New trail guide helps forge path for hikers

The return of winter heralded a sudden chill and the slap of unforgiving winds that snapped us back into winter. 

But on Saturday afternoon, Kim Rapati was making the best out of Hay River’s most dominant season by purposefully trudging down one of the many trails the town has—the Scout’s Trail. 

As of this Friday, Jan. 20, thanks to the efforts of many an avid hiker and nature enthusiast, this trail will accompany a battery of paths and walkways on dedicated map. The Hay River Trail Guide is here, and according Rapati, the project’s coordinator, it couldn’t have been released during a better season.

“A lot of people dismiss hiking in the winter but that’s the best time to go,” said Rapati. “In the summer a lot of the trails are swampy and they get muddied up. In the winter there are no bugs. You just have to dress warm, and that’s not hard to do.”

Rapati took the smaller version of the map out of her pocket to point to other trails in relation to the Scout Trail, planting her warm boots firmly in a snowdrift as her dog Floyd plodded along.

The approximately 3.5 kilometre trail starts by the bridge to Vale Island and continues nearly the entire way to the Lagoon Beach trail, detailed on an aerial map. It gives even the directionally-challenged a sense of place.

Last winter, the Hay River hikers sported their hiking boots and winter gear every Sunday to map trails for the project, a concept devised by hiking enthusiast, Nancy Makepeace. They traversed nearly every path they could find as well as interviewed several long-time residents about the history, past usage and names of trails. The Scout Trail, she said, was named because Scouts used to hike along the river before setting up camp.

“There’s a lot of history around the trail system,” said Rapati. “The great thing about the Scout Trail is you can access it on any point along the road. That’s what I love about this trail. There are points on it where you can feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere but you’re still so close to town.”

The project was funded by NWT Parks Association through their trail building fund. All the mapping, photographing, ground truthing and work involved was completed by local community volunteers. Degree of difficulty was determined by length, terrain and proximity to road access.

Rapati said there is still much that could be done to develop the trails. The project’s team knew that there are also plans in the works to extend the TransCanada portion of the trail and to further develop trails that become impassible during swampy summers. This is why the map is relatively basic as far as information and history pertaining to the area.

A more detailed booklet is an idea for the future depicting the unique flora, fauna and history of each area. All involved in the project wanted to release the current map so that interested hikers could begin to use many of the highlighted trails that remain unmarked. The guide warns to keep ears out for skidoos and off-leash dogs, though.

“Once you get out there, it’s beautiful,” said Rapati. “A whole new world opens up in the winter of trails in the backwoods and it’s a whole new way of seeing Hay River. In winter there are so many tracks around. You can see stories in the snow.”

Maps will be distributed on Friday and will be available at the recreation centre, the library, KFN office and other locations. The map cautions to use trails at your own risk.

“I hope it’s an inspiration for people to get out and use the trails here,” said Rapati. “A lot of people might know where the trails are, but don’t use them regularly.”