Building better hiking trails possible for any community

Dave Mathieson
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PARRSBORO - Whether it’s a two-kilometer trail or a 200-kilometre trail, key elements are needed to make trails attractive to hikers.

“Whether you develop a trail for local people or for tourists, you want people to get out there and experience what your area offers,” said Jane Murphy, president of the Atlantic Canada Trails Association.

Murphy is from New Brunswick but currently lives in Newfoundland. She is also the national director for the Trans Canada Trail.

She was the keynote speaker during the Hike Nova Scotia’s annual summit held Sunday in Parrsboro at the Fundy Geological Museum.

About 80 people representing avid hikers, hiking clubs and trail groups attended the summit.

“Everyone wants something different out of the trail experience, so you can’t develop a trail for one single purpose,” said Murphy. “A trail is as broad as the people in this room, it really is unique and individual for each person. You have to think about all the possibilities.”

Those possibilities should encompass both the natural and cultural beauty of the area.

“Sometimes we take the path of least resistance,” said Murphy. “We have to get away from that and make sure we tie in experiences whether it be a great site where there is a sawmill on the Fundy Trail or amazing view-scapes along the east coast trail.

“It’s critically important that people have a great experience.”

Those great experiences require some basic features.

Pre-trip features should include a website or guidebooks.

“One group that did a really good job was the Celtic Coastal Trail in Cape Breton,” said Murphy.

The Celtic Coastal Trail was previously five different trails, but Murphy says the stakeholders came together to create one regional trail.

The Celtic Coastal Trail website has information that prepares people and manages expectations.

“You have to think about it from other trail users experiences,” said Murphy. “They aren’t necessarily as experienced as some of us might be. We need to prepare them in advance.”

A trail’s entry point is extremely important to a successful experience.

“Is there sufficient parking, are there signs showing them what to tell them about the experience they will have on the trail?” asked Murphy.

She says trailhead signage needs basic information, and the signs don’t have to be fancy.

“Signs should indicate how long is the trail, how long will you be on the trail, and how difficult the trail is,” said Murphy.

Also, access points should be in close proximity to a community so hikers can get the resources they need.

“Trail developers often don’t think about developing relationships with communities but that is changing,” said Murphy.

Seasonal information, such as floods issues, user rules, safety information, wildlife information and contact information is important as well.

Navigation is also very important.

“Maps and trail markers are very important,” said Murphy. “We want to make sure the signage is very clear to make sure people aren’t going to get lost.”

Last, but not least, Murphy talked about the importance of maintaining trails, using what she saw in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan as an example.

They have a beautiful Valley and the trail is built on the side of a valley and now it’s eroded,” said Murphy.

The trail is about ten years old but Murphy said it’s gone because it wasn’t built sustainably.

Trails should offer a memorable experience for hikers.

“It’s critically important that people have a great experience.”


Organizations: Atlantic Canada Trails Association, Trans Canada Trail, Fundy Geological Museum

Geographic location: PARRSBORO, New Brunswick, Newfoundland Cape Breton Moose Jaw Saskatchewan

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