This article was originally published in the Chronicle Herald's weekly community papers and has been republished here with their permission.
The skeletal remains of what appears to be a wooden stagecoach sits just a couple feet off the trail in the Charles L. McDonald Sports Park in Waverley. There’s no indication of what may have happened to it, or how long it’s been there, but considering this trail system was once used by stagecoaches carrying gold miners and merchants, it’s easy for an active imagination like mine to hear the squeak of the wooden wheels along the pathways. I’m reminded of the sign at the trailhead that said the trail is “kept alive by the ghosts of Waverley.”
This is the first time I’ve hiked alone in over five years. I was inspired to reconnect with nature after reading an article about how medical research has proven that spending time outdoors can actually change the way your brain works. It spoke to me as I grew up playing outside, camping and Girl Guiding my heart out.
As an adult I adopted two dogs who pushed my outdoor play limits even further. I started dating an avid cyclist who reintroduced me to bikes. We got engaged during a hike on the Bluff Trail and went camping in Keji for our honeymoon. The trees, lakes and skies of Nova Scotia have been the backdrop to my life story.
Then I had two kids within two years and a “hike” turned into a slow walk pushing a stroller and waiting for a toddler to pick up yet another rock.
After reading that article though I started thinking more about the mental health benefits gained from being active outside, such as an increase in positive thinking and mood; a feeling of connection to the greater world; and limiting technology use (other than, obviously, posting an #outsideisfree selfie).
McDonald Sports Park boasts 130 acres which is home to a baseball field, beach volleyball court, bike skills track, a lake for kayaking and canoeing and about seven kilometres of trails for hiking, biking, running and skiing.
Luckily for me, as I’m navigationally challenged, their website provides a printable map and some downloadable GPS options, and there are maps posted throughout the park. Plenty of picnic tables and benches are dotted along the paths to stop and enjoy the view.
During my walk I encounter pretty much every ground covering imaginable. There is dirt, crusher dust, gravel and big, chunky rocks. The trail is mostly even but has some steep and rugged sections mixed within making hiking shoes a good idea.
The wildlife are friendly and playful, but civilization isn’t far away. A couple times the trail veers quite close to the highway but then, as soon as it appears, the road slips back away and the birds and squirrels take over the sound system again.
It takes me a little over an hour to complete the whole trail system and I finish feeling energized and ready to take on whatever comes my way, until I run almost face first into a group of zombies milling about the park. When I get my bearings I learn they’re actors doing a photo shoot for the annual Zombie Trail Run, or at least that’s what they tell me. Perhaps those ghost rumours aren’t so farfetched after all...
*EDITED JULY 2017 TO ADD: Since this walk I've been told there are also fairy houses sprinkled through the woods. You need a sharp eye to find them though, some are alongside the path, some are tucked back in a bit, but if you keep your eyes open you're likely to spot some!
McDonald Sports Park is located at 1390 Cobequid Road in Waverley, NS.