Exploring the backyards of Haliburton County

By Angela Long

Sept. 6 2016

It may be “The Devil Made Me Do It” that catches your eye or “On Bonnie’s Pond.” Whatever your fancy Hike Haliburton’s glossy 2016 Program Guide and Map has got it covered. The guide lists over 80 hikes throughout all of Haliburton County ranging from half a kilometre in length to 19 kilometres from strolling past historic wooden log chutes to scaling the heights of Green Mountain.

The 14th annual festival is the signature event of the County of Haliburton says Hike Haliburton Festival project manager Barrie Martin showcasing the region’s heritage art and natural features.

The region’s gems are so plentiful organizers have added another day to the festival which is set to begin on Thursday Sept. 22 and last until Sunday Sept. 25.

“It’s a chance to explore and better appreciate what the Haliburton Highlands is all about” Martin says for those new to the county or for the hundreds of cottagers who return specifically for an event that falls smack dab between Labour Day and Thanksgiving.

But the festival is just as much for the locals.

“People notoriously do not explore their own backyards” Martin says and Hike Haliburton is the perfect chance to do so.

If the numbers are any indicator the locals agree. Thirty to 40 per cent of festival participants call Haliburton County home. But whether a newcomer cottager or local registration numbers continue to rise. Currently more than 800 are registered for Hike Haliburton. Martin expects at least 2500 participants this year. Every year for the past four years registration has risen by 20 per cent. Twelve of the festival’s most popular hikes including the “Ritchie Falls Nature Ramble” and “Backpacking with the Happy Camper” – an overnighter with Kevin Callan who Martin calls the “celebrity of the outdoors” – are already full. They’ve even run out of brochures. The colourful guides – complete with a generous map of the county – have become such coveted objects that Martin has ordered another print run.

The festival also gives hikers a chance to explore other people’s backyards without fear of a trespassing charge. Join the Pflugs for the “Stouffer Mill Strut” the Tylers for “Cow Paths and Deer Runs” the Dawsons for “The Poetry of Maple.”

Martin has been lacing up his hiking boots in Haliburton County since 1976 and has been involved with Hike Haliburton since its inception. Nevertheless he still discovers new experiences in the county’s endless supply of outdoor thrills.

“I’m very passionate about the Haliburton Highlands” he says “and I believe in the principles of eco-tourism. Hiking is a sport where you can enjoy the land with minimum impact.”

For those still wondering whether or not to participate in Canada’s largest hiking festival Martin says this is a rare opportunity to get involved to share the trails with friends neighbours and strangers in a safe environment led by carefully chosen guides who in most cases are certified Hike Ontario hike leaders trained in group management skills risk management wilderness first aid. Two hike volunteers also accompany each outing assisting guides with safety and organization. This year the festival is also offering safety training for the hikers themselves with a day-long safe hiker course on Wednesday Sept. 21 at a discounted rate. Hikes are capped at a maximum of 15 to 30 participants to allow for a high-quality hike. Martin recalls the days before this limit was set and 90 people showed up for a mushroom hike.

“You can imagine how that went” he says.

Even if you’re more of an armchair hiker the festival aims to please featuring six concerts storytelling a Blister Ball a fundraising radiothon and barbecue a fall harvest dinner a fall equinox sacred fire and to top it all off the Haliburton Highlands’ biggest picnic ever – a “celebration of food art and outdoor living” in Head Lake Park.

Martin stresses that while the core of the festival is hiking organizers want to “spread the benefits” as far as possible. All trails lead to the heart of the community with every event enriching the experience for everyone. This year Hike Haliburton has engaged as many businesses as possible setting up Hikequarters Food Stops Featured Accommodations and Rejuvenation Stops. Participating businesses will display signs inviting festival-goers to “Stay here. Eat here. Relax here.”

While the festival has been cursed by rain every year for the past 13 years Martin remains hopeful the spell has been broken. Regardless he says “there’s always adventure in the rain.”

To share in the adventure rain or shine register online at www.hikehaliburton.com call 705-286-1777 or 1-800-461-7677 or email tourism@myhaliburtonhighlands.com.

To become a Hike Volunteer contact volunteer co-ordinator Maria Paterson at 705-935-0850 or email maria_paterson13@yahoo.com.

To register for the full-day safe hiker course ($30 instead of the regular $85 thanks to fundraising efforts) contact Corina Mansfield at 705-854-0628 or email Corina@deeprootsadventure.com.