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New 250-Mile Segment Beckons Hikers to the Great Plains Trail

steve myers great plains trail

GPT Pilot Trail At-a-Look

Trail: Pilot path of the Great Plains Trail
Distance: About 250 miles
Location: From Scottsbluff, Neb. to Bear Butte, S.D.
Maps: The Great Plains Trail Alliance plans to submit a pdf model of a databook in February or March 2019.

The Great Plains Trail is America’s latest long-distance path. The brainchild of Steve Myers of Longmont, Colo., the path’s official start yr is 2012, when he registered the Great Plains Trail Alliance as a 501(c)three nonprofit group.

At simply over 2,100 miles, the present route traverses as a lot public land as potential because it meanders north from the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas, throughout the Oklahoma Panhandle, by means of japanese Colorado and western Nebraska, throughout South and North Dakota, to end at the Canada border in Montana.

As a brand new path, a lot of the route as presently mapped follows backroads slightly than trails, as such. Nevertheless, one man, Luke “Strider” Jordan, has thru-hiked the whole route and the Alliance has simply introduced the opening of a marked 250-mile “pilot trail” in western Nebraska and South Dakota.

The alliance is at present elevating funds and consciousness with an eye fixed towards future easements to absolutely join the path with minimal road-walking.

 Meet Steve Myers

steve myers great plains trail

Steve Myers. Nationwide Park Service photograph.

Steve Myers grew up amid the lakes and prairies of southern Minnesota enjoying basketball and baseball, however outdoors of some temporary tenting journeys together with his household, spent little time outside. Then, at age 20, he noticed a picture of Wyoming’s towering Teton Vary.

“I was going to college and I saw a flyer in the lobby,” he says. “I thought, ‘That looks good, I want to go there.’”

A couple of months later, he was working at the storied Sign Mountain Lodge in Grand Teton Nationwide Park and, in his phrases, “fell in love with the outdoors.” He marveled at the space’s tradition of climbing, climbing, tenting and extra. However more and more, he discovered himself drawn towards routes much less taken.

Approximate route of the Great Plains Trail. Map courtesy Speedy Metropolis Journal

“There’s a mountain north of Moran (Wyo.) called Bivouac (Peak). There’s no trail up there; no one goes there,” he recollects. “Not many people knock that one off, but it’s one of the most fun mountains I’ve ever done in terms of adventure.”

Now smitten with the mountains, Myers returned to work at the lodge the following summer time. This time, he drove from Minnesota, and simply after crossing the Missouri River on I-90 discovered himself obsessed with a completely new panorama.

A butte on the Nebraska part of the Great Plains Trail. Luke Jordan photograph.

“The eastern part of South Dakota looks like Minnesota. It’s farm country, and it’s fine,” says Myers, 48. “But you hit the Missouri, and suddenly on the other side it’s 100 percent different. There are huge bluffs, 500 or 600 feet, along the river, the farms are gone and now it’s wide-open ranch country, and there are buttes in the distance. There was this way-bigger topography going on, absolutely wide open out to the horizon.”

It wasn’t mountains, and it wasn’t Minnesota, with its timber and lakes and farms.

“It was completely different,” Myers says, “and I was endlessly fascinated by it.”

Eye-Popping Landscapes

great plains trail nebraska

Though in its infancy, there already are some indicators alongside the GPT, together with this one in Nebraska. Luke Jordan photograph.

That second of fascination was the seed that has grown into his ardour greater than 20 years later: the Great Plains Trail, a nascent 2,100-mile lengthy route that traverses America’s nice center roughly alongside the 105th meridian, from the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas to the Montana-Saskatchewan border.

Though the route continues to be in its infancy, the non-profit Great Plains Trail Alliance (began by Myers in 2012) is now selling the completion of a marked, 250-mile “pilot trail” that traverses principally public land from Scottsbluff, Neb. to Bear Butte, S.D.

“You won’t have to stealth camp and you don’t have to have a vehicle,” says Myers. “In theory, somebody could self-support the whole stretch, doing 20- to 25-mile days.”

The alliance plans to submit an “early version of a databook” in February or March to present the approach for potential pilot-trail hikers, and should arrange an interactive website the place hikers can submit updates and details about the route.

“It won’t be a guidebook. It will be more like, ‘Take a left here, go six miles this way, look for this landmark.’ Hopefully, it will help people get out and use” the pilot path, Myers says.

And whereas it may be onerous for many who cling to “flyover” stereotypes of Nebraska (flat, corn, boring…) to consider, the pilot path encompasses a few of the most eye-popping landscapes of the complete route, together with not simply South Dakota’s Black Hills, but in addition the Wildcat Hills, Ogallala Nationwide Grassland and Toadstool Geologic Park in Nebraska.

