The summit of the hike will be held in Chéticamp after a two-year hiatus
CHETICAMP — The past two years have been a long exercise in patience for Leonard and Annette LeBlanc.
The Cheticamp couple were waiting to host a hiking summit that will bring people from across the province and further afield to their hometown to experience its rich biodiversity and culture.
“We’ve been trying for a few years to get (the top),” Leonard said. “It’s been a long time (to wait) and maybe COVID will behave this spring.”
The event is hosted in Cheticamp June 3-5 by Hike Nova Scotia and Les Hikers, a group the couple helped found.
“We can accommodate up to 250 people,” said Leonard, who is the president of Les Hikers. “Based on the background of the people who sign up, it looks like we could achieve that goal.”
The ninth annual summit will consist of six hikes per day exploring various locations and peaks in Cheticamp. Those interested must pre-register, and quickly: the duo had 170 registered Thursday afternoon.
“We will have people from different parts of the Atlantic Provinces, maybe further afield, coming to Chéticamp to hike,” Leonard said. “We’re going to bring them in and expose them to unique vantage points that they would never have access to on their own.”
The summit will include morning, afternoon and evening hikes that participants can sign up for, although some of them are already full.
“We have different trails that are outside of (Cape Breton Highlands National Park) and then we have different places inside the park,” Leonard said.
The couple have spent the pandemic exploring ‘unique views’ of their national park with The Hikers group and are eager to share what they have found. They have local volunteers who will help lead the hikes.
“We went into the woods for peace of mind, and it was really helpful,” Leonard said. “So we’re going to have the chance to share these beautiful places we’ve found with people outside who I’m sure will enjoy them.”
One of the hikes in the park the pair highlighted is on Blueberry Mountain, which has “a lot of history to tell”.
“We’ve done it many times,” said Annette, who sits on the board of Les Hikers. “I’ve done it over 200 times, Leonard over 150 I’d say. We will bring people there and from there we will go to Cap-Rouge.
“…We take them to a cabin that has a spectacular view. Squirrel Mountain (is) another spectacular sight. We will also do trails, for example, on the island of Chéticamp. Chéticamp Island has a lot of history.
The summit will be both an opportunity to see the peaks and unique sites of Western Cape Breton while learning more about the culture and history of the region.
“A lot of the history will be Acadian history, where those trails are,” Leonard said. “Especially in the park where the Acadians were removed from the park (when) it was created.”
MUSIC AND DANCE
The summit will involve more than hiking.
“We also plan to… (teach attendees) how to square dance,” Leonard said. “So we bring a violin and a piano and we will ask someone to teach them in the evening to dance square.”
Many hikes can be done solo, but the advantage of reaching the summit is the unique markers.
“There are little things that we see that people don’t see, they just walk past them without realizing it,” Annette said. “They might miss the (water)falls of (the) Blueberry (hike). It’s only a small downfall, but they’re going to miss those things.
The duo are grateful to the municipality and Cape Breton Highlands National Park, which are both partners and have provided funds.
“We put in a lot of hours setting it up,” Leonard said. “Hike Nova Scotia was a big help because they’ve done it before.
The summit is also an excellent opportunity to bring tourists to Chéticamp, bringing economic benefits to the locality.
“This is just a taste of the area, we have so much more that we can expose to tourists in this area,” Leonard said. “I think it will be a good start to the summer season. … So it’s going to be a plus for everyone, and I have to thank the local businesses who really supported it financially, because without them it probably wouldn’t happen.
Individuals wishing to register for the Chéticamp Hike Summit can do so by registering with Hike Nova Scotia at https://www.hikenovascotia.ca/news-and-events-hiking-summit/ before the 25th may.
Jessica Smith is a breaking news, human interest, environment and climate change reporter at the Cape Breton Post. Follow her on Twitter at @CBPost_Jessica.