A stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail will close Friday because a property owner, frustrated by hikers’ behavior, is booting them off his land.
Randy Bowe said that a few hikers have “accosted” and “cussed at” his family and friends on his 380 acres along the North Shore of Lake Superior. For years, he’s allowed 1.6 miles of the hiking trail to pass through his property, part of a popular route between Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse state parks. But no more, he said by phone Tuesday.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” said Bowe, 55, who owns a taxidermy shop in Duluth. “We’ve had plenty of sleepless nights. But it came down to a few people spoiling it for everyone.”
Along its 300-mile span from Jay Cooke State Park to Canada, the hiking trail traverses mostly public land. But it also depends on permanent easements and simple permits from about 50 private landowners, said Gayle Coyer, executive director of the Superior Hiking Trail Association, a nonprofit that maintains and manages the trail.
Starting Friday, hikers will be alerted to alternate routes, which are longer and rely on the Gitchi-Gami State Trail. In the long term, the association will work to reroute the trail onto public lands west of Bowe’s.
In recent years, the trail group posted more signs throughout Bowe’s property. “Please respect the private property you are crossing,” one red sign says. No off-trail hiking, no camping, no fires and no hunting, it warns.
It was “very, very obvious” to hikers that they were passing through private property, Coyer said.
But despite the signs, “somehow it isn’t getting through to some people that it’s really a privilege to go through these private lands.”
Bowe bought the property in the late 1980s, when the trail was in its infancy, he said. At first, he’d encounter one or two problems a year. A hiker would trespass, leaving behind litter or a smoldering fire.
But recently, as Bowe and his daughter rode ATVs, hikers yelled at him.
During Halloween weekend last year, a friend of Bowe’s — “a disabled Vietnam veteran,” he noted — was bow hunting on the property when three men harassed him, howling like wolves near his deer stand for an hour.
The friend didn’t have his cellphone, Bowe said, and police were never called. “It was too late,” he said. “They were gone.”
Such issues are rare, Coyer said. This is the first time since the trail was built in the 1980s that it has gotten the ouster from a property owner.
Expanding the trail through Duluth from 2004 to 2006, the nonprofit picked a route that used as much public land as possible, she said. Those 29 miles cross only two private properties.
“We work really hard” to avoid private land now, Coyer said, “because in some cases, it is a lot to ask a private landowner to have a public trail go across their property.”