The Bluff Trail Stewardship Program

The Bluff Trail Stewardship Program (BTSP) will be a collaborative initiative between Woodens River Watershed Environmental Organization (WRWEO) and St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association (SMBSA). WRWEO & SMBSA are currently working together to secure funding for this much needed program and hope to have the program operational in the spring of 2017.

What is a Stewardship Program?

According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, the term stewardship refers to:

2. the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care <stewardship of natural resources>

A Stewardship Program refers to a set of plans, guidelines, and strategies established to manage the resources involved. Some stewardship programs focus on tangible resources such as forest products or animal populations for purposes of commercial resource extraction. Other stewardship programs focus on less-tangible assets such as public spaces (wilderness trails) for conservation purposes.

What is the Bluff Trail Stewardship Program?

In keeping with the above definition, the proposed Bluff Trail Stewardship Program will seek to ensure the careful and responsible management of the Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail and immediate surrounding wilderness area. This will be achieved through: the development of plans, guidelines, and strategies; the recruitment and training of Volunteer Trail Stewards; as constant as possible presence of trained stewards on the Bluff Trail; and, a coordinated effort to engage, inform, and support trail users.

The Bluff Trail Stewardship Program will create a formalized structure that identifies the ecological, legal, community, and trail-infrastructure issues affecting the Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail (BWHT) while setting target outcomes designed to address the issues of concern.

The ultimate goals of the Bluff Trail Stewardship Program are to decrease the impact of human harms on the trail; improve Leave-No-Trace (LNT) practices among trail users; enhance sustainability of the Bluff Trail; and ensure best possible stewardship practices in this part of the Five Bridge Lakes Wilderness Area.

Why is a Stewardship program needed on the Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail?

The Bluff Trail is a network of approximately 30km of wilderness trails that cross through the Five Bridge Lakes Wilderness Area (FBLWA) on the Chebucto Peninsula in Halifax County. This trail network is a wonderful resource for all of Nova Scotia to be able to experience a wilderness area, just minutes outside of the downtown core of Halifax. Every year many thousands of hikers, photographers, bird watchers, naturalists, and recreation groups from Nova Scotia, and beyond, visit the trail.

Over the past several years the Bluff Trail has seen a significant increase in the number of users. The increase in use has been accompanied by increased evidence of harmful human impacts on the trail and the surrounding ecological systems. In addition to the harms related to the volume of use, there have also been violations of the laws that apply to the FBLWA which have resulted in serious harms to the ecological systems designated for protection.

The Bluff Trail Stewardship Program will establish a coordinated effort of public outreach and stewardship presence on the trail in order to educate the community of trail users about the laws which apply to the protected wilderness area and how they can minimize the harms that their actions create. Because of the significant length of the Bluff Trail, the wilderness terrain of the area, and the volume of users on the trail it is necessary to secure a paid coordinator; the effort of this stewardship program is too vast to solely rely upon the efforts of volunteers.

Program Goals:

The Bluff Trail Stewardship Program is designed to achieve the following goals:

