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Walk of life

Sally O’Neill, co-coordinator of Active Pictou County, on the bridge along the Old Foster Trail in Stellarton.
Sally O’Neill, co-coordinator of Active Pictou County, on the bridge along the Old Foster Trail in Stellarton. - Rosalie MacEachern

Sally O’Neill’s message is really simple – just go for a walk.

She is the co-coordinator of Pictou County Active Living, a co-operative of five municipal units in the county with financial backing and support from the province.

The group’s mission is to educate and motivate all citizens to increase their daily physical activity and while that extends beyond walking, she noted spring weather can prompt people to get more active and walking can be the place to start.

“In some people’s minds the term physical activity is kind of a loaded concept but it is a simple as putting on your shoes and going for a walk,” she said

Chances are a walk will improve your mood, your health and, if you go with someone else, maybe even your social life.

“We need to stop looking at the scale and just get up and move. There are all types of bodies out there so instead of focusing on the bathroom scale, get out on a trail.”

O’Neill, who grew up working in a tree nursery and previously owned her own greenhouse, pointed out recent studies show walking is the physical activity most people enjoy.

“That’s great because it is so easily accessible and low-cost. There are proven health benefits to walking, in terms of overall health and in terms of recovery time from illness. And a really interesting fact we now know is that even if you are overweight, you will get those benefits.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests some people already have the message. In a one hour span on a cool sunny afternoon last week 27 were on the Old Foster Trail which starts at the Pictou County Wellness Centre parking lot. They included several women pushing strollers, some of them accompanied by preschoolers on bikes, a group from a residential facility, several seniors and lone walkers including a young woman in headphones walking back and forth at high speed.

“It is fantastic to see such a variety of trail users on one of our newest trails,” said O’Neill, adding, “I think it is proof that when you build a good quality, comfortable route people will use it.”

As trails go, the Old Foster is a short one at 800 metres, ending adjacent to the Pioneer Coal Athletics Field. It is wide enough for several strollers abreast and its surface makes pushing a stroller or pulling a wagon a pleasure.

O’Neill, who has two sons, remembers what it is like wanting to get out into the woods but fighting to get a stroller over roots and through ruts or loose gravel.

“This is a perfect trail for mothers who just want to get out with their kids for a little air or exercise. It is a good trail to introduce kids to because it is so wide and the visibility is so good.”

It also has a long, high bridge where children and adults tend to pause to watch the water run past. The length and height of the bridge also appear to add an element of adventure and excitement for youngsters crossing it.

With its traditional picnic table and a garbage can in a small trail-side clearing, the Old Foster allows walkers to take a break, lay out a picnic or just watch for squirrels, birds and butterflies.

“If we’re going to encourage people to get out and walk we have to make sure we have a variety of trails. We have tremendous outdoor adventuring potential in Pictou County and it is something we need to promote a lot more,” she said.

O’Neill estimated there are close to 200 km of recently tended-to trails in the county but adds there are many other trails that offer the same health benefits.

“We have a section of trail going out toward Scotsburn that has benches at close intervals. It is quite flat and with the benches it is a perfect trail for getting an elderly family member or someone who is recovering from illness out to get some fresh air and a little exercise at a pace they can handle.”

People looking for more rugged walking can try sections of the Cape to Cape Trail which, on completion, will run from Cape Chignecto to Cape George, or the twisting trails of Fitzpatrick Mountain, she suggested.

“Six Mile Brook Trail is wonderful for someone who wants a serious hike. You can see a lot of nature and if you like you can stay overnight in the bothy along the trail which is one of only a couple in Nova Scotia.”

For views, she recommends the top of Fitzpatrick’s Mountain or the new Greenhill trail from the provincial park down to the valley below.

“The Greenhill trail is steep in places so that is something to consider but it is a very beautiful walk.”

She noted the 3.5 km trail which features a number of switchbacks, was built by female trail builders who spent weekends cutting brush, diverting water and improving the surface.

”They are a really spirited group and it has been a great project. If you like trying new trails it is one to consider.”

For people in town who don’t want to go far, O’Neill points out Trenton Park has a wide array of nature trails.

“Volunteer groups have been out working to improve some of these trails lately so it is a great place for a family hike or for any age. You can get as far out into the woods as you like but if you don’t want a long, woodsy walk then Acadia Park in Westville might suit you.”

Other well-used trails include the Albion and the Samson which run along the bank of the East River.

“One of the outings I encourage is walking or biking the Samson and Albion trails from New Glasgow to Stellarton. Then, if you want, you can cross the road and get an ice cream at Corinna’s before you head back.”

Some of Pictou County’s trails are shared use, either with ATV or snowmobile clubs.

“We’ve got really good relationships between recreational groups within our county. I’m not sure many people are aware of how much work the ATV Club, for example, does on our trails. As long as walkers and riders are courteous we don’t have any problems.”

More information on specific trails is available through Nova Scotia or Pictou County trails associations.

Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer who seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you have someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at

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