Hikers, outdoor enthusiasts need to be considerate to protect Manitoba trails

By: Emma Harbottle

A low rest spot for hikers to stop for a bite to eat or a swim along the Hunt Lake Hiking Trail./EMMA HARBOTTLE

Hiking authorities are concerned about the damage to some Manitoba trails with more hikers this summer. 

“Some people aren’t prepared to go into the woods,” said Patrick Auger, president of Leave No Trace Canada. “They don’t know what to do.”

Auger knows Manitobans are taking advantage of the friendly spring weather and already making footprints on trails such as Hunt Lake Hiking Trail. 

Hunt Lake Hiking Trail is about a 12.6 kilometre round-trip in Whiteshell Provincial Park. It’s one of the more popular trails in the south Whiteshell, with a wide variety of foliage and rock outcroppings.

Historically, trails like Hunt Lake Hiking Trail weren’t built to handle a high level of traffic. When older trails erode over time, roots get exposed and dirt disappears off the trail. 

Newer, wider, gravel-style trails can handle the traffic no problem.

“We build them to be walked on and biked on,” said Caleigh Christie, president of the South Whiteshell Trail Association (SWTA).

Hunt Lake’s trail has seen better days after years of wear and tear.

“People start walking beside it,” said Christie. “Suddenly you have this large impact which was initially a little trail through the woods.”

Hiking has quickly become a popular pandemic activity, since it allows people to get outside for fresh air and exercise. 

Ninety-nine per cent of Canadians agree that the opportunity to be outside is what spiked their interest in using trails, according to survey data released by Trans Canada Trail.

Christie said the south Whiteshell trails are one of the biggest tourism assets for the area.

SWTA partners with cottagers, volunteers, locals, and trail enthusiasts to build, manage, and maintain a variety of trails in the south Whiteshell. Part of this maintenance is the Adopt a Trail program.

“This is really a time of discovery for a lot of people,” said Christie. “They’re going to start building habits into their recreational time that include trail activity.”

With the increased traffic on trails, organizations like Leave No Trace stress the importance of proper trail etiquette. This includes implementing the “leave no trace principle” when out hiking.

“More people are enjoying the outdoors, which is great for our health,” said Auger. “But there is a big impact on trails and parks.”

Leave No Trace is a national and international program that promotes impact reduction when enjoying the outdoors by hiking, camping, biking, or walking. The program operates on seven principles of outdoor ethics, including disposing of waste properly.

“Leave No Trace is more than take back your trash,” Auger said. “It’s not really a set of rules, it’s best practices. Those practices are based on science.”

For hikers heading out on the trail, preparation can make all the difference.

“I encourage people to start with the first principle – plan ahead and be prepared. That’s the base,” Auger said.

Many people are valuing the time outdoors, but with increased trail use they need to be aware of how to protect these in-demand natural spaces.