Sunday, May 27, 2012

FFP 2012: The Parks

This is the second in a series of blog entries on my hike across the Fundy Footpath in the spring of 2012.  The first entry about the hikers, introduced you to the people I was hiking with.  This entry will tell you a bit about where our hike started - Fundy National Park. and ended - Fundy Trail Parkway.

This small stream is one of many along the section of trail in Fundy National Park.
The Fundy Footpath is a grueling exercise that tests a person's resolve and determination.  Our plan was to move from east to west.  We would start in Fundy National Park (FNP) and hike towards the Fundy Trail Parkway (FTP) while covering 50km of steep coastal ravines and forests.  I prefer to hike the trail this way as I find it more rewarding to end at the Big Salmon River.  The 8km of hiking inside FNP is along old logging roads and while it is scenic, the road walking makes it seem anti-climatic when you end there.  Every hike needs a beginning though, and the Park would be ours for this years rendition of adventure on the Footpath.

The hikers were dropped off at the Pointe Wolfe parking lot at the southwest corner of FNP on a cool but sunny Friday morning.  Everyone was in good spirits and wore tired smiles as the night before likely was restless with excitement and anxiety.  Adrenaline and enthusiasm would carry us through our first day in which we would hike 17km to Goose Creek.  The red covered bridge we drove over to cross the Pointe Wolfe River was just an indication of what lay before us.

 Lately there  has been a great deal of debate over the roles National Parks play.  Some feel they should serve as a showcase for our nation's natural beauty while others feel they should act as a sanctuary that protects natural habitats and beauty.  Depending on how you frame your opinion, it may hinder how you view Fundy.  As a relatively small park, Fundy has little infrastructure, outside the golf course, so if a urbanized, full service escape is what you are looking for, Fundy is not likely your destination of choice.  It is for that reason though, a frequent destination of mine.  I hope that, as more and more Parks are moving towards high end, service oriented, tourism development, Fundy can resist that demand.

As I mentioned earlier, the hike in the Park is along an old logging road, but the end is a spectacular beach surrounded by tidal mud flats and steep valleys.  Goose River acts as the western boundary of Fundy National Park and this could be unfortunate as the entire River deserves protection.  As we leave Fundy we play the "In Fundy, Outta Fundy Game near the signs marking the Park border.

The next Park we encounter is the linear Fundy Trail Parkway.  A number of years ago some people thought it would be a great idea to promote the Fundy coast here as an undeveloped coastline by developing it.  It is unlikely that the tax payers of New Brunswick truly know, or understand maybe, what they are paying for in regards to the Fundy Trail Parkway.  The road is built over steep valleys that are prone to drastically changing weather conditions not just seasonally but daily.  The steep valleys create high volumes of runoff when the weather brings rain or snow, and when you put a road in a steep location such as the area around Big Salmon River, controlling run off, and maintaining roads becomes a large undertaking.  Unforunately some of this has resulted in the development of large washouts along small streams and Long Beach Creek.  In many places you can see where the FFP has been impacted and become impassable due to this washing and slumping.  I don't place all the blame on the development of the Parkway as some has to be attributed to more intense rainfalls by nature lately, but I still don't agree with the manner in which the FTP was developed.  I think New Brunswickers, especially those who love nature and wild spaces should be upset that their tax dollars are being spent on creating this environmental degradation and more so that we will continue to pay for it as it will likely never pay for itself.

The next entry will be more cheerful and showcase the beauty of the FFP.  I promise.  I just really needed to let people know again about the threats to the FFP in the name of tourism.  In my mind we would have been much better off to promote more backpacking and wilderness excursions to the area.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

FFP 2012: The Hikers

I once again was privileged enough to be able to get out and hike the Fundy Footpath (FFP) this spring.  Many people have been asking "When are you going to post your pictures to Facebook?"  I'm going to resist that temptation and instead post my photos here in a manner which will hopefully show you various aspects of our trip and the scenic icons of the FFP.

Before I can discuss the trip though I need to introduce you to the hikers who completed the 50km, 4 day trip, with me.  This introduction is important because all of these people are important to me and they are all family.  I'm not sure if such records are kept on hikers of the FFP, but I'm sure the feat we completed is rare.  You see there were three generations of Whalens on this trip.  I'll introduce you to them from youngest to oldest but will not be using the youths names.

Our youngest hiker was 12 years old and despite being the youngest and shortest he likely hiked the fastest pace.  My nephew impressed all of us with his ability to keep walking even when missing home big time.  Never liking to smile, he struggled to hide his smile every time we came across waterfalls or shorelines.  His inquisitive mind peppered me with multiple questions about the trail, camp sites, and various other topics.  It was a treat to have him along and I hope to share many more backpacking adventures with him.

My oldest nephew was the tallest hiker with us yet he chose to lumber along at a leisurely pace but his long legs easily gobbled up the terrain.  He took in all that was around him and his 15year old perception missed little.  He absorbed the small things and stood in awe of the larger events such as Tweedle Dum Tweedle Dee Falls where he couldn't resist the urge to wade in and splash around in the pool at the bottom of the falls.

