The following blog post is part of the People Behind the Trails series that is meant to celebrate people who have a positive impact on hiking trails in the province. We hope it will inspire you to, in your own way, give back to the beautiful trail systems in the province. Participants were asked to answer the following questions:
1. Tell us a bit about yourself?
2. How long have you been hiking?
3. What is your first memory of hiking?
4. What is your favorite memory of hiking?
5. What is your favorite hiking trail in the province?
6. What do you do to contribute to hiking trails in the province?
7. What do you think is the biggest challenge for hiking trails in the province?
8. What can people do to help build, maintain and promote hiking trails in the province?
Here is Nina’s story.
My name is Nina van der Pluijm and I love backpacking. For many, defining oneself is often a reflection of careers or places of employment. For me, it feels much more basic, I’m an outdoor enthusiast. I spend as many of my non-working hours as I can on hiking trails and I am at my happiest living out of my backpack in the wilderness. That’s who I am.
I have been backpacking for well over 20 years and before that I enjoyed day hiking for as long as I can remember.
I actually can’t remember my very first memory of hiking on an actual hiking trail, but I do remember my very earliest “walking in the woods” experiences. I grew up in a small rural community just outside of Bathurst, and I always played in the woods. As kids, we would build our own single track trails in the woods behind our house. We would walk on them, play on them, take our bikes on them and snowshoe or ski them in the winter. I also remember loving nature at a very young age. My family would go partridge hunting in the fall. My dad and my brother would walk in the front with their guns and my mom and I would follow at a safe distance not too far behind. I remember falling in love with fall as a season. The beauty of the colored leaves that I would pick up and press in a book, the smell of them decomposing as we would walk along and of course running through them and hearing them cracking under my feet. Being out in nature was an important part of my childhood and I am sure it influenced my need and desire to spend so much time in the wilderness as an adult. I sometimes wonder who I would be today if I had grown up in a urban area. Would I be spending most of vacation days sleeping on the forest floor? Would I be seeking one outdoor wilderness experience after the next?
I have been very fortunate to backpack in many beautiful areas, from the White Mountains in New Hampshire US, the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island BC, the Gros Morne Long Range Traverse in NL, the Swiss Alps in Zermatt Switzerland to many trails here in New Brunswick. My best memories of backpacking have to be of the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland, 200 kilometers heading south of St. John’s. The trail is beautiful, it follows the coastline with never ending views of the ocean (and whales!). However, it’s the people of those small communities you hike through that tell the story of human kindness, compassion and humor that tops off this backpacking experience.
That being said, the Fundy Footpath right here in New Brunswick holds so many wonderful memories and it is by far my favorite multi-day trail here at home. The beauty of the largest tides, the beaches, the old growth forest, and its remoteness, how can you not love this trail? This is by far the most physically challenging trail I have ever backpacked. Its steep footing and never ending elevation change makes every step I take remind me of how thankful I am for my body’s ability to move me forward. I hike this trail as often as I can.
I am very grateful for all the trails we have right here in New Brunswick and especially to all the volunteers who dedicate so much time and energy to maintaining and building them. To each of you, thank you! Many years ago I met a volunteer on the Appalachian Trail who said something that stuck with me: “If every hiker volunteered just one day a year to do trail maintenance, imagine what our trails would look like?” That was an awakening moment for me. I came back to New Brunswick knowing I would forever commit to that as a minimum and hopefully inspire others to do the same.
There are many organizations and committees that people can volunteer on, but for many of us, we have lives that are already filled to their maximum. That being said, every hiker can dedicate one full day a year to helping out an organization that does trail maintenance. Every hiker can carry a garbage bag when they hike to pick up garbage they may see, they can pull fallen branches out of the way, or move a loose rock to the side. Everyone can help by making these things a part of their regular hiking experience and help to keep our trails a safe and healthy place for people to get out and enjoy nature.
Preserving hiking trails and their green spaces in New Brunswick will be a challenge that will require good planning as we move forward. Governments are faced with fiscal challenges. The consideration of developments and natural resource exploration can often be tempting as a way to resolve some of these challenges. These options can also have potential effects on our trails such as the destruction of currently untouched green spaces or commercialization of existing natural beauty and wilderness. It’s going to take many dedicated individuals to plan, strategize and advocate for maintaining and continuing to expand a sustainable trail system. I trust that together, as a hiking community we can do this. We can preserve, promote and inspire. We can show that New Brunswick has trails that are worth traveling from far away to come explore, that this too can be an integral part of our tourism industry. We have something worth preserving and showing!
Happy and safe trails everyone!