Magnificence and Hospitality

great plains trail texas guadalupe mountains

The GPT’s southern terminus is situated in the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas. Luke Jordan photograph.

And that’s in accordance to no much less an authority than the solely individual to thru-hike the GPT to date.

“The beauty there and the scenery was so unexpected,” says Luke Jordan, aka Strider, 28, who adopted up his 2012 thru-hike of the four,600-mile North Nation Trail with an 85-day GPT thru-hike in 2016.

Much more shocking to Jordan was the heat welcome he acquired.

“When I got to the Nebraska state line, people were instantly enthusiastic,” he says. “I had trail magic every day.”

Climbing in winter (he initially deliberate to connect the GPT to a hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, however modified course when he was provided a full-time place with the Nationwide Park Service) Jordan encountered excessive climate, from 60-mph winds “blowing tumbleweeds over your head,” to blowing snow and, on the path’s southern reaches, blistering warmth with no shade, even in the lifeless of winter.

luke jordan great plains trail

Luke Jordan, aka Strider, at the northern terminus of the GPT in 2016. Luke Jordan photograph.

However, he famous, all lengthy trails have their challenges, and for him, the GPT was precisely the sort of “road less traveled” expertise he was in search of.

“On the prairie, it feels like the world is so much bigger. Every tiny rise is a scenic overlook, it really is. If you are 30 feet higher than everything around you, you can see endlessly,” he says. “In the future you’re on a back-country street, seeing all farms, and the very subsequent day you’re strolling by way of a canyon in the center of nowhere. The day after that you simply see Pawnee Buttes (in northern Colorado), large cliffs sticking up out of nowhere.

A Huge and Various Panorama

great plains trail south dakota black elk peak

A view from Black Elk Peak, South Dakota. Luke Jordan photograph.

Myers started pondering the concept of a path traversing the plains virtually from the second he crossed the Missouri in 1991. In the ensuing years, he married, earned a university diploma and educating certificates, and moved to Wisconsin and California earlier than lastly settling in Longmont, Colo. All the whereas, he dreamed of making a path that may showcase the huge, variegated and sometimes dismissed, ignored and even mocked landscapes of the nation’s supposedly “boring” center.

“I’d research it, dive into it a little deeper, run my ideas by people smarter than me, to see where it might go,” he says. “Then in 2010 I finally decided to really give it a good run.”

Amongst his early correspondents was Steve Elkinton, then program coordinator for the Nationwide Trails System in the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Nationwide Park Service.

“He gave me good advice. He said, ‘you can’t wave a magic wand’ and have a trail,” Myers says. “You need to build the trail first, then start going after a designation.”

So, he started taking a look at maps to piece collectively a possible route that may make use of public lands as a lot as potential. He started driving the routes and finding again roads which may make for respectable strolling. He’s now pushed or walked 90 % of the route and “knows every inch of it, at least on a map.”

“I didn’t want people to have to use highways,” he says. “Everyone is willing to suck it up for a little while, but nobody wants to walk the whole country on a busy highway.”

Myers questioned at first how he can be acquired, particularly in rural areas the place private-property rights reign supreme, however has been pleasantly stunned.

“I’ve been pretty amazed at either how excited people are about it, or at worst sort of, ‘Well, whatever.’ Not excited necessarily, but not hostile at all,” he says.

If You Construct It…

great plains trail colorado dinosaur tracks

Historic dinosaur tracks alongside the Great Plains Trail in Colorado. Luke Jordan photograph.

And in some locations, he has discovered outright enthusiasm, together with western Nebraska, residence to about half of the pilot path.

“That’s exactly the part of the state they want to shine a light on. For them, the eastern part of the state, it’s cool, but it’s mostly farm fields. This is the part of the state where there are state parks, trails, recreation areas and where they want people to go,” Myers says. “That’s in contrast to Colorado, where there might be a sentence in a tourist brochure, ‘Oh, by the way, the eastern third of the state is out there, too.’”

However will the previous adage, “if you build it, they will come,” apply to a 2,100-mile path throughout the excessive prairie? Each Myers and Jordan assume it should.

great plains trail new mexico

The present route of the GPT consists of back-country roads like this one in New Mexico. Luke Jordan photograph.

“I think we are on the verge of a second backpacking boom,” Jordan says. “People are running out of places to go, and avoiding the AT and PCT because of crowds. They are looking for alternatives.”

“There should be a way to go big in any unique landscape, to actually, really, truly experience it,” Myers says. “One of my goals is to get more people to understand that there are other cool things out there in the country that might not make the big splash and aren’t the usual ‘sexy’ things, but are still just incredible.”

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