My sister Becki was also completing the FFP for the first time and hadn't hiked with me in over 15years, when we completed the Dobson Trail together.  As a single mother it was her determination and hard work ethic that pushed her through some blisters and getting stuck in mud during the Goose River tidal flat crossing.  "This is awesome!!" became her motto over the four days including after eating her 4th piece of cake at the opening weekend celebration of the Fundy Trail Parkway when we finished the hike.

Luke is my brother and being only a year younger than me, we have experienced many camping adventures together and know each other well.  He is strong, dependable, and resourceful.  With him along, I had no worries that his boys would be well looked after as would the rest of us.  He is not what you call a frequent flyer when it comes to backpacking but he spends a great deal of time outside in the woods and even though he seldom smiles he always enjoys it.

The oldest and most experienced hiker, outside of myself, on the trip was my father.  His Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey has seen every inch of the Fundy Footpath.  He has likely hiked the trail end to end more than half a dozen times.  His slow and steady pace allows him to see what others miss.  His pride in watching his kids and grand kids enjoy doing what he brought them up doing can easily be seen in his easy smile.  His role as mediator insured that even during the toughest day on the trail every one got along.  He could lighten a tense moment with a simple word or touch.

The last hiker was me.  I have hiked the FFP, end to end, more than 20 times including a couple of solo treks, not to mention a number of partial hikes along the trail.  I was organizing the hike this time and planned the hiking schedule and meals.  The goal was to keep a relaxed pace and make the best of the camping time. I was so proud to be a part of this team and my father at 62 easily reasserted himself as my hero.  I only hope that I can hike the trails with my son at 62.

Over the next few blog entries I hope to tell you about a few iconic locations along the trail and how three generations observed the many natural assets of this trail.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Flying High with an RV Grin

This blog entry appeared in the May 8th Kings County Record.  I wrote after taking a flight with Rick Keirstead.  The Keirstead's actually own the airport in Sussex and ask people to respect it.  They work had at maintaining the grounds and runway.  I was at the airport as a final evening for our Men's Group and wow it was a great night.  Enjoy.

There are moments in your life where you simply end up with the right people at the right time.  In that moment good things are bound to happen if you let them.  Last fall I started spending my Monday evenings with a great group of guys as part of my search for clarity on my faith.  This last Monday we ended our talks by gathering at the Sussex airport for a barbeque. 
Yes Sussex has an airport.  It is privately owned now but used to host planes as part of the spraying for spruce bud worm on behalf of the Province.  The airport sits atop Marshall Hill, just south of Sussex.  As I drove along side the runway in my car I felt like I was already high in the air as the view was phenomenal and looked over the valley near Fox Hill and north onto Sussex.  Rolling farm land was coming alive with spring well established.
I parked my car and grabbed my meager contribution to the party, mustard and ketchup.  The guys all greeted me with easy chatter as I took in the planes sitting along the runway and the contents of the hanger.  I thought it a bit odd that a canoe hung off the wall until I remembered who the guys were that spent many hours here.  Todd Byers, Rick and Ross Keirstead were all pilots but also eager outdoor enthusiasts. 
Ten minutes after arriving Rick asked if anyone wanted to go up for a flight in his plane and I didn't hesitate to take him up on the offer.  He walked me through the process of getting into the cockpit and helped me strap in.  After letting the RV-6 warm up for a few minutes we pointed it down the runway.  It seemed like no time and we were up in the air.  The small plane gobbled up runway faster than my dog gobbles up Cheerios.  It seemed impossible to me when Rick told me our take off speed was about 140mph.  Once he pointed the nose down the ride was smooth as glass as the plane caught wind and started to glide.
Once on our way Rick banked to the left and back around towards Hidden Valley.  I've hiked there many times and scoured over topo maps and Google aerial photos so I was sure I would know it from the air.  I quickly picked out the familiar ravines of the Valley but couldn't believe we were already there.  I truly don't think we were in the air two minutes.  A plane made the trip to Hidden Valley much easier that was for sure and the view was definitely another perspective and no aerial photos compared to seeing it from the plane.
Our next destination was Pleasant Lake via the Cedar Camp valley and I couldn't help but think "What a great way to scout the watershed I work to conserve."  Rick pointed out a few features and lakes he was familiar with and talked about spotting moose on previous flights and how the Fundy Coast area was one of his favorite places to go and "play."  I snicker to myself at how different our definition of play is.  I can't help but grin from ear to ear and I could feel it on my face.
Rick takes us over the new mine site and I am impressed by the neat layout of the site and how clean it looked considering all that was going on there.  From here we followed the Kennebecasis River towards the Town of Sussex.  I noted the large number of cars at each of the bridges and figured that the sea run trout must be running.  We took a quick flight over my house and I thought "Man, Seth would love this."  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Positive Four Years

There are defining moments in a persons life that lead him or her toward what they will become.  Life is made up of many of these moments.  Graduation, first job, marriage, kids, death of a loved one, or even a bad choice.  One of the best decisions I have made in my life truly changed the direction I was going.  I met the woman who would become my wife and in a relatively short time we committed to building a life together.  In the short time since we have truly been blessed beyond my wildest dreams.  This fact sank in very deeply the other night.

