Trails play to Albert County’s strengths. They are perhaps the best way to showcase our scenery, culture, history and biodiversity. This is not a novel idea; many folks already know we have a strong tradition of trails and trail stewardship in Albert County.
The Dobson Trail, a 58 km hiking trail connecting Riverview with Fundy National Park, is perhaps our best example. Established in 1959, it’s the oldest volunteer-maintained and managed, long-distance trail in Canada.
More recently, the UNESCO Fundy Biosphere Reserve created the Amazing Places program to highlight the natural wonders found along our regions established network of trails. This program has inspired locals and visitors alike to explore and connect with nature throughout Albert County. The Amazing Places program has been so successful that four other UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Canada have adopted it.
With this trail tradition and local knowledge in mind, are there opportunities to be further examined that could result in further trail development and regional connectivity?
The feedback and recommendations that came out of the regional recreation study overwhelmingly supported the goal of connecting every community in the southeast by active living trails. The realization of this goal could result in a fully connected trail system that can truly connect Albert County in a very human way. It would mean improved rural recreation infrastructure that can double as tourism destinations and support local businesses and, ideally, create new opportunities.
An American program called Trail Towns aims to maximize the economic potential of trails in the communities they connect. Trail Towns helps to create trail economies in rural townships that are similar to Albert County. In these communities, businesses respond to the influx of trails users by developing accommodations, services and experiences that appeal to hikers and cyclists. In many cases, communities have found a way to re-invent themselves by investing in trail infrastructure and exploiting their potential by offering services and experiences that trails users want. The best examples are the rural communities that are connected by two trails called the C & O Canal Towpath and the Great Alleghany Passage. Economies created as a result of those trail developments have generated tens of millions of dollars for their area in the American Mid-Atlantic. We would be wise to look at ways to adapt the successful Trail Town strategy to fit our region and trail system.
An established tourism operator in Albert County, who also offers guided tours abroad, once told me that he longs for the day when our trails can be better established. He says he guides groups on trails that would score 10/10 in terms of trail quality but score 2-3/10 in terms of scenery and cultural experience. He said that Albert County has an abundance of sites that score a 10 in terms of scenery, history and cultural uniqueness and all that’s missing is the trail. Trails can always be built and enhanced. We’re fortunate to have the things you can’t manufacture: the natural, cultural and historical assets. We just have a little more trail work ahead of us.
In the coming months, residents and stakeholders will be asked to join a conversation to determine a strategy for trail development in rural Albert County. This strategy will aim to identify opportunities for trail development which can improve access to recreation infrastructure for rural residents that may also appeal to tourists visiting our area. These conversations will explore if and what we want to showcase in our region. They will investigate emerging trends and how we can capitalize on them.
We have so much expertise and knowledge already here. We can learn so much from each other. Take the tiny but mighty community of Elgin, for example. Elgin hosts the most popular and challenging mountain bike marathon in Atlantic Canada. Fundy National Park has long worked hand in hand with the Fundy Hiking Trails Association to promote and improve both the Fundy Footpath and Dobson Trail. We are already very successful in terms of making the most of trails in our area. It’s exciting to think about what we can achieve in the years to come.
Marc Leger is the Regional Trails Coordinator with the Regional Service Commission. Marc grew up in Riverview and has been involved with trails most of his life. Marc was involved with the development of the Fundy Footpath and currently serves as the Trailmaster, and is an executive member with the Dobson Trail and Fundy Footpath’s managing organization, the Fundy Hiking Trails Association. Marc has been working professionally in trail development for the past eight years and previously worked for Parks Canada and the Trans Canada Trail. In his free time Marc enjoys hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and paddling. Marc has backpacked many of the premier long-distance hiking trails in Canada and the US, and completed the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2000.
Three years ago, the New Brunswick Department of Tourism Heritage and Culture (THC) tasked the Regional Service Commission with completing a comprehensive assessment of recreation assets in Southeast New Brunswick. This assessment examined the geographic disbursement and connectivity between recreation assets. While traditional recreation assets like rinks, pools, sports fields and gyms were accounted for, this study also looked closely at trails in our region. The study engaged a wide range of stakeholders and the resulting feedback expressed a recognition that trail assets can serve a multi-functional purpose especially in rural communities. While most would agree trails serve as recreation infrastructure, they are also active transportation corridors and, in many cases, tourism assets.