  • To reduce the harmful human impacts on the ecological systems and individual living organisms that call the FBLWA and the Bluff Trail home
  • To reduce the amount of illegal activity on the Bluff Trail through education and liaising with NSE Conservation Officers
  • To educate users of the Bluff Trail about harmful human impacts and how their behaviours can be adapted to either reduce or eliminate these impacts
  • To increase the current level of volunteer engagement by recruiting and training volunteer “Bluff Trail Stewards” and holding regular volunteer Stewardship work days
  • To educate users of the Bluff Trail about the laws that apply to the FBLWA, as well as the general status of the FBLWA and Bluff Trail
  • To educate users of the Bluff Trail about the work of WRWEO, NSE, FBLWHT, DNR and SMBSA and how they can get involved with their efforts and contribute to the stewardship of the Bluff Trail
  • To increase the current levels of monitoring of on-trail ecological systems and organisms, trail infrastructure, community use, and user safety  
  • Proposing and implementing appropriate stewardship techniques as required
  • To coordinate an educational outreach campaign to educate stakeholders and keep the trail-user community engaged with trail issues
  • To secure sustainable funding for the continuation of the BTSP
  • To take on some of the burden of WRWEO’s organizational tasks in order help to secure the long term viability of the organization
  • To have a consistent contact person to act as community and government liaison and coordinate and report on the general affairs of the Bluff Trail
  • To create a clear baseline of trail infrastructure for ongoing stewardship of the trail
  • To monitor and promote the use (when necessary) of the designated Leave No Trace Educational Sites
  • To increase the current level of remediation on damaged sites
  • Establish protocols for the best possible protection of endangered species, species of interest, and sensitive habitats, ecosystems and organisms
  • To create a formal compendium of the all of the species of flora and fauna that are present on the Bluff Trail or in the surrounding area
  • To expand the collaborative potential for multi-organization projects – for example: post-secondary internships, other non-profit organizations, outdoor recreational groups
  • To determine, and carry out, best practice stewardship, management, and treatments to ensure the ecological integrity of the Bluff Trail while allowing for continual use by the community.

Core Concepts of Program:

The Bluff Trail Stewardship Program (BTSP) consists of two core concepts: Ecological Stewardship and Community Stewardship.

Ecological Stewardship –Human presence and activity creates negative impacts on the surrounding ecology. The primary intent of the Bluff Trail Stewardship Program (BTSP) is to measure, monitor and catalogue these impacts and, once determined, select the best stewardship techniques for the reduction, or elimination when possible, of these impacts.

The ecological stewardship of the BTSP will work to determine the key habitats for present endangered, uncommon, or sensitive species of flora and fauna, as well as their presence in the whole ecosystems, and move to ensure that tailored stewardship treatments are enacted to help promote the long term viability of these species in the Five Bridge Lakes Wilderness Area (FBLWA). This may take the form of seasonal restrictions on access or extra measures of monitoring and educational outreach.

Community Stewardship – The Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail is a tremendous resource to the community that uses it – a community that extends far beyond the reaches of Nova Scotia, let alone Halifax Regional Municipality. With this extensive  level of use comes a responsibility of working to secure the ongoing stability of the relationship between stakeholder groups (such as Mi’kmaq, trail users, nearby residents, environmental and community NGOs) and government departments. This balance may be difficult to strike as not all parties will have the same definition of what responsible use of the BWHT looks like. Therefore, the primary intent of the community aspect of the BTSP is to act as the conduit for both the government and stakeholder interests while ensuring that the ecological stewardship of the BWHT is considered.

The largest component of the community aspect of the BTSP is community education and outreach. This will help promote aspects such as volunteer/community engagement, education on applicable laws, best-practice stewardship techniques, special considerations, and safe use of the BWHT.

Program Objectives and Outcomes:

During the course of its first year the Bluff Trail Stewardship Program (BTSP) will work to meet the program goals stated above. Some of these goals will have a clear mechanism to determine their success (i.e. the creation of a full species compendium and trail infrastructure inventory) while others will be more difficult to evaluate. Success of the latter will be determined by: the delivery of educational programs, and their attendance, by the number of trail users engaged and educated, by the number of volunteers recruited and the number of attendees for workshops and work days, and by the reduction of harmful, or unlawful, activities that occur on the BWHT.

After the first 6 months, program activities and operations will be measured and assessed to determine what level of success has been achieved. The level of success will be determined for each goal and program strategies and activities will be adapted accordingly.

