Avon Trail Board member Melissa Winkler welcomed 28 attendees to the Wilmot Coffee Talk Wednesday, March 9. As the guest speaker, Melissa spoke of the Joy that hiking the Avon Trail can provide.
Joining Melissa was Avon Trail President Jane Foster, Cindy Kimber from the Trail Monitors and Ted Derry from Trail Maintenance Team. All the work done on Avon Trail is by volunteers to keep the trail sections open for hikers.
As Melissa pointed out, the Avon Trail is a 121-kilometre hiking trail stretching from St. Marys in the west to Conestogo in the east. Much of the path can be accessed with only a five or a ten-minute drive from many small towns in Wilmot and Wellesley. “This makes hiking on the Avon Trail a simple, safe and healthy outing for people of all ages in our region.”
Talking to her audience, most people unfamiliar with the Avon Trail, Melissa acknowledged that there are reasons to feel nervous about hiking for many people, especially if you are new to it. “Some might feel that they have become less mobile over the years or simply believe you are past your best before date.” But, Melissa assured her listeners many of these feelings could be calmed by having a good plan and knowing how to prepare to hike.
Being prepared for a hike is not difficult. “Always hike with a friend and bring a hard copy or digital map,” she advised. The Avon Trail website (www.avontrail.ca) has links to a free ONDAGO digital map(s) of the trail that can be downloaded to a mobile phone. If you can, study a map of the area you intend to hike and become aware of the topography to ensure that it fits your abilities. Wear sturdy footwear appropriate for the season. Dress in layers. Bring water and a high-energy snack to enjoy. For most people, walking sticks and ice cleats, if in icy conditions, are great hiking aids.
As Melissa points out, the entire trail traverses a diverse landscape offering many opportunities for easy to moderate hiking adventures. If hiking with someone who has reduced mobility, she suggests the Health Valley section of the trail in St. Jacobs is a great option. It is a section that features excellent parking options and a pea gravel path, making it accessible with a cane, walker or wheelchair.
For Melissa and others, organized hikes are a great way to enter the world of hiking. The Avon Trail offers group hiking throughout the year. Hikers meet at the Allman Arena in Stratford every Tuesday morning to embark on a section hike along the Avon Trail (see the Events Calendar at www.avontrail.ca). Hiking with a group offers a communal feeling which helps you stay committed and learn or notice something you might have missed on your own.
“Every time I am on the trail, I am surprised by nature – its beauty, power, and cleverness,” noted Melissa. “When I hike with friends and family, they always point out things I would miss if I were on my own.”
Cindy outlined the steps a volunteer trail section monitor follows to keep the trail “open” for hikers. Each monitor is assigned trail sections, usually 2 to 3 kilometres in length. Each spring, the monitor walks the area, looking for obstacles like broken tree branches or fallen trees that might impede passage. Blazes placed on trees along the trail section may need to be touched up with paint to maintain visibility. The monitor completes a report form listing the trail section’s status. This form is sent by email to the Trail Monitor Captain. Based on these reports, a crew of trail maintenance volunteers with the appropriate equipment descend on the trail section and clear away the obstacles. Later in the season, the trail monitor re-hikes the area with pruner or clippers to remove overgrowth that could impede hiking on the section. Many sections require grass-cutting equipment that the maintenance crew uses to clear the trail. At the end of the summer season and into fall, the monitor reassesses the trail section working with clippers or pruners to remove any accumulated overgrowth.
Ted explained the work involved in building bridges and climbing stiles used along trail sections to climb over field fences.