Volunteer Spotlight

Spurwink Island Path

Gord Follett

May 10, 2023

Volunteer Spotlight

In honour of National Volunteer Week, April 16-22, we wanted to sit down with some of our long-time volunteers and talk to them about what volunteering with the East Coast Trail means to them. See what they each had to say below.

Keith Windsor

Keith Windsor has been volunteering with ECTA since the very beginning – before the beginning, in fact. His interest in what was to become the Trail started in 1992, when his workplace held a number of employee information seminars and he attended one given by Peter Gard, ECT founder, focused on the hiking trails of the Avalon Peninsula. The seminar sparked his intrigue, and he signed up as the 99th member of a group headed by Peter.

His first outing was that summer on Sugarloaf Path, starting from the Marine Science Center in Logy Bay. Keith remembered that most of the outings in those early days were happening on the paths north of St. John’s, with group members providing their own loppers and pruning saws. Eventually, in the late 1990s, being familiar with a chainsaw, and having his own to use, Keith became a chainsaw operator and played that role for about five years. He enjoyed the role, but recalled that it was hard work: “You would have to lug your chainsaw in about four or five kilometers; usually someone would help you carry the gas and the chain.”

While Keith has spent most of his time volunteering with ECTA participating in and leading Trail Maintenance Outings, he also spent about five years volunteering with the Sierra Club, an American environmental organization, when they would pay us a visit. For a number of years, the Sierra Club would come to Newfoundland on week-long excursions and coordinate with the East Coast Trail, to help out with maintenance work and cut certain sections of the Trail. He also volunteered with ECTA’s annual fundraising hike for many years, acting as Trail Monitor or Sweep on the guided hikes.

This year at our annual Volunteer Awards Night on April 20, Keith received his Volunteer Years of Service Certificate for volunteering with ECTA for 29 years, since he has been an active volunteer with the organization since its official inception in 1994. When asked why he has stuck around for so long, Keith said that he “just enjoys it.” He has loved being in the woods since he was a kid, when he joined the Boy Scouts and has been a hiker for most of his life. He says that as a Finance Manager within the College system, maintenance outings were his happy place and helped him
de-stress. Thank you for 29 years of service, Keith!

Adrian Tanner

Adrian Tanner was hiking through Fiji and New Zealand in the early 1990s, when Peter Gard and others were working on opening up parts of what was to become the East Coast Trail. When Adrian returned to Newfoundland, he discovered his neighbor, Peter, had this idea of a trail along the Northeast Avalon. Soon after, he attended a meeting in Torbay, where the organization was officially constituted, and found himself volunteering to be on the Board of Directors, of which he stayed a member until 2015.

Early on, Adrian spent many of his weekends bushwacking, building on and enhancing traditional paths used for berry picking and hunting, as well as finding and opening new routes where traditional paths no longer existed. He claimed this to be largely selfish, as he, along with the other volunteers were building a trail that would be used by themselves and other local hikers. Many had no idea the anchor attraction the Trail would become, although he says Peter had bigger ideas for the Trail from the beginning.

Aside from those initial trail building days, Adrian spent most of his time dedicated to the Land and Legal Committee. The Committee was tasked with meeting with landowners to get their permission for building any structures on their land. He recalls that Ed Delaney (long-time Trail Manager) was especially good at talking to local people and persuading them of the benefits of the the Trail. He spoke about being present for the removal of the rock that was blocking the Spout, as well as for the building of La Manche Suspension Bridge. He has been a Guided Hike Leader and participated in Maintenance Outings. Of the many milestones reached by ECTA, Adrian has been around for most of them.

This year at our annual Volunteer Awards Night on April 20, Adrian received his Volunteer Years of Service Certificate for volunteering with ECTA for 28 years. When asked what he likes about volunteering with the Association, Adrian said “when I go out leading hikes or doing maintenance hikes, it’s just as much fun, and being with other volunteers is rewarding in itself.” He spoke of the friendships he’s made over the years saying “there were so many different people who brought different skills and specialities to the project.” Thank you for your 28 years of service, Adrian!

