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Adventure: Hiking Ontario's Bruce Trail, one of the longest Footpaths in the World

Kids wanting to hike for a whole day? For fun? When ours were finally past the stroller stage, it was often like pulling taffy to get them to walk to the grocery store. But thanks to two inspirational teachers at my childrens' school, I found out that kids as young as six can last for a day's walk in the woods. Not only that, they ask to do it again.

The two instigators, Dorothy Medhurst and Helen Wolfe, were avid hikers themselves. Wanting to share this interest, they announced they were forming a Bruce Trail Club. Any kid between grade one and four could join, but they would have to commit to at least seven days during fall and early spring to walk the entire Toronto section of the trail (about 35 kms.). Some of the hiking would be on weekends, some during the week. To compensate for lost school, the hikers had to keep a log book with stories and pictures of what they had encountered each day.

My two active sons thought that this sounded like a great way to pass a day and signed up immediately. This meant that their parents (myself and my non-hiking husband) got to tag along as chaperones, making sure that none of the kids fell down a crevice or walked too close to a car on the road portions or near poison ivy on the trail.

The Bruce Trail, from the foot of the Niagara to Tobermory at the top of the Bruce Peninsula, is considered one of the best walks in the world. There are some 60 waterfalls along the way, ferns and rare orchids, 36 species of reptiles and amphibians including the Eastern Massassauga rattlesnake, and birds of all kinds. The kids were fascinated and wrote about their treks: "Lions like these trees (the Hawthorne) to scratch up against. But there are no lions on the Bruce Trail." or "We saw cat tails that had exploded. The seeds looked like white cotton candy." My eight-year-old's highlight was finding a crowbar buried under leaves-a thieves' hideout he figured.

Many families don't realise just how close the Bruce Trail is to Toronto. Marked with white and blue paint marks, the trail leads across farmer's fields and over stiles, up cliffs, and past historic sights such as Crawford Lake Conservation Area, where there's a reconstruction of Iroquois longhouses. At times the hikers flagged, but with Dorothy and Helen talking about fossils, or where the foxes lived, or how to track an insect, they revived. I remember Dorothy's reassurance, "You may get cold, and wet, and tired, and hungry, but you probably won't be all of these things at the same time." I also remember their faces lighting up with joy when they received their certificates, their badges, and a map of just how far they had hiked.

At some 750 km, the Bruce Trail is the longest continual footpath in North America. But there's a new proposed trail, the Trans Canada Trail, that will link every part of the country from St. John's, Nfld., to Victoria, B.C., and from Calgary through the Yukon to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. It's a multi-use trail; families will be able to cycle, horseback ride, cross-country ski, snowmobile and of course, hike. Sections near major urban centres will include paved paths for rollerbladers, and mums and dads pushing strollers.

Your family can help it grow by buying a metre of trail for $36. The donor will have his or her name permanently imprinted in a Trail Marker Pavilion, a certificate, crest and tax receipt. When completed by July 1, 2000, the trail should reach 15,000 km in length, the longest trail of its kind in the world. Now that's some hike for even the most energetic kid.

A few tips for taking the kids on hikes: Start the day with protein snacks such as peanut butter and crackers or cheese, and bring lots to drink; kids can get dehydrated easily. Dress the kids in layers of bright clothes so they won't get too hot or cold and can be seen easily. Give older kids a whistle to pin to the outside of their coats; if they do get lost or fall, they can blow for help. Bring a magnifying jar or binoculars (such as Bushnell's new child-size binoculars) so that kids can really see things up close. And make it a rule that they must be able to see an adult at all times; that way, they won't forge too far ahead or lag too far behind. Keep the pace fairly slow; little legs get tired easily. The good news is that even a half-day's hike through the woods ensures a good night's sleep!

To join the Bruce Trail and receive their indispensable guide, call (905) 529-6821. To buy a portion of the Trans Canada Trail or for more information, call 1-800-465-3636.





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