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Canada Completes World’s Longest Hiking Trail

After 25 years and millions of dollars, the coast-to-coast hiking, biking and paddling trail has an official route

Part of the Great Trail in Nova Scotia (Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

Organizers have stitched together the missing links in Canada’s Great Trail, connecting up a 14,000-mile hiking, biking and paddling route that stretches coast-to-coast, as Kenny Sharpe reports for The Globe and Mail. The momentous feat, which officially occured on August 26, has made the Great Trail the longest recreational trail system in the world.

Twenty-five years ago, Great Trail founders Pierre Camu, Bill Pratt and Paul LaBarge came up with the idea of linking Canada’s various trail networks into one mega-trail to celebrate the nation’s 125th birthday. Since then, tens of millions of dollars have been spent on trail building, signage and negotiations with landowners and local governments. Four hundred and seventy-seven groups helped to create the trail’s 432 sections, which pass through 15,000 communities.

In September of 2016, the trail was only 85 to 90 percent connected, reports Tim Huebsch at Canadian Cycling. Over the last year, however, organizers made a monumental push to work with counties and municipalities to negotiate interim solutions for the missing bits of trail. “We were faced with the challenge to get the trail assembled … and our priority was to get it done,” LeBarge tells Sharp. “Our second priority is now to get the signage up so that people know they are on the Trans Canada Trail.”

Not everyone is impressed by the Great Trail, former known as the Trans-Canada Trail, however, according to Jason Markusoff at MacLean’s. Reportedly, the route falls significantly short of its original goal of being an off-road trail, with only around 4,900 miles of the route, or 32 percent, composed of off-road trails. About 5,340 miles of the trail are along roads or the shoulders of highways, while 3,770 miles are water trails and 1,110 miles share the trail with ATVs.

For instance, Markusoff points out that much of the section between Edmonton and Calgary follows busy Highway 2A, a route very few people would be willing to ride or hike. Edmund Aunger, a retiree who is biking the length of the trail, tells Markusoff that the trail's name is dangerously misleading. “It’s only going to attract people who believe the image that’s presented, and the propaganda, and their interactive map and app,” he tells Markusoff.

Sharpe reports that the organizers say connecting up the route is just phase one of the project. Now that they have a rough draft of a route, over time they hope to refine the route and make it safer, and that communities resistant to supporting off-road trails or bike lanes will see the value of the project.

And despite the criticisms, there's excitement over the route and over the weekend there were over 200 celebrations along the path to celebrate the connection. “We’ve built it, we’ve connected it, we’re ready, so the next chapter is, 'Come on world, come see what Canada has to offer,’” Deborah Apps, president of the project, tells Sharpe.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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