This Halifax man has helped hikers hit the trail for more than 10 years
Greg Taylor offers detailed maps, video tours on Halifax Trails
Greg Taylor always has his mom in mind when he goes hiking.
Taylor, the creator of the popular Halifax Trails website, said his intricate maps, detailed instructions and videos of more than 100 trails around Nova Scotia are there to help people to get outside.
He said by laying everything out there, people like his mom who are older, have limited mobility or want to know the elevation, might take a chance on a route once they know what it looks like.
"In Nova Scotia, especially, we're blessed with just endless amounts of beautiful places. And I think they're all underserved. I mean, there's a lot of places that most people don't know exist and they should," Taylor said, standing beside the heart-shaped pond at Hemlock Ravine Park off the Bedford Highway.
"My goal is to just inspire them to go check it out for themselves because it's like, you know, a picture is worth a thousand words and then being there is worth a thousand pictures."
Taylor has come a long way since he started the free site in 2009 as a way to share his favourite hikes using a basic digital camera and Microsoft Publisher, "which is not meant for web design," Taylor laughed.
The website sorts trails by length, difficulty, and features like whether they're on the coast, on a bus route, or dog-friendly.
Over the years, he's upgraded to a GoPro and now a 360-degree camera. He's done that while learning more about web design, video, and bringing in some revenue through advertisements and links to make the website self-sustaining.
But there was a time recently, when Taylor wasn't sure if he'd ever hike again.
In 2018, he woke up one day feeling dizzy and unbalanced. That feeling didn't go away, and doctors eventually determined Taylor's inner ear nerves had degenerated, but couldn't explain why.
He went through physical rehabilitation and worked to get his balance back. At the beginning, Taylor said he couldn't even stand on one foot and didn't know if hiking or biking would ever be safe again.
But small hikes every day that gradually grew longer and longer actually seemed to be the best medicine of all, he said. The uneven forest floors and gravel trails helped physically, while being outside boosted his mental health, which he said is a "huge part" of any recovery.
"I didn't know if I'd be able to do any of these things I loved anymore. So it was kind of depressing, you know? But then ... getting out in nature kind of reframes everything," Taylor said.
While there are other sites and apps that use public reviews and information to build their database, like AllTrails, Taylor said they can be useful but aren't always accurate.
Until COVID-19, Taylor saw the website as a passion project. He wished he had more time for it, but he still ran a painting business as a day job.
The site would usually see a few hundred visitors a day, maybe 1,000 at the most.
But during the pandemic, Taylor said his work dried up and he began thinking about going in a new direction with his newly honed web design and video skills. And now, on a good weekend Taylor might get more than 5,000 hits a day.
Over the next few years, Taylor said he'd love to expand and employ people to give guided hikes, and maybe one day focus on the site full-time.
Inspiring people to discover the gems in their own backyard, and sharing the hard work of the volunteer groups behind the trails is what drives him, Taylor said.
He said it's worth it every time he has an experience like a recent one in the Blue Mountain - Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area.
Site fills a need
He met a mother and son who waved at him when they realized he was the "Halifax Trails guy." They told him they were spending each weekend looking up his trail maps and trying a different spot.
"I love that," Taylor said with a smile. "That right there is exactly why I created this site."
For Walter Regan, president of the Sackville Rivers Association, sites like Taylor's fill a real need.
He said he often hears people say they'd love to start hiking and walking more, but don't know where to go beyond established sites like Point Pleasant Park. Now, Regan said there are many trail systems built over the last 15 to 20 years that people can discover.
"People will use them once they find out about them ... they'll go back, they'll go back time after time," Regan said.
Regan has seen trail usage spike on the Bedford-Sackville Connector Greenway, and has faith that even as the province eases out of the pandemic those numbers on trails around Nova Scotia will stay higher than pre-COVID levels.
For anyone looking to see some fall colours, Taylor said Hemlock Ravine, the Bluff Wilderness Trail in Timberlea, and Nine Mile River system in East Hants are some of his favourites.