Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Seventeen thru-paddlers recognized for traversing the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail

Two paddlers in a canoe on a lake

2023 sets mark for largest class to date

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) has announced its roster of 2023 thru-paddlers, the largest class in a single year to date. Seventeen people paddled the 740-mile water route from end to end in 2023. The trail begins in Old Forge, N.Y., and ends in Fort Kent, Maine, connecting New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire and Maine, showcasing the mix of landscapes and communities currently lining the traditional routes used by Indigenous peoples, settlers and guides; it is the longest in-land water trail in the nation.

“Every year, we’re inspired by our thru-paddlers — it’s a significant accomplishment and one that can’t be understated,” said Karrie Thomas, the NFCT’s executive director. “Paddling and portaging 740 miles requires physical resilience and mental fortitude. With constantly changing weather and water conditions, the trail can throw a lot of wrenches into the works, and even the best laid plans can be put to the test. It’s so heartening to see the number of people enjoying the trail and paddlesports in general grow year after year. We send our congratulations and gratitude to the 2023 thru-paddle class.”

Thru-paddling involves traversing the Northern Forest Canoe Trail by paddlecraft, downstream and upstream via flatwater, whitewater and overland, through deep wilderness and trail town communities. To be recognized as an NFCT thru-paddler, individuals must complete the entire route as one expedition during a single season. They are also required to formally apply for thru-paddler status.

Thru-paddlers are classified in two categories: those who complete the trail from west to east self-propelled, and those who complete the trail west to east supported by shuttles.

A paddler carries a canoe to water

Julie Birkle of Farmington, N.M., finishes a portage and prepares to get back on the water on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Photo provided by Julie Birkle.

The following individuals completed the NFCT self-propelled in 2023:


  • Julie Birkle, Farmington, N.M.

  • Jerred Higbie, Campbell, N.Y.

  • Stephen Higbie, Wayland, N.Y.

  • Rob Ricard, Berwick, Maine

  • Thomas Salvini, Granby, Conn.

  • Trevor Schumacher, Marilla, N.Y.

  • Jeff Snyder, Savona, N.Y.

  • James Thomas, Amherst, Mass.

  • Allen Wikstrom, Aurora, N.Y.

“It didn’t take me long to intensely understand why I was one of the few women to attempt this trip solo,” said Julie Birkle. “Every single day I got dressed and lastly put my still wet socks on, and faced my fear of the unknown challenges to come. I had read that this was courage. I questioned if it was stupidity instead.”

The following individuals completed the NFCT in 2023 supported by shuttles:


  • Katrina Luff, Loughborough, Nottinghamshire, U.K.

  • Robert Luff, Loughborough, Nottinghamshire, U.K.

  • Cain Missenden-Jones, Swadlincote, Derbyshire, U.K.

  • Roseanne Missenden-Jones, Swadlincote, Derbyshire, U.K.

  • Bobby Nolan, Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

  • Lily Woodward, Bethesda, Md.

“Thru-paddling the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail was an awe-inspiring journey through some of the most breathtaking landscapes we’ve ever seen,” said Robert and Katrina Luff, who traveled from the United Kingdom to paddle the NFCT. “From frosty mornings to baking hot days, across serene lakes and through majestic forests, we portaged through drought and we paddled in flood, but every paddle stroke and footstep felt like it brought us closer together and to nature’s raw beauty. The tranquility of the wilderness, combined with the kindness of trail angels and the communities along the way, reminded us that this journey wasn’t just about endurance; it filled our hearts with joy, camaraderie and a treasure trove of hilarious memories. We emerged feeling like we could tackle anything — except maybe another mosquito bite.”

Two paddlers were recognized as integrated downstream paddlers in 2023: JC Ridge of Portage, Mich., and Mack Truax of Lowell, Mich. This category indicates those who complete the trail paddling the river sections downstream. The NFCT also acknowledges section paddlers, those who paddle the entire trail as a series of two or more expeditions, over the course of multiple seasons; no section paddlers were included on the 2023 roster.

For more information about the NFCT, visit

Photo at top: Robert and Katrina Luff traveled across the Atlantic from the United Kingdom to complete a thru-paddle of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. Photo provided by Robert and Katrina Luff.

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Community news stories come from press releases and other notices from organizations, businesses, state agencies and other groups. Submit your contributions to Almanack Editor Melissa Hart at

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