WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ambitious hikers could soon journey the entire 4,600 miles from North Dakota to Vermont under bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. Rick Nolan (MN-08) and Peter Welch (VT-AL) to change the original proposed route of the North Country Scenic Trail.

The North Country National Scenic Trail stretches from Sakakawea State Park in central North Dakota to Crown Point, New York -- on the way passing through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It is the longest of the eleven National Scenic Trails authorized by Congress.

The bill, H.R.4736, incorporates more than 400 miles of existing trail in the Minnesota Boundary Waters and North Shore of Lake Superior into the national North Country Scenic Trail. This section replaces a 100-mile stretch of proposed trail between Jay Cooke State Park near Duluth, MN, and the Chippewa National Forest near Remer -- authorized by Congress in 1980 but never actually constructed due to the fact that it would pass directly through extensive Black Spruce and Tamarack wetlands. The Nolan-Welch measure would instead utilize the previously-built Superior Hiking Trail, Border Route Trail, and Kekekabic Trail, a preferred alternative route that is more scenic and has been hailed by Minnesota environmental groups and trail advocates.

Said Nolan, "In Minnesota, we live for the great out-of-doors. I'm proud to be an original author of this bill to boost our multi-billion dollar tourism industry, creating jobs throughout the Northland while conserving wetlands and enhancing the experience for the thousands of hikers who travel these trails today. With the inclusion of the Arrowhead reroute into the national system, we honor the contributions of past trailmakers, ensure future generations benefit from their hard work, and continue the legacy of responsible land stewardship."

H.R.4736 also extends the NCT at its eastern terminus near Middlebury, Vt., linking it to the popular Appalachian Trail along the eastern coast of the United States, and establishing one unified national trail system stretching from the plains of North Dakota to the forests of Vermont, as far north as Maine and as far south as the Carolinas. Environmental concerns regarding heavy foot traffic prevented this section from being linked in 1980, but environmental assessments have since approved this extension, and the plan has widespread support from Vermont environmental and conservation groups, and the communities that the trail passes through.

"It is always a good day when you are hiking in the Green Mountains," said Welch. "As home to the Long Trail, the oldest border-to-border trail in the country, and the Appalachian Trail, Vermonters have a rich tradition of trail-hiking. We welcome the Vermont connection to the North Country Trail and all of the opportunities it will bring for recreation, tourism, and economic development. Congress should quickly get this bill to the President's desk so that more Americans will experience the beauty and adventure of hiking this incredible trail."

"When you look at the map, you realize that these trails just belong," said Bruce Matthews, Executive Director of the North Country Trail Association. "When the North Country Trail was envisioned in 1980, there was no Superior Hiking Trail up Superior's North Shore, nor was there the Border Route Trail or the Kekekabic Trail extending back to the west along the Canadian border and into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. With H.R.4736, we gain not only 400 miles of world-class hiking -- thanks to the efforts of hundreds of volunteers in northeastern Minnesota -- but also the long-awaited connection with its sister Appalachian National Scenic Trail, adding two more jewels in the crown of the North Country Trail system."

H.R.4736, officially known as the North Country National Scenic Trail Route Adjustment Act, is also cosponsored by Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN-05), Betty McCollum (D-MN-04), Erik Paulsen (R-MN-03), Collin Peterson (D-MN-07), Tim Walz (D-MN-03), and Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI-06). Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar is working on companion legislation in the Senate.