Walk the talk
Trails a symbol of rural community connections
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 from Yarmouth in southwest Nova Scotia all 500 kilometres to the Georgetown Conference.
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.
On the opening day of the conference, they arrived in PEI symbolic walk from Cardigan to Georgetown. Those last 10 kilometres 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 walkers, cyclists and snowmobilers shared the trail in PEI 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 PEI, “they’ve reached a compromise,” Maher said. “They’ve figured out how to collaborate in this geography.”
Where 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.”
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,” she said. “Walk. Stay awhile
“We go from rails, to trails to tales,” Stewart said
Jennifer Hoegg writes for TC Media’s Kings County Advertiser and Kings County Register and is reporting on the Georgetown Conference for Newspapers Atlantic.