Robbie Hicks

Robbie Hicks is originally from Newfoundland, but moved
away as a child. She moved back in 1995 and a few days
later, the very first ECTA AGM was held in Torbay. She
attended and wound up signing up for various things. As
Robbie remembers it, in the beginning, it was just a “bunch
of volunteers going out and walking paths that already
linked, and we would just go out and wander around and
flag what we thought was a good route, and then start
cutting and sometimes we were doing it simultaneously,
sort of going by the seat of our pants. We were out nearly
every weekend.”

Robbie got started volunteering with ECTA by participating in Volunteer Maintenance Outings. She would occasionally lead or sweep on Guided Hikes, and then took over membership and communications functions, before there was an online or automated system. She would send out weekly emails telling members about upcoming events, and also participated in public outreach activities, setting up East Coast Trail booths at different community events, fairs, and markets.

Robbie ended up on the Board for two years, as the treasurer and after her stint on the Board, she became a Trail Custodian for first Tinkers Point Path, then the Flatrock section of Stiles Cove Path, and finally back to Tinkers Point. She helped out when the Sierra Club would come to town participated in garbage clean ups on Sugarloaf Path near Robin Hood Bay, and has been a long-standing member of the Standards Committee. Off the trail, Robbie has been a member of various successful fundraising teams for ECTA’s annual fundraiser – first the the Maintenance Maniacs, and
then the Torbay Coyotes.

This year at our annual Volunteer Awards Night on April 20, Robbie received her Volunteer Years of Service Certificate for volunteering with ECTA for 28 years. When asked why she has stuck with us for so long, Robbie said that she really feels that volunteering for the Trail is a worthwhile effort. She said “when we started getting validation from National Geographic, and started getting funding to work on certain things, it’s inspiring – you start feeling like you’re doing something worthwhile.” When on the Trail herself, she loves seeing all the people that the Trail attracts; it
really makes her feel like she’s a part of something special.

Heidi Murphy & Bruce Wells

Heidi and Bruce have been volunteering with ECTA since 2018. They had been avid hikers and when they saw that ECTA was recruiting for volunteer Trail Custodians, they thought it would be a great way to give back to the Trail that they loved so much. For them, it would be a great fit -they both work full time and as Trail Custodians, they would be able to set their own schedule, completing their work on the weekends. Heidi and Bruce started on Bear Cove Path, and then when Brigus South Path came up as needing permanent custodians, they were eager to commit.

For Bruce, he said it was a great way to deal with stress. He was working a very stressful job when they first started, and they were using the trail anyway, as a way to de-stress; as Heidi said “it’s [their] happy place, it’s where [they] love to spend [their] free time” – so it was an easy way to get involved. For Heidi, she finds the work interesting. She spoke about how being a Custodian allows you to see the changes on the path over the years: the damage from Hurricane Larry, for example, and then the maintenance and enhancements that have gone on, as well. They both said it’s been nice to feel like they’ve contributed to the path staying in good shape.

Heidi and Bruce have gone on some Maintenance Outings, and recently, Heidi was a member of the team that launched the new ECT website. They predict that sometime in the future, they’ll be involved in some other capacities, but being young professionals at the heights of their careers, the Custodian program works great for them and provides the flexibility that they need. Heidi and Bruce both attended our annual Volunteer Awards Night on April 20, to receive their Volunteer Years of Service Certificates for five years. Heidi said “seeing those volunteers that have been with the Trail for 25, 30 years, it was so inspiring. I hope that’s me in 25 years.”

When asked why they think volunteering is important, Bruce said they want to help protect the Trail. Heidi said, “if we want the East Coast Trail to continue to exist… and to continue to be around for a really long time, I think we all should take the time to volunteer to contribute to the things that are important to us.” Both said they’ve tried to encourage people that they know, especially those who use the Trail to volunteer and give back. As Bruce said, “I say, ‘you just have to get out and do it. Once you do it once, you’ll see what it’s all about and you’ll be hooked.”