The give & take of trails - Terra Nova National Park, NL

Great trails take us to amazing locations. Away from civilization, roads, and the monotony of everyday life, our trails seek out vistas and lookouts, rivers and lakes, and rugged terrain deep in the wild.

But this can put us at odds with the power of mother nature, and the environment around us. By having minimal impact on our surroundings - exposing the terrain, rather than changing it - our trails are often vulnerable to storms, flooding, slides, or other changes to the ecosystem.

Back in September 2010, Hurricane Igor broke land in Newfoundland, and had devastating consequences. Considered the most devastating storm in the province's history, the cyclone was especially damaging in Terra Nova National Park. Roads were washed out, thousands of trees were blown down, bridges and boardwalks were lost, and many of the Park's trails were closed as a result. And three years later, Parks staff are still dealing with the legacy of Igor.

Our trip to Terra Nova saw us assisting staff with trail design and assessment, looking at a number of trails which were damaged by Igor, including Southwest Brook and Southwest Arm.

Both sections of the trail, which skirt along the shoreline, were heavily damaged by the storm, with hundreds of trees down across the trail (400 were counted in the first kilometre alone!) and long sections of bridges washed away. Even though the trails have been officially closed since 2010, it is clear that they are still seeing a bit of use.

During our time in the Park, we had numerous talks with staff on what could be done with these trails. Do you repair and replace necessary infrastructure, to bring the trail back up to its former standard and give visitors back the experience they remembered? Or reroute the trail to the more sustainable higher ground, so that it stays safely away from the water - knowing that users may not get the experience they want. Or perhaps a third option is to close the trail altogether - because if the river trail doesn't go to the river, what is the point in having it?

These aren't easy questions, and there isn't any one 'right' answer.

The challenge with trail design and planning is that it isn't an exact science. We're always making compromises, between sustainability and maintenance resources, visitor experience, and a dozen other factors. Our goal is to create a solid product, hopefully fun to use, which will be around for the long term.

So we don't know what will come of the Southwest Brook, or a number of other trails in the Park, but we wish the staff the best of luck in their future planning!

See photos from our trip to Terra Nova on Flickr!

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