North Country Trail Next Generation Coalition Summit

By Felicia Hokenstad, Next Generation Coalition Leader, North Country Trail Association

Katie Cothran, Aaron Soda Landon, Stephanie Sleda, and Matt Davis during a tool demonstration. Courtesy of North Country Trail Association

In early May, four members of the North Country Trail Association’s (NCTA) Next Generation Coalition (NGC) met in northern Minnesota to assist in building a new, one-mile section of North Country National Scenic Trail (NCNST). This was the second NGC Summit: A gathering of NGC members from diverse backgrounds and regions of Trail, connecting in-person to gain trail work experience and training.

Felicia Hokenstad, Katie Cothran, Sara Dudzik, and Stephanie Sleda met with a trail crew from the American Hiking Society (AHS), and Matt Davis, NCTA Regional Trail Coordinator for Minnesota. Their goal was to replace a roadwalk on the NCNST’s Arrowhead Reroute between the Chippewa National Forest and Grand Rapids, Minn.

Friday morning started with a pleasant surprise when NCNST thru-hiker, Aaron “Soda” Landon, arrived at the trailhead, ready to work.

Matt provided an introduction and demonstration of each tool. This was especially helpful to members with no trail building experience. One huge goal of the NGC program is to provide skill-building experiences like this for young volunteers across the Trail. This tool demonstration included a bow saw for cutting small trees and bushes, loppers for cutting small limbs or saplings, a pick mattock for digging and moving dirt and rock, and a McLeod for removing duff layers and loose ground debris to create a level trail.

The AHS crew had been hard at work for a week already, so the corridor was cleared and trail tread was established. The group made quick work of the finishing touches, then joined NCTA Arrowhead Chapter members for trail maintenance on established Trail.

“It was a blast, to say the least,” said Felicia. “Many of us had zero experience with trail building, but Matt did a spectacular job teaching us about how trails are built from scratch. It was also my first time using a hand saw to help trim small trees laying across the trail. Just super empowering stuff!”

“I was finally able to connect and bond with my peers in a way we had not been able to previously,” wrote Sara Dudzik of Michigan. “Learning how to build trail with my cohort put me in a safe space to be vulnerable and learn, while also being an advocate and ambassador to the NCNST.”

Following this successful day of trail work, the crew met at Klockow Brewing Company to enjoy beverages and barbecue. Between an impromptu performance from one of the AHS crew members and an intense game of Farkle around the campfire, it was the perfect night for connecting with each other and admiring the night sky.

“The Summit was such an empowering and uplifting experience,” wrote Stephanie Sleda of Michigan. “It was great having camaraderie with like-minded people while making a difference for the Trail and those who use it.”

NGC members spent Saturday afternoon on an urban hike through Grand Rapids, Minn. with Arrowhead Chapter members and thru-hiker Soda. The urban hike wound past murals by local artists including Leah Yellowbird, who collaborated with the NCTA in 2021 for the My NCT program. 

“It was truly great to work alongside the NGC members as we built new trail,” said Matt Davis, NCTA Regional Trail Coordinator. “The opportunity to teach them trail building and maintenance techniques, and seeing them doing the work afterward was special. The NCNST and NCTA have a bright future with the Next Generation Coalition stepping up to take on a leadership role.”

Learn more about the Next Generation Coalition at