Herds of hikers are making the trek to NB's most remote destinations in record numbers

·5 min read

In 2006 Brian and Anne Marie Sewell got married on the top of a mountain in March.

They made the 12-kilometre trek up Turtle Mountain, near Grand Bay–Westfield, along with their closest friends and family who were willing to go the distance on their snowmobiles and ATVs.

Anne Marie had her wedding veil on her snowmobile helmet for the ceremony at the summit. Brian wore his best blue snowmobile suit.

With a million-dollar-view stretching all the way to the Bay of Fundy, they each said, "I do."

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Today, they live at the foot of that mountain in an off-grid log cabin. The peak where they were married is visible from their living room window.

At the time of the ceremony the furthest thing from their minds at the time was the possibility of wedding crashers.

But both say if they did it all again that wouldn't be the case. There's just too many people.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Where they would see a lone hiker pass by their home on the mountain trail, they now see dozens every weekend.

"Ten or fifteen years ago you would see the odd person on the road," said Anne Marie Sewell. "But since this year, the pandemic in March, it started in the spring, I would say hundreds."

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

The couple noticed an uptick of hikers two years ago. But they can only describe what they see now as an "explosion of people."

Both point to the pandemic as being directly responsible for the hundreds headed past their home and into the woods.

"Oh, definitely," said Anne Marie Sewell. "And I think it's great young people are getting out into nature."

The trail to a once remote destination has been turned into a highway for those hungry to go somewhere within the limitations placed on them by the pandemic.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

Herd of hikers

The Sewell's aren't alone. Long-time hikers and outdoorsmen have found themselves suddenly not-so-alone in the woods.

Jennifer Spinney said she's likely hiked most of New Brunswick's trails. She tries to get out in the forest every day, traversing about 50 kilometres a week through the woods. Being isolated, with only her dogs for company, is the big draw for her.

But now that's no longer possible.

"There are some trails that I've always banked on being the remote ones, where you're not going to see anyone," said Spinney. "That's changed this year."

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

She names Coac Falls in Upper Queensbury as a spot that used to be favourite for being alone.

"The last time I was there I think there were five cars there," said Spinney. "And often that was one that I banked on being solo."

Online traffic

Most of the trails in New Brunswick are free to use and open to the public, so getting an accurate idea of just how many people are taking to the woods is difficult. But the popular Hiking NB website suggests how many people are looking for directions, and where.

"Since the pandemic started the web traffic has pretty much doubled," said James Donald, the owner and creator of the website.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

His site has more than 800,000 page views in the last 12 months. Last year it was around 450,000.

He said trails like Turtle Mountain, which used to be considered too remote for most, are suddenly hotspots as New Brunswickers have spent most of the last year unable or unwilling to leave the province.

"People are looking for ways to get out," said Donald.

Shane Fowler/CBC News
Shane Fowler/CBC News

When he's out for a hike, Donald said it's not uncommon to come across a trail head now with 30 cars parked.

And with winter weather he said the traffic hasn't slowed down. It just shifted to different destinations.

Donald said the cold temperatures are now drawing people to "ice features" including frozen waterfalls, the ice-caked gorge of the Parlee Brook amphitheatre, and the Midland ice caves.

And that's been good for the businesses catering to those new at going deep into the woods.

Submitted by Alex Vietinghoff
Submitted by Alex Vietinghoff

Booming business

Like most businesses at the start of the pandemic, the Radical Edge in downtown Fredericton had an uncertain future.

"It looked pretty bleak," said Kaylee Hopkins, a manager at the Radical Edge. "We didn't have a lot of people coming in."

Fast-forward almost a year later and the outdoor adventure store often has a lineup outside on weekends, as the 25-person limit inside has been reached.

"It's pretty wild," said Hopkins. "People just want to get out and move."

Tents, sleeping bags, and outerwear have all been hot items this past year.

She said she has witnessed large amounts of people on the trails this year. But, they don't appear to be springing for new shoes.

"We didn't see a lot of traffic in out footwear," said Hopkins "So, it's interesting to see what people are wearing when they're hiking and doing all their outdoor adventures."

Leave no mark

While some lament the dwindling isolation, the consensus is that it's worth the sacrifice to have more people experience the outdoors.

"It's good to know that other people have caught on to the 'love of the woods' or the 'love of hiking,'" said Spinney. "Personally, I like being alone in the woods, so sometimes I'll drive further to get to a place where I know I'll be alone, but that's not a bad thing."

And for the Sewell's, who have had to occasionally rescue a hiker who has gotten lost along the way, or had a vehicle stuck in their driveway, they're more than happy to share the natural beauty of where they live.

"We enjoy that other people enjoy what we like," said Brian Sewell. "We just hope that they pick up their garbage."