Port Stanley Villager Jan:Feb 2020

ElginHiking Trail Club blazes a path across county

The things you see when you’re outdoors: flourishing flora and fauna, rare birds, dramatic natural landscapes. It’s enough to keep spirits high and boots crunching at the Elgin Hiking Trail Club. “Hiking clears the cobwebs in your head,” said Port Stanley’s Loretta Vaughan, a long-time club member and Hike Ontario hike leader. “You can walk the same section of trail 10 different times and each time, you see something different.” About 44 per cent of Canadians over 15 years old are hiking or backpacking, according to Statistics Canada’s 2017 census. Nearly seven-in-10 Canadians participate in outdoor or wilderness activities. Local enthusiast Brian Henson launched Elgin Hiking Trail Club in January 1975. Within nine months, 30 people joined and the first six kilometres (kms) of the Elgin Hiking Trail was opened. John Parsons was the first club president. Elgin Hiking Trail was gradually extended south to Port Stanley and north toPaynesMills, andwhilemembershipwaned in the early ‘80s, Vaughan, Lydia Driscoll and Dave Gibson revived the organization in 1989. Vaughan was president then and again in 2015. Eventually, the Elgin Hiking Trail reached 41 kms in length, connecting with the Thames Valleys Trail, and club membership has grown to 80 families. There’s now a continuous, 900 kms trail from Port Stanley to Tobermory, linking theElginHikingTrail –whichbeginsat thewooden figures in the sand near Mackie’s – with parts of the Thames Valley Trail, Avon Trail, Grand Valley Trail, and the Bruce Trail. There are also eight to 10 trails within an hour’s drive of Port: the Thames Valley Trail, near London; the Grand Valley Trail, near Cambridge; the trails at Springwater Conservation Area, near Aylmer; Dalewood Conservation Area, near St. Thomas; and John E. Pearse Provincial Park, south of Wallacetown. “Personally, I was looking for something to do, to get outside and be active,” said Brian King, club treasurer. “I’m not sure how I heard about Elgin Hiking Trail Club, but I’ve been here 20 years now. The comradery is terrific.” Five Elgin Hiking Trail Club members maintain the trail to Hike Ontario standards. They ensure the trail is clearly marked by “white blazes” on trees, always within sight of each other. They cut down saplings and clear brush. “Most people are appreciative of what we do,” said Al Sharpe, membership chair.

Some club members do the end-to-end, Port Stanley to Tobermory trek, at least once a year. Vaughan completed the end-to-end hike over a four-year period, with three other women, the late Pat Turo, Ann McGee and Ann Hoover. “We’d just do small segments at a time. We were younger then, but it wasn’t difficult.” A badge is available for successful completion. “It’s like birdwatching,” added Sharpe. “It will never go out of style.” Founded 45 years ago, Hike Ontario’s mission is to encourage walking, hiking and trail development in the province. It offers a range of hiking leadership courses.

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