Powell Township students hike the North Country Trail

MARQUETTE — What in blue blazes was going on with the Powell Township School bus at the Little Garlic River parking lot off Marquette County Road 550 Tuesday morning?

It wasn’t a typical bus stop.

Instead, it was part of the annual Powell Township School hike for fifth- through eighth-grade students, which took place this year from the Elliott Donnelley Wilderness in Marquette Township to the city of Marquette. The hike was scheduled to run in segments through today.

The students, along with adult chaperones, hiked on the North Country National Scenic Trail — a fancier name for the North Country Trail — that’s marked by blue blazes on trees. The trail stretches 4,600 miles over seven states, from the Vermont border of New York to the middle of North Dakota.

Hiking along with the kids from Powell Township School, located in Big Bay, were members of the North Country Trail Hikers, the local chapter of the North Country Trail Association.

Two of those members were Mike Springer and his wife, Michele Moran, who are “adopters” of that particular section of the trail.

“We try to help clear the trails and other spaces as well,” Springer said.

However, they came along on the hike for another reason.

“It’s educational — and trying to promote interest in the North Country Trail,” Springer said. “If we can get them at a younger age, maybe they’ll continue as a lifetime endeavor.”

Powell teacher Kathy Wright led the hike, having a good knowledge of the Elliott Donnelley Wilderness, which runs along the Little Garlic River.

This time of year, the wild watershed has emerging wildflowers and ferns underneath tall trees, and moss growing on large rocks.

Year-round, the wilderness area is home to stately hemlocks that Wright estimated are hundreds of years old.

So, there was plenty to point out to the grade-schoolers who were in good enough shape to keep up a quick pace during the trek.

“We look forward to it ever year, and we walk every day, so during the school year, every morning we do that right away,” Wright said. “So, we’re pretty ready for this.”

Of course, the hike was more than just putting one foot in front of the other on ground that could be mucky in spots.

“We stop and talk about changes in the woods,” Wright said.

However, she gave the students a few pointers before they set off on their hike.

For example, Wright said pink flags marked off a Michigan Department of Natural Resources project in which deer habitat will be created. Subsequently, the students were cautioned to avoid the flagged areas.

The majority of the journey, though, focused on the wilderness and what lives there.

In a few weeks or maybe even sooner, ferns will add a lot of lushness to the forest floor.

“See these ferns by my foot here?” Wright asked. “They’re still curled up. Anybody know what we call those when they’re curled?”

Fiddleheads was the answer.

These new ferns can be eaten even when they haven’t unfolded yet.

“I like them dipped in batter like fish, deep fried,” Wright said.

She also pointed to the numerous green mottled leaves growing on the ground.

“These are actually all flowers — trout lilies,” Wright said. “So, be watching the forest floor and the trees.”

It was time for another ecology lesson.

The deciduous trees whose leaves drop every year have a connection to those flowers, she said.

“There’s a lot of sun, obviously, coming down, which is why we get wildflowers in the spring,” Wright said. “They’re like, ‘Great! We got all this sun. We’re going to grow now.'”

She also asked the students where they believed the Little Garlic River was flowing.

“The Big Garlic?” one youngster answered.

It was a reasonable answer, but not the one Wright was looking for: Lake Superior, which also was the answer to this question: “All these rivers we cross on our way going from Big Bay to Marquette, where are they all flowing?”

However, she pointed out their origins are headwaters, which sometimes can be just swampy areas.

Physics had a place in Tuesday’s walk too.

“I was wondering why, some places in these rivers the water is moving fast, and why is it moving slowly in some places,” Wright said.

Simple: gravity. The steeper the gradient, the faster the water moves.

Eighth-grader Cheyenne Mallory enjoys the NCT trips.

“I like to see the nature and having fun with all my peers,” Mallory said.

Specifically, she likes seeing the “colors and the animals.”

And that’s coming from someone who lives along Lake Superior.

“I can’t live in cities,” Mallory said.

The four-day hiking event was to have continued Wednesday from the Echo Lake Road parking lot to Wetmore Landing in Marquette Township. The Thursday segment was to be from Wetmore Landing to the Noquemanon Trail Network trailhead on Forestville Road, also in Marquette Township.

Today’s trip was to start at the Forestville Trailhead and finish at the Subway restaurant on Presque Isle Avenue in Marquette, with the combined four-day travel distance estimated at 20.8 miles.

Not bad for elementary schoolers.

For more information on the North Country Trail hikers, visit northcountrytrail.org/nct.