hi-nb-fundy-footpath

The Fundy Footpath is a 50-kilometre trail that winds through a rare expanse of New Brunswick coastal forest and beaches. (CBC)

Ground search and rescue teams say the rugged wilderness destination between Fundy National Park and St. Martin's is creating some big challenges for rescuers.

Phil Howe, a volunteer with the Greater Fundy Ground Search and Rescue, says three rescue searches on the Fundy Footpath last summer prompted him to review problems with the trail, and form a committee to find ways to address the biggest challenges.

"We've got to get better signage out there, better accessibility to the Fundy Footpath and just make people aware that the Fundy Footpath isn't like going for a walk in Fundy National Park, it's a tough trail," said Howe.

Access roads leading to sections of the trail are unmarked and often washed out, said Howe.

'If they think the rescuers can rescue them on a four-wheeler, it's not going to happen because you can't get a four-wheeler down those paths.'- Phil Howe, Greater Fundy Ground Search and Rescue

"It's not like you can drive a four-wheeler because the road is closed in too much, and the path is just a path," he said.

"So for rescuers, they'd have to put all their gear, first-aid kits, whatever they need, and carry it with them to the Fundy Footpath.

"Then once you reach the path, you still have to find the person."

Five hundred people used the footpath running through the Acadian Forest last year, which is the most ever. Howe said that number doesn't include those who access the path without registering. He predicts upwards of 1,000 people will walk the trail in the next couple of years.

Howe says some people attempting the coastal trail are not aware of how difficult it is. One of the rescues involved three women who simply became too exhausted to carry on.

"They wear the wrong clothes, the wrong footwear, they don't pack their gear properly, and once they do have it packed, they should practise just along the road to build up their training," he said.

"In a lot of cases you're going from zero [metres] to 180 [metres]. When you're going up these banks, they're very steep and narrow."

"If they think the rescuers can rescue them on a four-wheeler, it's not going to happen because you can't get a four-wheeler down those paths. You can't get a four-wheeler within 300 metres of the footpath."

Howe says there has to be a discussion about how to deal with these challenges for rescuers.

"I'm not looking for a whole pile of money, I'm not looking for any money at all," he said.

"I just want to get this plan enacted so when there's an emergency, we know what to do."

Cellphone coverage unreliable

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

He says there would be fewer problems if hikers used the provided trail guide, planned carefully and got in shape physically. Leger also warns there are few cell towers in the area.

"What the cellphone does is continuously send out a signal to find a tower and you can run down your cellphone in two hours," he said.

Leger says even with the spike in rescues in 2013, there have only been half a dozen calls for help in the nearly 25-year history of the trail.

Four days must be set aside to cover the well-worn path of rugged, steep switchbacks and gruelling 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.