East Coast Trail: No Topographic Map of the Future for a Local Treasure

The East Coast Trail Association is in a singular position of being beloved by all, but under the committed financial purview of none.

A hike anticipated is blue and green and brown; a hike experienced is all of that plus red and yellow and purple and white and the golden quality of light and the silver and cobalt of waves crashing.

There are two important things to bring to any conversation about The East Coast Trail.

First: Emotion.

Connection, solace, adventure, beauty. Leaving your life of asphalt and giving your ankles and your eyes and your skin real use. Just moving. Moving where there is space and a destination but no end game. Goals without ambition. Walking the East Coast Trail (ECT), you find yourself in places so beautiful that you may forget to take a picture. A hike anticipated is blue and green and brown; a hike experienced is all of that plus red and yellow and purple and white and the golden quality of light and the silver and cobalt of waves crashing.

Over the last 20 years, the East Coast Trail Association (ECTA) has built up and maintained a series of the most spectacular walks in the world along Newfoundland’s easternmost shore. So says National Geographic when it voted the trail one of the top ten adventure destinations in the world in 2012. Not a segment of it disappoints. Literally. Statistically. These trails are proven to exceed expectations (as per a 2013 survey and economic impact analysis conducted by MQO Research). Which brings us to the second thing…

 Second: Numbers

Numbers of happy hikers (~15,000 annually). Numbers of dollars of revenue generated by visitors to this world famous trail (3.5 million in tourism spending). Numbers of dollars it takes to build and maintain the trail annually (2.5 million). It takes 2.5 million dollars every year to keep this trail network in shape and slowly growing. Which is reasonable given the positive impact on our province in terms of revenue (measurable) and health and psychological benefits (immeasurable). It just happens to be a lot to lay hands on. Currently the vast majority of that money comes from the provincial government. And the majority of people think that the provincial government is doing right with this funding. But the funding has come year to year and is not promised into the future.

It takes 2.5 million dollars every year to keep this trail network in shape and slowly growing

Whose Trail? Whose Responsibility?

We invest in our movie industry because it is a smart investment and pays us back economically with flexible seasonal work, skilled jobs, careers, and also good will and name recognition which is matters in a place where tourism counts. The ECT may not directly employ people but many small businesses benefit directly from the steady flow of hikers. Half of businesses surveyed in 2013 said that their revenues would be impacted without the ECT.

Yet no one pays for the trail directly. Paying a direct toll to walk over crown land or stroll by the ocean would be anathema. So. We have a resource that is highly popular, cherished by locals, renowned and lauded internationally, and which brings in real and substantial revenue to the province through tourist dollars. Everyone is “pro” East Coast Trail. But where will the money come from to keep the East Coast Trail Association (and therefore the trails themselves) keeping on?

The ECTA is in a singular position of being beloved by all, but under the committed financial purview of none. Individual support through their season kick-off and fundraiser, the Tely Hike coming up this Saturday, June 6th (http://www.gifttool.com/athon/AthonDetails?ID=2023&AID=3017) amounts to about 5% of the annual budget. Not that anyone sneezes at raising over 100,000$ for a great cause and worthy community investment. It just isn’t enough. It is a way to start filling the coffer, to start re-connecting people with the trails after a long winter and to raise awareness surrounding the gift that is these national wonders, but it will not sustain the trail network on its own. Who will? How will it work? These are not rhetorical questions. If you have an answer please speak up.

The ECTA is in a singular position of being beloved by all, but under the committed financial purview of none.

Precious Resource Without True Protection

If and when the association becomes financially self-sustaining, what about the trails themselves? What kind of protection, support, and sustainability will they have in the face of continuing development in the Eastern Avalon? The Grand Concourse (The East Coast Trail’s more urban cousin) is protected by provincial legislation. The East Coast Trail currently enjoys no such protection.

The ECTA had “custodianship” granted by the province which gives them use of the trails and license to maintain them, but no actual rights to the trails. And that is just on the areas that are through crown land. Where the trails run through private land, individual contracts must be negotiated regarding use and protection. The association has negotiated thousands of these contracts with private land owners.

Building up these world class trail networks is an ongoing feat of dedication and pure love of place. I would go so far as to say the East Coast Trails are an integral part of our coastline, but they are not a given. And we risk them if we think of them as such.

For more information on the Trail or to find out how you can support the ECTA you can visit http://eastcoasttrail.ca

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