I dabble in politics and recently, for the second time, put my name on the municipal ballot for councilor in the Village of Sussex Corner.  I was hoping to serve my second term.  On election night I sat and watched my computer screen as the results came in and was surprised when I captured the most votes as councilor.  While this was a surprise, I was more taken back by the number of people who then offered congratulations through my email and Facebook accounts.  People from all over.  I struggled to acknowledge everyone and as I did I started to think "Wow!  How did this happen?  How did I get from there to here?"  It was a humbling feeling as I thought "I didn't do this on my own.  Family, friends, strangers, and God all played a role."  How do I honor this?

Don't get me wrong.  I have struggles and it isn't all peaches.  I work a great job that I love a great deal but it isn't for the money.  I struggle with trying to raise our kids in a manner that allows them to be who they are while instilling faith and a knowledge of right and wrong.  My marriage, like all marriages, also has its good days and bad days but one thing that never waivers between my wife and I is the commitment to be there and work at it.  Through all the struggles though we more readily embrace and enjoy the blessings.  The little things and big things keep us smiling.

Through this past election I have come to a realization.  It isn't just about politics.  It is, in fact, more about helping others build a better life.  It is about building a sense of community where people feel welcome, safe, appreciated, and respected no matter their lot in life.  So to honor all those who have helped me get to where I am, I will strive, over my next four years as Councilor, to bring a sense of community not just to Sussex Corner, but to whomever I might come into contact with.  I want to strive to keep a positive attitude no matter what challenges I am being faced with because I believe that positivity is contagious.

My first task in that is to ask all of you to stay positive with me.  Lets not complain but work towards solving our issues.  Lets share our blessing with those who are struggling to find theirs.

Here is to a positive four years and beyond.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Praise for an Undervalued Natural Gem

This edition of Wandering was published in the Kings County Record recently.  It has a slight political tone and that was intentional.  Historically Parson's Brook has been beaten by man and yet it continues to provide a beneficial ecological function to the two municipalities it runs through.  One of these has taken steps to protect it while the other community continues to pursue and allow activities that impact this nice brook.  This could be a brook near you so ask yourself, how can you protect yourself and that aquatic system.

 Nature is a magnificent thing.  It is full of inspiration on multiple scales.  From watching a small butterfly flutter over a rushing river, to a massive and impressive rock face your eyes can hardly take in.  The ear pounding crash of thunder or the deafening silence of a tranquil sunset each inspire even the most disheartened soul.  With that being said, many people undervalue many parts of our natural world.
            Parson's Brook, which flows along the same valley as the Newline Road, is likely one of the most under valued natural assets we have in Kings County.  It flows approximately 8k from its source near the junction of the Newline Road and Church Avenue.  It crosses the Newline three times before taking a turn to the northwest.  From here it flows over the flat agricultural lands that make up the southern portion of Sussex Corner before entering into the old rifle range and the Town of Sussex.  It takes a final turn north, crosses under Main Street, before entering Trout Creek.

            It hasn't always flowed that way though.  Many years ago it was altered to make room for a horse track near where the Sussex Corner Elementary School now sits.  Shortly after this change was made, the lower part of the Brook started drying up during the summer months.  The water instead chooses a path through the deep, coarse gravel deposits as its route to Trout Creek.  This fact has led many people to perceive Parson's Brook as simply a ditch and many treat it as such. 
            To me this unheralded Brook is a testimony to nature's resilience against many of the scars man thrusts upon it.  Parson's Brook had its entire course changed and when it starts to settle into its new course, someone decides to dredge it, or alter it once again.  Parson's Brook keeps searching for its natural course though and every spring, and sometimes in the fall, it flows fast and furious through the man made channel, trying to cut a channel that will allow it to function as it naturally should.
            The fish in Parson's Brook are as resilient as the Brook itself.  With elevated stream temperatures, pollution, and passage barriers it is surprising that any fish live in this stream at all but anyone who has walked the Brook above any of its crossings on the Newline Road can attest that fish, including brook trout, are there.  On one occasion I was incredibly surprised when I entered the Brook at a deep pool and it was so full of fish that they couldn't scatter without a number of them solidly running into me.

            Recently I took sometime to observe some of the smaller components of Parson's Brook.  I come to realize that it deserves more respect than what many give it.  If we leave it alone and give it its space it would eventually function as it should.  With a healthy, vegetated, stream bank or riparian zone it could effectively mitigate the impacts of flooding.  The naturally functioning riparian area would also prevent pollution and litter from entering the stream while also serving as migration corridors for deer, fox, birds, and other wildlife.  This natural corridor could also provide the active community with a new hiking or biking trail that would be ideal for people of all skill sets as it is relatively flat.
            As I watched two young boys play along a small tributary, oblivious to the trash that sits nearby, I can't help but think that we need to begin to look at Parson's Brook in a different light.  We need to understand its value to the natural world and our own man made world.  If you want to understand Parson's Brook and see how it has been impacted I recommend you take a walk along its route.  Start at the crossing at the junction of Newline Road and Needle Street and walk downstream along the left bank.