Heather Stewart and Bodhi, left, with conference organizer Paul MacNeill and Newspapers Atlantic president Fred Fiander, second from right, accepts a ceremonial Frisbee from Zorro and his owner, from Georgetown, to acknowledge his accomplishment in walking much of the way to the conference. – Submitted
By Jennifer Hoegg
They trekked into Georgetown as promised. In fact, they were ahead of schedule.
“We’re getting fitter,” Bob Maher joked.
Last spring, Maher, Heather Stewart and Edward Wedler set a goal of walking the 500 kilometres from Yarmouth to the Georgetown Conference on PEI.
The lack of trail infrastructure was an obstacle, but the trio of Annapolis County residents was determined to make the effort in order, as Wedler says, to immerse themselves in the rural geography. Through daytrips, they walked most of the trails and back roads along the route through Nova Scotia, along with Bodhi the dog. Where one person may just see a trail, the trekkers see stories and evidence of communities and culture.
Sharing the trails
On the opening day of the conference Oct. 3, they arrived in P.E.I. with a symbolic walk from Cardigan to Georgetown. Those last 10 kms went faster than expected – more because of the infrastructure than their fitness, Maher points out.
The Confederation Trail, Prince Edward Island’s portion of the TransCanada Trail, is “excellent” he said.
“A lot of thought has gone into the wayfarer here.”
He noted that walkers, cyclists and snowmobilers share the trail in P.E.I. and it tells a story.
“A trail is a symbol of community collaboration and what we’ve seen in terms of the differences between the different parts of Nova Scotia is a reflection of the different abilities of different communities to work together to reach a goal,” Maher said. “In some parts of the province, the community has been able to come together and do that. In other parts, it has been more challenging.”
In P.E.I., “they’ve reached a compromise,” Maher said. “They’ve figured out how to collaborate in this geography.”
Where there was a compromise on trail use, Stewart added, the infrastructure was better. In parts of Nova Scotia, conflict over trail use has prevented development of the connections.
For Stewart, it gave her the inspiration to help with building co-operation in her own community.
“I have to get more involved in that trail system,” she said. “I’ve been monitoring the conflict – but now I’m thinking about what you’re losing by having all that conflict.
“Part of getting the trail done is engaging everyone and engaging everyone brings people with equipment, other ideas. We need to over hurdles of diversity.”
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Changing rural life
Rural networking has changed, and the trails are symbolic of that.
Maher said their walk is a story, with a number of subplots – one is the move from rails to trails as community connections.
“It goes back to the individual. You’re on your own power. You’re doing your own thing. But you’re doing within an infrastructure.”
Making a trail system that tourists and locals could walk, is another idea for rural investment, Wedler said, learning the rural stories as they go.
“We’re starting down the road to slow tourism – slow travel,” Stewart addedd. “Walk. Stay awhile. We go from rails, to trails to tales,” Stewart said
Wedler completed the Bridgetown to Truro leg of the journey last week. Maher, Stewart and Bodhi walked Truro to Lyons Brook over three days.
It was an enjoyable journey, they said, filled with muskrats, blueberry fields – bear and coyote droppings and “beautifully managed woodlots.”
We were able to experience part of the Trans Canada trail,” Maher said.
“The most attractive part of (that part of the walk) was Berechon Road,” he added.
“You’re walking through mature sugar maple and silver birch Acadian forest.”
Future walks are planned into the Gully Lake Wilderness Area, which they skirted along the way, and the Cape Chignecto to Cape George trail that is being developed.
There were also signs of a rural way of life that is fading.
“A really sad, derelict, abandoned house,” Stewart said she spotted, “and beautiful old structures – all boarded up.”
“We met a 15-year-old who bikes from River John to New Glasgow twice a week,” Stewart said.
“We seem to meet ladies of a certain age doing their morning walk.”
One woman walked alongside the pair on the trail. Learning of their destination was Earltown, she said, “that’s a long way.”
“And she only knew part of the story,” Maher said.
Did you know?
Yarmouth County’s trail system allows hikers to walk from one edge of the county to the other along an 88 kilometre route.