine tuning to do.
Volunteers starting to work on the tread
Lunch break is always fun. We chat, we laugh, make jokes. After lunch, it’s back to work, trying to finish up three mini sections for day one.
My mom and I enjoying lunch break
Next, we built tread, made rock piles and dug a burrow hole (a separate hole away from the trail) for ‘fresh dirt’. We used that dirt to fill in holes on the newly built trail. Digging and hauling from a burrow pit is exhausting. By 3:00 pm on the first day, we were all pretty spent, and decided to haul in the lumber for the boardwalk to switch up the pace a little bit. It took us almost an hour just to haul all of the wood into where the boardwalk would be built. We finished the day by walking all three of the mini sections.
Day one crew! Logan and Grant hauling in the boardwalk boards
We got back to the town hall for dinner. (Thanks again Upper Midwest Trail Runners) After dinner on day one, we took a group field trip to one of the highest spots close to Finland. The views were amazing!
Tom and Liz enjoying the view on our field trip
Day two started with a mandatory quick trip up the shores to World’s Greatest Donuts, for treats for the whole crew. After breakfast, we headed to the worksite again and went over tool safety and tread construction for those that were just joining us. We again walked the reroute and talked about what we hoped to accomplish. After day one, we had one mini section complete, and had a great start on three other sections. The goal for day two was to finish up mini sections 3, 4 and 5, start building the boardwalk (section 2) and get a start on section 6. That would leave us section 7, 8, 9 for day three. Everyone was pretty tired after the first day, but they still did great.
Tamer showing us how to build the boardwalk; a trip to World's Best donuts is a necessity
During day two, we came across soil that was not so nice to us. We had to pull many stumps, rocks and lots of roots; it’s funny how the soil can change so much in a matter of 100 feet. It was great seeing my fellow trail runners learning new techniques on how to build trail.
Mike and Marianna pulling stumps; the crew spreads out during lunch
Day two was a success! We got through almost all of the sections we were hoping to, and made a great start on the boardwalk. We were feeling confident we would be able to complete the reroute by day three. After cleaning up from day two, we went back to the Schroeder town hall for dinner. After dinner, I took the crew on another field trip to Minnesota’s longest train tunnel. It was a fun adventure!
Day two crew; field trip to the train tunnel
To say I was tired and sore on day three would be an understatement, but the ‘finish line’ was in sight! Day three breezed by. We finished up the boardwalk, made the approaches to it, and finished up the last couple of mini-sections. We had a wonderful hard-working crew and were done shortly after lunchtime. We walked the new trail with the entire crew that day and marveled how in three days, we completely transformed the landscape.
Everyone was so proud of what they had completed. We finished the day by ‘plugging up’ the old part of the trail so that it is now impassable. Wow! So happy about what we did in three days!
The Friday crew...what an awesome project; the boardwalk is just about finished
I encourage you to get out and be part of a trail building experience. It is truly rewarding. Trail people—they are what sets Upper Midwest Trail Runners apart from other communities. I’m so lucky to be a part of this amazing group.