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Monday, September 2, 2013
Ontario Trails News - Eco-Trailbuilders, an Ontario Trails Member profiled in the Haliburton (also a Member) Echo - great stories about the people of Ontario Trails!
Andrea Wilson, left, and her husband Hap use hand tools to shape the trail. They love their work building trails to help people to reconnect with nature through their efforts running Eco Trailbuilders. DARREN LUM/HALIBURTON ECHO/QMI AGENCY
Eco Trailbuilders owner Hap Wilson and his wife Andrea smile like newlyweds when they look at each other. They sit on a bench, overlooking a marsh on part of a five-kilometre trail in Gooderham under a summer sun. The couple work as a trail-building team, helping others embrace nature. They’ve been working together for three years, spending days at a time together along with their dog, Abbey, while working on trails. Married after close to two years, they took the long road to marital bliss. It is their second go around together after being separated for 18 years, as Andrea said her decision to leave the marriage the first time around was hers due to being “young.” They’re definitely making up for lost time, working and living a full life together. “Finally, we got it together,” she said. On the second date, Andrea didn’t waste time. “Hap says to me, ‘would you ever marry again?’ I looked at him and said, ‘I’d marry you in a second.’ He said, ‘done.’” Both are trail users and skills instructors, who take satisfaction in sharing their passion for nature. Hap said only recently did the company’s work really start to take off. “It’s an evolution of ideals. We’ve got to the point where we’re really concerned with our health,” he said. He has worn several hats: park ranger, canoe guide, outfitter, trail builder, and environmental activist. Wilson first constructed trails, bridges and boardwalks as a park ranger from 1977 to 1984, including Ontario’s first old-growth hiking trail on Temagami Island. Since 1977, he has published 12 books and guides. The Cabin, Trails and Tribulations, Grey Owl and Me are the latest additions. He has written for Canadian Geographic, Explore and Cottage Life. Hap is best known for his ecotourism/travel guidebooks. He has led more than 300 wilderness expeditions in Canada even teaching Pierce Bronson how to paddle a canoe and how to throw knives for the movie the Grey Owl. The Eco Trailbuilders client list is a who’s who of trail providers in Ontario and Manitoba. It includes Parks Canada, Trans Canada Trails, Canadian Heritage River Systems, Manitoba Tourism, Manitoba Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the J.W. Marriott Resort Inn Muskoka. A growing list of private clients signals the public’s desire to get back to basics and improve their health. Trails can also provide emotional solace. A woman who used a trail they built told them it helped her cope with the loss of her husband. “When we put the trails in it gave her a whole new perspective of the value of life and to just move on. She was so ecstatic about the trails here,” he said. “It proves a lot to people at various stages in their life whether they’re children or older people the value of nature and the outdoors and what it means to us as individuals.” The work, they said, is back breaking and is therefore costly. For every kilometre, Hap said, it can cost $10,000 without the construction of features such as a bridge. Labourers are needed and are paid well because of the challenging nature of the work. This past year Hap was sent a letter of endorsement by the Ontario Trails Council for his ethical trail building practices. It’s an acknowledgement he is proud of. He wishes greater effort were put into trail building, recognizing the sensitive nature of the forest. Most people just don’t understand its complexities. “They don’t understand the work that goes into it. They don’t understand the science that goes into it,” he said. “A lot of people call themselves trail builders, like landscaping companies, but they don’t have a background in sustainable trail development. That’s a huge problem. They have to understand soil types, sensitive vegetation.” It’s important to have an awareness of the area so you can transplant a tree or plan a trail to move around certain trees. It is not only aesthetic, but also necessary for the natural health of the area. Although the couple boasts a 20-year history as eco-tourism consultants, the company claims 30 years of experience in land-based trail design using a “soft” approach to trail building. They employ mainly hand-building techniques and equipment with only a practical use of mechanized equipment. When they do use chainsaws, the company uses a biodegradable chain-oil for their chainsaws, he points out. In the winter when waterways are frozen the company brings in the bulk of building materials by sled or snow machine, minimizing any threat of trail or vegetation damage. When possible, they try to use local material, particularly when a feature such as a bridge or boardwalk is in contact with the earth. It not only saves the client money, but it ensures a healthier trail. The company’s specialty is constructing boardwalks and bridges. This includes simple, floating boardwalks or low puncheons. They are also capable of building anchored observation decks and wildlife viewing stations, which can be used to gain a different perspective or for photographic opportunities. The hallmarks of their trails include bench cuts, switchbacks, rock armouring, stone steps, retaining walls, accents and rock or chainsaw-carved art sculptures. The aim is consistent so the trail blends into the surroundings. Eco Trailbuilders have completed 425 projects, 3,500 metres of boardwalk, 700 kilometres of land-based trails and 12,000 kilometres of water-based routes. Right now, the company is also lending its expertise to the Trans Canada Water Trail Path of the Paddle from Thunder Bay to Manitoba. This is a 900-plus kilometre water route from Falcon River to Pigeon River. Based in Rosseau of Muskoka, the couple enjoys their time working in the Canadian Shield area in spite of the bugs. “We can build trails just about anywhere in any situation. Because of the topography it’s so rugged the rock and pine, the roots, the rocks, all of this stuff. We knit trails together surgically. Basically we’ve [only] worked in Canadian Shield country. We’re so used to it now,” he said. “It’s very beautiful country,” he said. “Even though it’s highly developed as cottage country and retirement properties there are still huge pockets of what you’d call close wilderness.”