Bruce Trail sees significant uptick in foot traffic
Even before the snow melted this spring, the trails were calling to me. I was compelled by the promise of a change of scenery, bolstered by good weather, and enticed by the possibility of seeing other humans, albeit from a safe distance.
Although I have enjoyed my home, and there is planning to be done for the garden in early spring, there was a definite need to get the heck out of dodge and find a way to enjoy life without breaking any public health rules.
I enlisted the help of the family navigator who, armed with the most recent copy of The Bruce Trail Reference Maps and Trail Guide published by Bruce Trail Conservancy, set out to plan some hikes that would ease the doldrums of a pandemic, improve our physical and mental health, and allow us to safely explore the area.
By mid-March, we found ourselves slipping and sliding, sometimes crawling, down paths of shear ice.
We were not the only ones out there. The trails had been very well used, obviously tamped down by a steady parade of snowshoers and shoe grippers, those better equipped than us. The trails had clearly been well used throughout the entire winter.
With each new place, we found ourselves saying, “I can’t believe we’ve never been here before.”
Over the past two decades, The Navigator and I have done a fair bit of exploring in the near-wilds of Ontario, often opting for a boat of some kind as our conveyance. Aside from some destination hikes (and one very ambitious attempt at the Lion’s Head section of The Bruce Trail that almost ended our marriage) we have not taken advantage of a world-class trail that practically runs through our backyard. We have experienced the trail’s headliners in the past being Nottawasaga Bluffs, Old Baldy, The Grotto, and Eugenia Falls and having family in Tobermory, I have spent decades exploring the northern part of The Bruce Trail, but it is the spaces between that continually impress us.
As we work our way through the local sections of the trail we are watching the forest wake up; the cycle of nature revolving as hardy early wildflowers rise to the sun, beating the tree canopy and greeting early pollinators. The tenacious cedars growing on cliff faces and so many organisms we don’t understand, and others we can’t even see, they gift us with life and health when we walk amongst them.
The landscape within a small area can be quite varied. A few hours walk can take one through stunning valleys, craggy rock, and to the escarpment’s edge opening to a vista of Nottawasaga Bay.
A person can walk for miles without seeing anyone else in the stretches between the parking lots and main attractions, but those we do meet are usually ready with a friendly greeting as they step aside to let you pass, if they beat you to it. The odd person will stop to chat but most people keep on trucking in what I can only presume is a type of trail trance. There is something that happens to the human brain when walking, or doing a menial task, that allows your mind to wander just enough, and the eyes are able to soften their focus in a way that is quite relaxing.
Membership for the Bruce Trail Conservancy across the province is a record high of 12,000 members, said Melina Cormier, communications director for The Dufferin Hi-land Bruce Trail Club, whose area spans from Mono Centre to Lavender. She said the club has seen a fairly dramatic jump of 30 per cent in the last year, to just over 600 members. As of early April, the Blue Mountains club, whose territory is from Lavender to Craigleith, is reporting a 39 per cent membership increase, to 944.
“Increased visitation has magnified both opportunities and challenges that were already present, including trail management,” said Elizabeth Harrington, director of communications and engagement for BTC. “Overcrowding, threats to the natural environment, and threats to landowner relationships are to name a few. Our philosophy is centered around our mission, where we provide nature-based experiences while also protecting the sensitive species and habitats along the Niagara Escarpment. Therefore, positive trail user behaviour is critical. For example, hiking along the marked routes, avoiding ‘off-trail’ use will ensure that sensitive vegetation is not damaged, and relationship with private landowners who graciously allow the Bruce Trail on their property is not strained.”
Because of the increased traffic and carpooling not being allowed under public health guidelines, parking lots are overflowing, especially in the popular destinations.
Blue Mountains Bruce Trail Club president Kelly-Leigh Thomas said parking has been a big challenge at Pretty River Valley, Metcalfe Rock, Kolapore, Nottawasaga Bluffs and Nottawasaga Lookout.
Harrington said BTC has plans to install a new parking lot in each of the 9 Bruce Trail Club sections in order to help accommodate parking needs.
The Blue Mountains Club is also reporting an alarming increase in graffiti and other forms of vandalism on rocks and trees. Wads of toilet paper, garbage and plenty of full dog poop bags abound. Hikers are asked to carry out all of their garbage and keep their dogs leashed, for the benefit of nature and the enjoyment of all hikers who share the trail.
“I am optimistic that these growing pains which we are experiencing with the increase in hikers on the trail will pass as people become more aware of the hiker and trail etiquette,” said Thomas.
Anyone planning a hike on The Bruce Trail is encouraged to review the Trail User’s Code posted at brucetrail.org. COVID-19 updates as they pertain to the Bruce Trail are posted there.