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'It's very rewarding': Local woman is a passionate trailblazer

'It’s very satisfying in the end to see people enjoying the fruits of your labour,' says Frieda Baldwin, who has been a local trails volunteer for more than 35 years

The day before our interview, Frieda Baldwin had completed her 139th hike of the year. 

“There’s a badge you can get for finishing so many hikes,” explains the 70-year-old hiking enthusiast.

Last year, she hiked 200, and this year, her goal is to complete 250 hikes.

As a hiker and a volunteer with the Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association, Baldwin says it's impossible to estimate how many kilometres she hikes in a year.

She is, however, responsible for helping develop the trail network that connects the 500-kilometre Ganaraska Hiking Trail with the Bruce Trail and the TransCanada Trail.

“I’ve been a promoter, supporter, and organizer for the trails since the late 80s,” says Baldwin of her time volunteering with various trail organizations. 

“I come from a family that likes to walk,” she continues, noting that she started her career volunteering as the publicity manager for one of the clubs affiliated with the Bruce Trail Association. 

That evolved into her becoming a trail leader. When she joined the Ganaraska Hiking Association she certified as a hike leader with Hike Ontario. 

When Baldwin began volunteering with the trail associations, the hope was to connect them all — at least that was the case for the Bruce trail. 

For the Ganaraska trail and the TransCanada Trail, all of the networks were connected through advocacy efforts. 

While there is some road-walking involved, Baldwin and many other hiking advocates, environmentalists, naturalists, and the like worked together to convert various abandoned rail lines into multi-use trails.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, some of the unused rail lines were acquired by Simcoe County and other municipalities. 

Baldwin was part of a group called Huronia Trails and Greenways that advocated for municipalities to acquire these corridors. The argument at the time was that these corridors be set aside for trails, or utilities, or for future connectivity for fast rail. The idea was that these corridors be kept intact.

“At the time, there was opposition from adjacent landowners that wanted to purchase the land,” explains Baldwin, noting that eventually the county and the municipalities saw the value of maintaining these areas. 

Baldwin does not rest on her laurels and quickly looks to the current government’s removal of 7,400 acres of land from the Greenbelt as a serious concern.

“Hopefully, we don’t reverse all that work (to conserve the land),” she says.

“Our current challenge is subdivision development. That growth is affecting the connectivity of the Bruce, and Ganaraska trail,” she says.

These lands are not just important for hikers, but they’re also important for wildlife, she stressed.

Often trail connectivity is through private land. Baldwin believes that maintaining the trails and expanding on the greenspaces we have is about educating landowners about the benefits of trails, and says increasing advocates understanding the Official Plans and secondary plans to provide feedback on anything affecting long-distance trails.

Baldwin explains that some parts of the Ganaraska trail go through private lands.

Of her more than 35-year career as a volunteer, Baldwin says she is motivated by her passion.

“It’s very satisfying in the end to see people enjoying the fruits of your labour. Whether it’s single-use trails, or multi-use, you see how beautiful they are, and how well-used they are," she explained.

COVID demonstrated that it’s a good thing we have these trails, says Baldwin, referring to when people were taking advantage of the greenspace available to them. 

If you’re interested in volunteering with the Ganaraska Trail Association, they are always looking for volunteers for trail maintenance and more. 

“It’s very rewarding,” says Baldwin.