nb-fundy-footpath

Four days must be set aside to cover the 50-kilometre trail that winds through a rare expanse of New Brunswick coastal forest and beaches (Neville Crabbe/CBC)

The volunteer group that maintains a popular wilderness destination nestled between Fundy National Park and St. Martins has issued a caution to novice hikers about the scenic, but hazardous trail.

Late last month, search and rescue teams were sent to the Fundy Footpath to look for two American hikers.

One of them suffered a minor injury and the pair lost the trail trying to get back to their vehicle.

It's the second time rescuers were called to the footpath in as many months. In May, three Saint John women phoned 911 after they lost their bearings two days into their hike.

Alonzo Leger and his brother marked the 50-kilometre coastal path along cliffs and marshes in 1992. Leger helps maintain the trail.

He said the Fundy Footpath isn't designed for inexperienced hikers.

"I think you need someone who has wilderness, trail experience," said Leger.

"We also recommend people get our trail guide at least a couple of months before and read it over," he said.

"And if they're a group they should do some trip planning, including leaving their trip plan with someone back home."

More signage considered

Leger said future plans for the footpath include more signage at the Fundy Trail and Big Salmon River access points, that would better detail the challenges involved in the 50-kilometre trek.

'Anybody who's fairly attentive should be able to stay on the trail.'—Alonzo Leger, Fundy Footpath creator

However, Leger said some onus needs to be placed on the users of the trail.

"The blazing is really overdone," said Leger.

"The reason we've done that is because it was a relatively new trail, but presently there is a treadway and anybody who's fairly attentive should be able to stay on the trail."

Map reading skills are necessary to attempt the hike along the coastal trail, said Leger, as is experience with backcountry camping.

"One error people do is they leave their cellphone on, and it's not always assured reception there. So when your cell is on it keeps roaming," he said.

"That can run down the battery in two hours and they're into a situation that if they need help, they find their cellphone has died."

Five hundred people used the footpath running through the Acadian Forest last year, which is the most ever.

Considering the high volume of hikers, Leger said the number of those who get into trouble is minimal.

He said most situations deal with discomfort, from knee joint problems to issues with over packing.

The group recommends that people bring along contact information for shuttle services that will go to the trail's entrance to pick them up.

"Phoning [911] as they are — if you're not in an emergency situation, it can set up a chain of command that can involve up to a Cormorant helicopter to come and do the searching," he said.

"And that quickly comes to $60,000 to $70,000 for a search exercise."

Four days must be set aside to cover the well-worn path of rugged, steep switchbacks and grueling descents the width of a hiker's two feet. The footpath winds through a rare expanse of old growth forest, beaches and streams.

The total elevation climb is more than 3,000 metres.