I had a chance to talk last week with the executive director of the Bruce Trail about changes to the walking path in the local region, and she made some points worth reiterating.
In recent weeks, the popular Lloyd Laycock Side Trail between Owen Sound and Meaford has been closed to hikers. Around the same time, the trail around the immensely popular Old Baldy in Kimberly has been re-routed due to a dispute with a landowner.
Also fairly recently, there have been some big changes to the trail around the Bayview Nature Reserve just outside of Meaford as well, due to some requests of the landowner dealing with uncooperative hikers.
These incidents are a pointed reminder of the somewhat unstable, if not precarious, status of the trail, contrary to what many people might think.
As Gilhespy noted, many people have the misconception the Bruce Trail is a publicly-funded operation somehow supported by the government that runs through Crown Land.
That’s not even close to reality. While the Bruce Trail Conservancy (BTC) in recent years has been purchasing more and more land to provide a permanent trail along what is called the optimum route, the BTC still deals with 900 private landowners to make the trail possible.
Every one of those landowners, can, at any time, pull the plug on their piece of the trail, Gilhepsy noted. That is what keeps the trail in a state of constant flux and heavily dependent on preserving the goodwill of those landowners.
In the case of the Lloyd Laycock Side Trail, which leads to a marvelous miniature gorge and a large crevice cave, the landowner decided rather suddenly he wanted the trail removed.
The spot is a popular route, due to the spectacular topography and its accessibility via a walk of 15 minutes or so, so the closure is going to be a serious disappointment.
Gilhespy was reluctant to go into details of what prompted the dispute due to confidentiality issues, but stressed the BTC had no choice but to close the trail once the landowner communicated his wishes.
She is hoping the further discussions might mean a resumption of the route.
At the Bayview Escarpment location, Gilhespy was able to discuss the issue, which arose from hikers refusing to respect the landowner’s wishes to bar dogs from the trail in the areas where there are livestock.
The landowner had at first asked for all dogs to be leashed, and hikers refused to comply. Next, dogs were banned, and hikers continued to ignore the signage.
Frustrated with the situation, and the lack of respect being shown for property rights, the landowner asked the BTC to to do a wholesale reroute.
At Old Baldy, a dispute between a landowner and a third party sucked the BTC into the argument, and the landowner withdrew permission to use 500 metres of his land.
Not wanting to become involved further, the BTC complied, leaving the two main parties to hash out their difficulties.
Now, the only Bruce Trail access to the outstanding views at Old Baldy are via the valley in Grey Road 13, and a steep climb up the escarpment. At the moment, the popular upper parking lot is off limits for Bruce Trail hiking.
Gilhespy said she’s hopeful that the situation will work itself out before long.
While such disputes haven’t affected the sections of trail running through The Blue Mountains in the last year, it’s a sobering reminder for people using the trail to remember they really are only passing through and need to show the proper amount of respect for the landowners who have graciously permitted their access.