Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Forest Service repairs iconic Naomikong Bridge along scenic hiking trail

MICHIGAN – Hikers on the 4,100-mile North Country National Scenic Hiking Trail can once again hike from the Shallows to Naomikong Overlook via the Naomikong Bridge. Situated in Michigan's Upper Peninsula near Brimley, Michigan, the Naomikong Bridge project was completed by Hiawatha National Forest’s staff as part of the forest's commitment to enhancing recreation opportunities, improving access and sustaining infrastructure.

“Given the bridge’s somewhat unique design, this repair project was a perfect opportunity for our recreation and engineering personnel to work side-by-side,” said District Ranger Robert West.

Because of its appearance, the bridge is also known as “the mini-Mac” – a reference to the much larger Mackinac Bridge that spans the gap between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Originally built in the 1980s during development of the 4,100-mile-long national hiking trail, the aging trail bridge had begun to show its age.

In October of 2018, the bridge was inspected by Adam Garrison, who was then the Hiawatha’s Facility and Bridge Engineer. Trail bridge inspections are conducted every five years and Garrison found that the transverse floor beams had serious splits and checks throughout their length, resulting in closure of the bridge. Garrison was instrumental in organizing funding for the bridge retrofit design services, which were completed in July 2019, as well as the subsequent contracts for purchasing material and the bridge retrofit.

Todd Kenyon, Hiawatha’s Eastzone Engineer, set up and coordinated the renovation work. The Eastzone Engineering and Recreation staff precut and predrilled the bridge materials off site at their Raco Field Office, which saved a lot of time during the onsite installation.

"One of the biggest challenges was access to the site, which was a 0.5 mile hike along the North Country National Scenic Hiking Trail. The materials and tools were hauled in along the trail using 6-wheelers and a boat trailer!" said Kenyon.

Work at the site started on September 16, 2019 and was substantially complete by the end of the month. Help for the install came from district staff from many departments, including: Engineering, Recreation, Fire, Silviculture, Fisheries and Terrestrial Ecology. Kenyon guesses the district used about 500 person-hours total for the install, saving the forest and program substantial dollars.

“Given the bridge’s location on an especially scenic section of trail along Lake Superior, we are pleased we could tackle the repairs and re-open the trail this year,” said Kari Vanderheuel, Hiawatha’s Zone Recreation Program Manager. The Forest Service recreation staff worked closely with the local North Country Trail Chapter (Hiawatha Shore to Shore) and obtained an Iron Belle grant from the state to cover material and hardware costs.  

Vanderheuel and her staff are proud of the work accomplished. “We have an active and successful relationship with our partners and are together planning other bridge replacement projects along the North Country National Scenic Hiking Trail in Mackinac County in 2020-2021," she said.

Now that the trail is re-opened, hikers are encouraged to come check out this great section of hiking-only trail along Lake Superior.

Photo: wooden bridge in the forest
Originally built in the 1980s during development of the 4,100-mile-long national hiking trail, the aging trail bridge had been designed to mimic the Mackinac Bridge that spans the Straits of Mackinac. USDA Forest Service photo.


Photo: Wooden bridge in the forest
The newly rebuilt Naomikong Bridge near Brimley, Michigan, a key link on the North Country National Scenic Hiking Trail. USDA Forest Service photo.