United State’s longest water trail founded to support North Country
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, and was excited to be a part of last weekend’s event commemorating the National Wild and Scenic designation of the Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers. These rivers now share this honour with Maine’s Allagash Wilderness Waterway which is also part of the NFCT system.
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is the longest paddling trail in the nation and runs from Old Forge, New York through Vermont, Québec, and New Hampshire to Fort Kent, Maine following ancient Native American travel routes. The organization’s mission is to protect and steward this 740-mile water trail and foster community vitality to promote inspiring outdoor experiences in the Northern Forest Region.
Founders Kay Henry and Rob Center first heard the idea of the trail from a group of paddlers researching the route. They loved the idea of the adventure, but were compelled by a larger vision. “We knew that the region had been through decades of decline in the forest products industries that had been the economic driver for generations. We saw this trail as a means to help support the development of nature-based tourism across the North Country and an opportunity to diversify the economy,” said Henry.
It was this line of thinking that convinced Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy to rally support for the project among the congressional delegations of all four trail states and bring a degree of sustainability to the organization in its formative years. The National Park Service was a driving force in initial funding and guidance.
The work to provide access to the waterways began with building extensive collaborations including individuals, businesses, organizations and governments in the 45 communities along the route. “With so many miles to cover, and much of it privately held land, we had our work cut out for us. If we had not been able to gain the trust and partnership of local leaders, we would never have got the project off the ground,” said Center.
The nonprofit was founded in 2000, and the trail fully mapped and officially opened for travel in 2006. Since then a continuous effort to increase and improve infrastructure including access points, camping, portage routes, and navigational and safety signage has increased paddlers ability to use the trail for all manner of adventure from a 740-mile through paddle to an afternoon of fishing.
“In 2015 our nonprofit is looking forward to maintaining the foundations of quality management and collaboration, and to increasing our capacity to inspire more people to paddle in the Northern Forest connecting with the people and places that make this region special,” said Karrie Thomas, NFCT’s executive director.
The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is hosting new events this summer including the Missisquoi River Paddle and Pedal Race in Richford, Vermont, and the Raquette Lake Sprint Challenge in Raquette Lake, New York. Additionally, they are offering free, guided day paddles with local volunteers across the region to help paddlers connect with each other and learn about new waterways. Learn more about the trail and the lifetime of adventures it has to offer at www.northernforestcanoetrail.org.