Coordinator Responsibilities:

As coordinator of the Bluff Trail Stewardship Program (BTSP), the following responsibilities will fall to Mike Lancaster:

  • To function as liaison for the involved organizations, community stakeholders, and government departments
  • To perform regular monitoring of Bluff Wilderness Hiking Trail (BWHT) infrastructure and community use
  • To educate users of the BWHT about the applicable laws of the Five Bridge Lakes Wilderness Area (FBLWA)
  • To perform regular remediation of damaged or illegal camp sites and impacted areas
  • To coordinate, recruit, educate, train, and manage volunteers who will contribute to the BTSP – Volunteer Trail Stewards
  • To educate the stakeholders/trail users about the BTSP
  • To determine and implement best-practice stewardship techniques and activities
  • To contribute to the management of trail infrastructure
  • To locate and secure additional sources of funding to help ensure the extension and continuation of the BTSP
  • To act as the general contact for inquiries and issues in regard to the affairs of the BWHT
  • To contribute to the organization-related tasks of the Woodens River Watershed Environmental Organization (WRWEO)
  • To promote the ideology of the BTSP, WRWEO, St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association (SMBSA), Five Bridges Wilderness Heritage Trust (FBWHT) and Nova Scotia Environment – Protected Areas Branch (NSE)
  • To create and contribute to an ongoing species compendium of the flora and fauna of the BWHT
  • To monitor the established “Leave-No-Trace” (LNT) Educational Sites and to inform users of limits in place related to camping on the BWHT
  • To coordinate, manage, and evaluate part-time staff and volunteers

Reporting:

Program reporting for the Bluff Trail Stewardship Program (BTSP) will be delivered by the Stewardship Coordinator directly to Woodens River Watershed Environmental Organization (WRWEO) and St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association (SMBSA). Additional summary reports and liaising will be delivered to the Five Bridges Wilderness Heritage Trust (FBWHT) and Nova Scotia Environment – Protected Areas Branch (NSE).

Direct reporting will take the form of weekly template reports that will include the following content:

  • Staff and Volunteers hours contributed
  • Number of trail users engaged/educated
  • Occurrences that are in violation of laws or stewardship principles
  • Trail monitoring – time and location – trail section
  • Number of volunteer hours coordinated – weekly and running total for the year
  • Infrastructure issues identified or addressed
  • Objectives for the upcoming week
  • Objectives for the current month
  • Total number of observed or reported trail users
  • Total number of trail users engaged
  • Activities of users
  • Updates on stewardship initiatives
  • Reports of observed fauna and signs
  • Total number of dogs – off and on leash

Program Evaluation:

Some program components will be easily measured with quantifiable data. For example: the amount of time staff and volunteers are present on the trail, the number of trail users they engage, the number of damaged sites which require remediation, and the amount of time spent on the remediation of these sites. Each of these program components will be calculated and recorded to offer quantifiable measures of program activity and achievement.

The first year of program activity will offer a baseline to measure future activity against. Initially, it will be difficult to judge whether the engagement and education of trail users produces a positive change in relation to previous years. Observation of concerning issues over the past year will offer some indication of initial success, but it will take at least two years of program operation to produce a satisfactory catalogue of data to produce meaningful analysis of program impact. Therefore, while periodic evaluations will occur every 6 months, the true success of the program will be determined after it has had its first total evaluation at the end of its second season.

Project Budget, Anticipated Expenses, and Incomes:

Total Anticipated Project Cost:

The total estimated cost for the one year of operation for the Bluff Trail Stewardship Program is $41,567. If SMBSA and WRWEO are not able to secure the full amount of funding, we will undertake a modified version of the Stewardship Program with fewer coordinator and assistant hours. Stewardship Program hours could be reduced to accommodate a program with only $22,572 of total funding with reduced working hours for the Stewardship Coordinator and Assistant.. However, the success and sustainability of this program is largely, if not entirely dependent on the ability of the Stewardship Coordinator and Assistant to ensure adequate presence on the trail. Reducing the hours of these positions will significantly compromise the stewardship presence on the trail and undermine the success of the program.

Donations:

Please make a donation today.  Donations can be made by a cheque written to: St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association and mailed to WRWEO 3650 Hammonds Plains Road, Suite 14, Unit 300, Upper Tantallon, Nova Scotia B3Z 4R3 or online through the Canada Helps portal on the Heart of the Bay website (http://www.heartofthebay.ca/donate) – select: Bluff Wilderness Trail as the fund you wish to support. Thank you!

If you have any questions, please feel to contact us at 902-876-7377