After two decades of development, the north and south segments of the Maah Daah Hey Trail are joined together with a 2.5-mile segment leaving from Sully Creek State Park south of Medora. The connecting link is in some of the prettiest Badlands country and makes possible seamless passage from the original 100 miles of Maah Daah Hey Trail to the newer 50-mile stretch, called by some The Deuce.
Three men with Blue Sky Trails used specialized equipment and hand tools to carve it out of the Badlands terrain, including a high point that provides a spectacular overlook of the Bully Pulpit Golf Course 300 feet below. From there, it eventually connects with the rest of The Deuce on down to the Burning Coal Veins Campground near Amidon. The small crew did the work in less than three weeks, spotting a rattlesnake and bald eagle along the way.
State Parks and Recreation projects planner Jesse Hanson walked the new trail Tuesday morning before the sun got too high and hot and, other than a few small details, found the project satisfactory. Hanson said the park crew will install a few gates, several of the familiar turtle-engraved trail markers and signs cautioning the public to remain on the trail, before it’s formally open to the public around Labor Day.
The trail boss Gary McKellar said the path was easy to build and the few early users he encountered were pretty impressed with the views of the Little Missouri River and the golf course from the highest overlook. “It’s been a good job,” McKellar said.
One of his crew, Max Zimmerman, of Pennsylvania, said he was looking forward to a North Dakota adventure, though the heat and the ticks took some getting used to.
In Medora, Jennifer Morlock, owner of Dakota Cyclery, was delighted to hear the trail was connected, making things simpler for mountain bikers.
“Having the whole trail connected, that’s fantastic. It’ll make it a lot easier to explain the route to people,” she said.
Like a lot of projects, this last piece was the hardest to get. The U.S. Forest Service completed the Maah Daah Hey I in 1999 and formally opened The Deuce last year. It gave over the challenge of connecting the two segments to the state because of the trailhead at Sully Creek, and Hanson said that meant bringing the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation and an adjacent private landowner on board with a suitable plan.
Hanson said the property owners were more amenable to the 20-year trail easement the state could offer than the 99-year lease required for federal projects. The foundation is developing a housing subdivision in the vicinity, and the trick was finding a way around that project that worked for everyone. The adjoining landowner — out-of-state heirs — agreed to allow the final .07 miles to go in the ditch along the paved road going south of Medora.
It isn’t perfect, but it works. Mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders will no longer have to get on a busy county road to restart the trail.
Randy Hatzenbuhler, director of the foundation, said he uses the trail quite a bit and likes guiding hikers on it.
“It’s nice to have it continuous. It’s nice to go to the trailhead at Sully Creek and know you’re on the trail the whole time,” he said.
Two of the foundation’s lots are along the trail, but the lots are big enough that both can co-exist. “It’s not a concern,” he said.
Trail users will enjoy being able to get on The Deuce trail right from the park, according to Hanson, who added they also can go north from the park and catch the original trail, but that involves crossing the river, which isn’t always possible or desirable.
“Now, they can just shoot out this way,” Hanson said.