Duncans Cove overrun by 'exponential increase' in hikers, locals say
'It's almost 24/7. People are still coming in at night,' says one resident
Residents of a small community just outside Halifax say their area is being overrun by hikers and day trippers, and they are urging the province to help find a solution.
The village of Duncans Cove sits beside the Duncans Cove Nature Reserve. The reserve was set aside for protection in 2004 because it is home to some rare plant species such as the Arctic blueberry.
A nature reserve is meant primarily for scientific research and education, with limited recreational use. But at Duncans Cove, residents say as many as a hundred cars full of hikers can show up on a summer Saturday or Sunday.
"It was fine for many years, but now there's just so many people, and the noise — it's almost 24/7. People are still coming in at night," said Cynthia Grove, a resident who lives close to the area hikers use for parking.
Some of the land Grove owns is used for a private driveway, but it is also crossed by hikers to access the nature reserve.
"It's just been an exponential increase of hikers and there's been garbage, lots of litter, dog poop, and it's just getting out of control here," she said.
Residents attribute the growing number of hikers to social media and tourist sites like TripAdvisor, which have been promoting the hike.
Dominique Gusset also lives in the village and regularly cleans up dog droppings and garbage left on the trail. She has been documenting the soil erosion caused by heavy foot traffic. She says she often sees people arrive who aren't prepared to walk on the rough terrain.
"Bascially we just keep trying to explain to people it's not a park, it's a nature reserve. The trails are not maintained, there are no facilities, there's not really any parking area. And people don't realize that. I've had people come right up to my front yard looking for the picnic area."
Resident Jim Legge says he's asked people to leave his property and he's concerned that if they slipped and fell on the rocky shoreline by his home, he could be held responsible.
"If they fall and hurt themselves, I'm liable. And I can go and yell at them and say, 'This is private property,' and they look at me and basically give me the finger," he said.
Possibility of a new trailhead
Some residents feel the answer is to make a new parking area and a new trail to the coast that would direct hikers away from the village.
"When it's government land all around us, why can't they use that?" asked resident Calvin Ward.
"If it is going to be a trail, why does it have to be through private property? I'm not against the trail, I'm just against the entrance, and the management of it for a protected area."
Peter Labor, the director of protected areas and ecosystems with Nova Scotia Environment, said the department is open to possibilities, but isn't actively working on that right now.
"We talked about the possibility of identifying a trailhead that would move away from the private land. We'd be willing to work with the local community and others, if it's of interest," he said.
Labor said there is an existing ATV trail that goes from the road to the coast entirely over provincial land. However, he said the department would not want to spend money developing that trail if people continued to use the closer access point.
"One of the challenges is if that's not as attractive a trailhead as where people are going now, will we actually benefit from making that change or will people continue to go to the other area," he said.
"So we are looking at some of those options, but we have nothing planned or imminent right now."
Community under 'stress'
However, some residents worry that a new trail would cut through previously untouched land, and would only encourage even more hikers to arrive.
"Ideally I'd like to see a new trailhead, just because I see the stress that it's putting on this community," said Nancy Grove. "But I know that could increase the traffic, and I'm not up for that at all."
"I completely believe that people have a right to get to the coast and that there isn't enough public access," said Gusset, but added that she is doubtful about creating a new trailhead.
"It would require some infrastructure to make a different trailhead and get people to use it, and I think part of the dilemma is that if you start developing in that direction, you're actually just going to increase the traffic."