NCTA Says Goodbye to the Schoolhouse

by Andrea Ketchmark, NCTA Executive Director

The founding of the North Country Trail Association can be traced back to a group of visionary volunteers sitting around a kitchen table in a historic schoolhouse in White Cloud, Michigan. For close to 40 years, the Birch Grove Schoolhouse has served the North Country Trail community in many ways, first as the Association’s headquarters, and more recently as a meeting spot for the Western Michigan Chapter and a rental property for trail crews and visitors. It’s been managed by the Western Michigan Chapter for more than 20 years and although it’s been a source of pride for the Chapter and for NCTA, it’s also introduced challenges and has diverted both time and funds from NCTA’s mission of building, maintaining, protecting and promoting the North Country National Scenic Trail. In December, the NCTA decided it’s time to say goodbye.

Several times in the past few decades we’ve questioned whether our continued ownership is beneficial. Between 2017 and 2019, the Chapter worked with NCTA staff and Board members to consider our options for the best management of the property moving forward. After holding a local stakeholder meeting and pursuing several options for managing it in partnership, we again came to the conclusion that the financial, maintenance and liability burden will continue to be on the NCTA as long as the NCTA holds ownership.

Photo by Tami Stagman

On September 18, 2019, the Western Michigan Chapter of the NCTA decided by unanimous vote that they can no longer manage the rental, maintenance and operations of the NCTA Schoolhouse, effective January 1, 2020. Subsequently, on December 7, 2019, the NCTA’s Board of Directors agreed and approved a motion to sell the property in 2020.

It’s hard to say goodbye but we hope the North Country Trail community will use this as an opportunity to remember the past and look forward to the future. 

We’re forever grateful to those that had the vision to found the North Country Trail Association and all of those that helped us grow into what we are today. Thank you to the Western Michigan Chapter for managing the property for more than two decades, and to every volunteer that took time to maintain the building and care for its visitors. You gave a great gift to us and to all of those that have lasting memories because of it.

Our history doesn’t live in a building. It lives in our experiences, accomplishments, relationships and our stories. Your memories of time spent there are the real heart of what it meant to NCTA.  If you spent time at the Schoolhouse, I urge you to share your photos and stories with us so we can share them with the community and ensure that history lives on forever.

We still have hope that the sale might be to a person or organization that will honor the history and/or provide future opportunities by keeping it open to the public. If you are interested or know of someone that might be, give us a call: 616-897-5987. The funds generated from the sale will be put to use protecting the Trail and the NCTA’s legacy.