Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Dear GCT: Signage Matters!!

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Yes, I’m still walking the Grand Concourse Trails with the goal of completing them all by summer’s end. Last Friday night, when the picture above was taken, I was out at one of the outer limits of the trail with my family — the very end of Harbourside Walk South, which leads you out the Southside Road to the Fort Amherst lighthouse. It’s a lovely walk which offers the unique view of St. John’s from the other side of the harbour, and it’s especially pretty at sunset. We arrived out there just at dusk and enjoyed the lighthouse and the view of ships travelling out through the Narrows.

This is a prime example of how the Grand Concourse project is getting me to revisit parts of my hometown I don’t normally go to. Fort Amherst is maybe a five or ten-minute drive from my front door but I haven’t been out there in years. Long, long ago, before we had kids, Jason and I went out there once and spent a happy afternoon climbing around the rocks, exploring the old ruins and generally defying death at every turn. In the intervening years someone has wisely, but sadly, put chain-link fence up all around so that only the most determined explorers can still get down to see the ruins, and risk death on the sheer cliffs descending to the water beneath.

Since we got a later start than planned on our walk, we parked the car halfway out the Southside Road, and when we got back to the car, Jason, the kids, and Max drove home. I, of course, stayed on the road, determined to walk the whole trail so I could mark it off the map. The rest of the walk was only about 20 minutes or so, and the plan was for Jason to swing back and pick me up at the old railway station. In the course of this walk, as I headed back towards downtown on the Southside Road, it got quite dark.

After a little while I realized I had walked well past the train station and was heading up to the intersection with Blackhead Road, which was quite a ways past where Jason was supposed to meet me. I had to phone him and he came up from the train station, across the bridge over the river, and found the place where the trail met the road, which I had completely missed in the dark. Largely because there was absolutely no hint of a Grand Concourse sign to indicate that this was the point where the trail diverged from the road.

This is a recurring problem I’ve noticed — as you drive around St. John’s you see a lot of Grand Concourse signs so you’d assume the trails are well-marked, but there are several places, especially where off-road trails split away from main roads, where there’s a real need for more signage. Last summer I took a group of Pathfinders on the Virginia River Walk and got hopelessly lost when the trail crossed Torbay Road — I couldn’t find the trail again on the other side. This summer I re-walked that trail with Jennifer, having scoped it out in advance so I could see where to make the turn — I would never have guessed from the signs alone. The parts of the trail that go through the town of Mount Pearl are even less well-marked than the ones in St. John’s. A few weeks ago Jason, the kids, Max and I did a loop of some GC trails in Mount Pearl and most of the time we were just guessing (with a little help from a vague map that has only the most major streets marked on it) whether we were on the trail or not. We ended up back where we’d parked the car safely, and I decided to mark that trail off on the map even though I wasn’t 100% sure that we’d been on the Grand Concourse the whole time: in an hour of walking we only saw four trail signs, and two of those were just bare poles with the sign part knocked off.

I love the Grand Concourse and I’m having a wonderful time walking on its trails, but more and better signs are definitely needed.

I’ve walked 43K on trail-related walks in July, but that’s being generous with my definition of “trail-related,” because I’m counting the fact that I walked the Tely10. There are only a couple of kilometres where the Tely10 route goes along a GCT trail, but I figured that was enough to make it count — hey, I walked 16 K in 2 and a half hours, I deserve some credit here!

Still lots of unwalked trails to cover in August before I have the whole map filled out. Just hope I don’t run into anymore signage problems!


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