After twenty-five years, a few missteps and a lot of planning, Canada has officially opened the world's longest recreational trail. Spanning the length of the country (and then some), The Great Trail is a staggering 14,864 miles composed of more than 400 individual trails snaking across all 10 provinces and three territories, with a few looping detours added in for good measure. It links the Pacific and the Atlantic, and over 1000 Canadian communities along the way.
While it's been billed as a cross-country route primarily for cycling, different modes of transportation are encouraged – and often required – along certain stretches. That includes hiking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing, as well as kayaking and canoeing, as 26 percent of the Great Trail travels across water, including the Lake Superior Water Trail and Mackenzie River Trail. And although motorized vehicles are not allowed along the Great Trail, certain sections are open to snowmobiles. Clearly, there's something here for everyone.
Dreamed up by three citizens in 1992, the massive project was overseen by the Montreal-based non-profit Trans Canada Trail, which was also the trail's former nomenclature. However, the final product of this piecemeal trail is the work of a multitude of volunteers working within local conservation groups, provincial governments and municipalities, making it not only the longest trail in the world, but also the largest volunteer project in Canadian history.
To give you an idea of size, the trail is almost four times as long as the Grand Italian trail, which covers all of Italy, over five times as long as the West Coast’s Pacific Crest Trail, and over six times as long as the Appalachian Trail. While the trail is likely to be a domestic and international tourist destination for those looking to get off the grid, its more urban stretches are viable commuter passageways.
The East Coast Greenway runs along the major cities and population centers of the Eastern Seaboard, and an estimated four in five Canadians live within a 30 minutes of a trail section. However, a vast portion of the Great Trail is set in a diverse range of dramatic Canadian wildernesses, including mountains, lakes, plains, coastal islands, and frozen tundras.
Though they've reached a major milestone, the trail is far from finished. One of the original founders, Paul LaBarge, told The Globe and Mail, that this connection is phase one of the massive project. Now, signs must be added, more funds must be raised for upkeep, and—most importantly—people must be brought out to actually use it.
“First you build it, then get people using it and then it becomes an icon that will hopefully last forever,” LaBarge said.
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