New hiking trail forged out of 'blood, sweat and beer' — and a family's generosity
William's Trail is a tribute to former lighthouse keeper William Mitchell
Mispec, southeast of Saint John, is known for its small population and breathtakingly expansive scenery.
On a summer afternoon, views of the Bay of Fundy unroll along Red Head Road like a glittering carpet stretching all the way to Partridge Island.
Now, after three months of "blood, sweat, blisters and beer," that stunning shoreline is home to a brand-new hiking trail.
William's Trail starts at the Cape Spencer Lighthouse and stretches for 3.1 kilometres along the rugged Fundy coast.
The trail came from the hard work of a dedicated volunteer named Ian Lingley — and the generosity of the Mitchell family, who tended the lighthouse for generations.
A stunning area
Lingley, who grew up in Grand Bay-Westfield, spent a lot of time in Mispec over the years "doing a little rock climbing, a little bit of hiking," he said.
Sidelined by an injury and minding the restrictions brought on by COVID-19, he spent his afternoons in spring 2020 going for long drives, drinking coffee and exploring.
"I stumbled across Cape Spencer," he said.
After "bushwhacking a bit" down an unfinished path, he "realized this is a stunning area and there probably should be a hiking trail out there."
He started imagining where a hiking path could go, walking the coast "at least 15 times" before he figured out a workable route.
Then he got to work. He'd park at Cape Spencer, load up a shovel, loppers, and a bush axe, then run a kilometre or two into the forest.
Some sections "would take an hour to do 200 metres," he said. "I did everything by hand. No power tools, only hand tools.
"It was time to escape rather than be stuck in the house during COVID."
A family's gift
Lingley didn't realize the land belonged to the Mitchell family, who have lived in the area for generations.
"My grandfather Charles Mitchell was lighthouse keeper on Partridge Island, then at Cape Spencer in the 1920s," said Stephen Mitchell.
"[My father] William was born in 1929 and grew up at Cape Spencer," said Mitchell. "He returned in 1967 to become a lighthouse keeper like his father before him."
When William was growing up, "there wasn't much of a road out there. Sometimes you had to go to town by horse and wagon. It was a big family of 11 children. They crawled all over the rocks and the cliffs. Sometimes I'm quite amazed that they even survived."
Given the terrain, Stephen Mitchell was surprised to stumble across Lingley's work.
"We were down there cutting trails, and all of sudden I seen another trail. I said, 'Well who's been on this trail?"
Mitchell posted No Trespassing signs, which "put a stop to the trail building for a little bit,"
Lingley said. Undeterred, Lingley wrote a letter to the Mitchell family explaining his hopes for the trail — and drove out one day to try to talk to them.
"I thought it might be a battle," he said.
But the Mitchells weren't upset.
"After we heard what he was doing, we were very happy with what was going on," said Mitchell. "We just thought it would be a nice opportunity to have a well-groomed trail down there that people can enjoy."
The one condition was that the trail be named after the late William Mitchell.
"Dad loved the land out there — just loved the cape. He died last September 9th, and his ashes were scattered there. Where he wanted to spend eternity, I guess."
Having a trail named in his father's honour is "pretty special," he said.
"I get choked up every time I think about it," Mitchell said. "We spend a lot of time down in the cape. [Lingley] did a fantastic job. I think it's great for the area.
"I think there are some serious hikers that are really going to enjoy it."
Hike with caution
William's Trail starts about 100 metres down from the lighthouse and is marked with carved wooden signs that Lingley made himself.
There are several lookouts, and landmarks like Shark Rock, which looks like a giant fin, and Ploughshare Rock, "which has been known by the fishermen down there for years."
People should use caution exploring the area, he warned.
"It is a very exposed trail. It does come close to the cliff edge in some spots. It's not recommended for small children — you might want to keep an eye on them. And there's a lot of porcupines in there. I almost stepped on one one day."
Steep cliffs and porcupines aside, dozens of people have already hiked there since Lingley posted about it on Facebook on August 1.
"I never expected a response like this," he said. "Sometime you're out there kind of like, 'why am I doing this?'
"Dealing with a big rainstorm, or all the bugs. There are some days that were pretty hard. But after you walk back and see your progress, it was like, 'No I think I'm turning this into something, at least.'"
The Mitchells believe the new trail will bring some positive attention to an area hit by vandalism and other unwelcome activity.
"I hope that maybe the people will enjoy it more and do less damage to the lighthouse, and maybe respect the area much more."
As for Lingley, all he wanted was to do something useful with his free time. He hopes his hard work helps people "experience the beauty of the Fundy coast."
"This might be the hundredth trail they've walked, or maybe it's the first. I hope they realize there's something special about getting outside — something relaxing.
"I hope people enjoy it and realize that New Brunswick is a beautiful place."