From Big Bay to Marquette

MARQUETTE – It’s some of the most beautiful scenery in Marquette County, and Powell Township School kids this past week had the chance to see it.

In fact, they had a chance to walk through it instead of gazing at it longingly while being driven through the area.

Beginning Tuesday and ending today, fifth- through eighth-graders hiked about 20 miles of the North Country Trail from the Little Garlic River at the Elliott Donnelley Wilderness in Marquette Township to the city of Marquette.

Teacher Kathy Wright helped coordinate the week-long event, noting it gave the kids the opportunity to see new sections of land along Marquette County Road 550, which leads from Big Bay to Marquette.

“Those kids drive that way almost every day, of the road, in their life,” Wright said. “Before they get on the trail, they don’t know what’s there.”

Some of those things can be as mundane as a squirrel in a tree, which was one of the highlights of the trip for fifth-grader Nicholas Rader, who on Wednesday took part in the segment leading from the Echo Lake Road parking lot to Wetmore Landing. Fifth-grader Alex Novotny said his favorite part was seeing a “giant sandstone rock” in water.

However, there’s also lots of wildlife, unusual wildflowers, a variety of trees and geological formations.

Kids, though, are still just kids.

Wright said they enjoyed visiting a wet area where they could jump across the rocks and walk across the logs.

One of the rocky areas that fascinated them was near Sugarloaf Mountain.

Wright said she has been told, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to walk across these rocks and never got to.”

The North Country Trail trek allowed them to do just that.

Retired teacher Dorothy Lotterman went with the students on the Wednesday trip, which included seeing Little Presque Isle.

“Oh, they loved it,” Lotterman said, particularly the second part of the journey from Little Presque to the Wetmore Landing parking lot.

That leg of the trip had rocks and the Lake Superior beach, and what kid wouldn’t like to be there?

Wright said this is about the 11th year students have made the walk from Big Bay to Marquette, an undertaking begun by former teachers Kate Young and Linda Fleury.

After mining trucks and construction got in the way, though, it was decided to hike on the North Country Trail instead, Wright said. This year marks the third year of taking the NCT route that, she noted, gives hikers a chance to see the area’s natural history and ecology.

All the students in the school walk a mile daily throughout the year, Wright said, so this week is a culmination of those efforts for the youngsters, who she pointed out are in great shape.

“The walk a day really helps,” Wright said, “and they walk other times too. We walk around Big Bay for field trips. It’s a great lifestyle we’re getting them to adopt.”

Teachers and members of the North County Trail Hikers Chapter of the North Country Trail Association accompanied the kids, she said, with chapter members going to the trail sections ahead of time to make sure they are safe for the kids.

Chapter President Lorana Jinkerson said that more and more, kids – and even adults – are connected to technology of one sort or another.

On the NCT, students can get outside and experience the outside world, using all their senses to experience it first-hand, said Jinkerson, who acknowledged research shows that just being in the woods eases stress, burns calories and builds an appreciation for the natural world.

She particularly stressed the exercise aspect.

“Kids who get outside and hike are more likely to be physically fit, and have a lower risk of becoming obese, developing high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes,” Jinkerson said. “Generally, they sleep better at night and are more alert when they are in class.”

A side benefit, she said, is that if the kids are physically fit, they might have greater confidence and therefore less likely to be bullied.

Wright said the NCT hikes give the students the courage to take on other tasks.

“If they can do 19 miles in one week,” Wright said, “they can meet other challenges in their life with more confidence.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.