The COVID-19 pandemic affects hikers, trails and trail management agencies in more ways than we first might have considered. So says Hike Ontario President Terri LeRoux in her keynote address to the Avon Trail at the 2020 Annual General Meeting Tuesday evening November 17.

The meeting took place using ZOOM, reaching a virtual audience of 30 or more attendees.

Terri presented issues, provided reasons and noted impacts felt by people, parks personnel and communities related to the use of outdoor space and trails during a health pandemic. First, we had overcrowding of popular outdoor sites throughout the early spring and summer of 2020. The Northern Bruce Peninsula area, Caledonia and Hamilton regions experienced an unprecedented 124% increase in daily usage. Why? International travel, by any means, had come to a standstill.

With fewer options available, Canadians looked for local alternatives. Social media continued to promote outdoor green spaces and the wilderness as destinations to explore. While health authorities deemed indoor activities as risky to your health, they, along with social media, promoted as safe, spending time walking, cycling, running or hiking while following social distancing guidelines.

But, escaping to the outdoors, to parks and trails, by car produces problems not easily managed. Traffic became congested along roads close to parks and popular trail sections. Once designated parking lots filled, drivers took to parking in areas not designed for parking. Community policing costs escalated to control these infractions. Far too many people left litter on trails, on beaches and along roadways.

“In general, there was a decrease in awareness and practice of hiking etiquette,” Terri noted.

With increased trail traffic usage came trail user conflicts. Unleashed dogs led to an increase in wildlife interactions. Some parks and trails allow dogs only if leashed. In other instances, unsafe excursions led to accidents. Hikers without proper footwear, travelling on paths without guide maps, compasses or water resulted in emergency calls to first responders. This behaviour puts stress on support systems. Trespassing into fenced off areas or closed parks also led to major stress on Parks personnel. Trail users need to abide by the rules.  But many new comers to hiking do not understand that the rules and communication of hiking etiquette is key.

“This pandemic has made it abundantly clear that access to green space, to trails and parks, is the ultimate essential service Canadians need,” Terri noted.

At the same time, Terri said we hikers need to get an important message out to the public that responsible land stewardship is everyone’s concern. ” We all as Canadians share a responsibility to leave no trace of our presence on the environment.” Terri finished by asking us to help spread that key essential fact as we welcome new hikers to the trail.

Click HERE to see the slide presentation that Terri LeRoux delivered at the November 17 Avon Trail AGM

The Benefits of Trails to everyone

Tom Kimber