Our national parks are the crown jewels of our country. America’s national parks are some of the most awe-inspiring places in the world. We invented the idea of national parks. The concept has spread all over the world and is perhaps our greatest legacy to the world.  

In addition to being great places to visit, our parks are a huge economic benefit for the communities that surround them. National park visitation generated $34.9 billion for the U.S. economy in 2016 and supported 318,000 jobs according to the Department of the Interior. These number reflect the economic impact national park visitors have on gateway communities, including sales, lodging and jobs, as well as the impact on the national economy as a whole.  

Outdoor activities are a big business in America. The Outdoor Industry Association, in  their new Recreation Economy Report, says outdoor recreation generates:

$887 billion in consumer spending annually

7.6 million American jobs

$65.3 billion in federal tax revenue

$59.2 billion state and local tax revenue

Direct spending on non-motorized trail sports (hiking, backpacking, climbing, trail running, horseback riding and mountaineering) is $201 billion a year.

When you mention national parks most people think of the the world famous ones like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. But we have five Park Service treasures in the Northland. Voyagers National Park, near International Falls, has great Boundary Waters scenery with bigger lakes and the option of house boats. The Apostle Island National Lakeshore has 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland shore along Lake Superior featuring the lake, beaches and sandstone cliffs. Isle Royale is a unique wilderness island in Lake Superior. The St. Croix Riverway includes 252 miles of the Namekagon and St Croix rivers which flow through some of the least developed country in Wisconsin.

But there is another, little known, jewel sponsored by the Park Service in Northern Wisconsin. This is the North Country National Scenic Trail (NCT).  This trail covers 4600 miles from up state New York to western North Dakota. It runs about 200 miles in northern Wisconsin with  access to short and long distance hikes and camping. Mellen and Solon Springs are official “trail towns” with the trail passing right through town. The trail goes through Copper Falls State Park, Pattison State Park, the Porcupine and Rainbow wilderness areas, and along part of the St. Croix Riverway. A local, Douglas County highlight is the Portage Trail. This section of the NCT follows the ancient Native American path and voyageur route that connects Lake Superior to the Mississippi. This 2 mile segment connects the Brule River to the St. Croix River and the modern hiker to centuries of former travelers. 

Although the trail is part of, and supported by, the National Park Service it is built and maintained by volunteers. The North Country Trail Association is the non-profit that organizes the volunteers. There are three local chapters in Wisconsin: Brule-St Croix in the west, Chequamegon in the middle, and the Heritage in the east. In Wisconsin about 140 miles of trail, bridges, and boardwalks have been completed with 60 miles still using roads. Volunteers are always needed and welcome. 

One would think that our National Parks would not be controversial. Given the wonderful benefits to everyone and the economy, these national treasures should be well funded and well maintained. Our national parks cost us very little so it shouldn't be a problem to take care of them. The entire budget for the National Park Service is a tiny 1/15th of one percent of the federal budget. 

But unfortunately, as with much of our public resources, shortsighted budget choices are the rule. Our parks have suffered many years of bi-partisan under funding. Our National Parks have a $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog. But this article is not about politics. Sometimes we need to take a break from politics and get outdoors!

The Brule St. Croix Chapter has a number of hikes planned to introduce you to the North Country Trail. Check it out at  HYPERLINK "mailto:bsc@northcountrytrail.org"bsc@northcountrytrail.org and Facebook: NCTinWI.  You can stay in touch with the local events and receive hike email notices at   HYPERLINK "http://www.meetup.com/sscbhikers"www.meetup.com/sscbhikers.     

Get outdoors more this summer. Take a hike on the North Country Trail.