Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail

Written by Robert Dixon

ImageA 740-Mile Historic Water Trail Traversing Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York and Quebec

Thousands of years before the arrival of Columbus, Native Americans had a well-established network of travel routes in the northeast. Many of these routes were land trails, but where possible water transport was preferred. With the possible exception of the Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness in Minnesota and Canada, few areas of the continent lent themselves more to this mode of transportation than the region now known as the “Northern Forest”. Here, glaciers working in concert with other natural forces created a landscape laced with waterways.


Europeans quickly began to adopt the methods for water travel invented by the First Peoples. Beginning with French Voyageurs and followed by others the birch bark canoe became a common mode of transportation for the newcomers within the region. With the help of native guides the reach of these European was soon spreading through Canada and working toward the great rivers of the west.

Time, technology and conflict have changed the landscape since those days. Artificial political boundaries, roads, dams and other impediments have hindered passages and hidden portages of old, but the canoe has never been completely erased from this landscape. Now a hardworking and determined group of citizens, businesses and organizations is working to make sure it never is.
In 1976 Mike Krepner, Ron Canter, and Randy Mardres three men interested in tracing Native American routes started a nonprofit corporation called “Native Trails” and began researching and retracing the old routes. What these three intrepid “second generation pioneers” found was the shadow of a viable water route connecting the Adirondacks and northern Maine. In the ensuing years, they paddled, poled and portaged what was to become the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT).


In 2000, the first through-paddle of the 740 mile water trail, traversing thirty five communities was completed by Donnie Mullen. This milestone was aptly completed in the same year that a quarter century of effort achieved critical mass with the formation of The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, Inc. NFCT is a nonprofit organization created to complete and manage the Trail and, in so doing, to celebrate the rich human heritage and diverse natural environment of the Northern Forest.

Officially completed in 2006 the Trail represents a model of collaboration among nonprofit groups, corporations, landowners and more than 150 volunteers committed to stewardship of the resource. The environmental and economic benefits are easy to see and the NFCT has adopted a set of guiding principles assuring that the Trail serves as both an economic asset to the communities and a living reminder of the history and heritage of the Northern Forest area and its people.

Today there are Thirteen mapped contiguous sections offering campsites, portage routes, trail signs, and access points along the entire route. Local community groups have played a crucial role in the Trail's development in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Qu├ębec and New York, and will continue to be stewards of the Trail in the future.

Image Courtesy Jim Henry

The NFCT is not a wilderness trail. There are many wild areas of great beauty on the route, but much of the trail passes through developed areas. According to Kate Williams, Director of the NFCT, the nature of the landscape of the NFCT route reflects its history. “Were it not for the towns, mills, working forests and farms along the way the trail could not exist.”

A traverse of the NFCT is not just a long distance challenge, it is a journey through the course of history in the Northern Forest. What you see along it is indicative of what happened; history unfolds before you.
Paddling the entire NFCT takes about eight weeks and will test the skills of even the most advanced paddler: flatwater, whitewater, portaging, poling, both upriver and down, the traveler will need to handle it all. But, like its landed cousin “the Appalachian Trail” the Northern Forest Canoe Trail offers those who wish to sample it numerous opportunities for shorter trips that take in only sections of this 740 mile goliath. The full trip requires that paddlers travel from west to east but shorter trips allow paddlers to choose their direction based on their goals and experience level.

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is a membership organization. To join or to learn more, please contact them at: Northern Forest Canoe Trail, PO Box 565 Waitsfield, VT 05673, 802-496-2285
Linkinfo@northernforestcanoetrail.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

or visit their website at

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