Rogart Mountain trail is a hiker’s dream. There are brooks and a waterfall. It’s a loop that’s not too long, and every step of the way you learn about the history and ecology of the area.
Situated a stone’s throw from Earltown on route 311, Rogart Mountain hiking trail is considered the gold standard for trail maintenance and signage in Nova Scotia.
“We are proud to have 17 interpretive signs along the trail, evidence of the many hours of work from our enthusiastic maintenance team,” says Sheila Wilson, chairperson of Cobequid Eco-Trail Society. With a wink she adds, “You can never get lost on that trail.”
Sheila does disclose, however, how increasingly difficult it is to get volunteers to keep up Rogart’s high standard.
“We go out after every storm and clear downed trees and branches from the path,” says Sheila. “And one thing we do that no other trail association does in Nova Scotia, is we use a leaf blower to keep the paths clear for our hikers, so they don’t fall over hidden rocks and roots.”
It is a hot day when Alasdair Veitch, Pictou’s Y on the Move hike leader and certified Winter and Summer Outdoor Council of Canada Field Hiking Leader; Leo Gillis, also certified OC of Canada Field Hiking Leader; Suzanne MacDonnough, avid hiker; and myself all gather in the parking lot of Sugar Moon Farm’s parking lot before our hike. There, we meet Norris Whiston, historian and author of more than 50 books and nature guides, to hear about the research he has compiled on the trail.
“In 2006, Garnet MacLaughlin and myself started exploring the area to make this trail a reality,” says Norris, looking up from his trail map. “After we got all the landowner’s permissions, the new trail was born in 2008.”
Norris’s eyes sparkle with enthusiasm. He has been part of Rogart Mountain trail for 18 years. “But we needed a name, so my colleague, Glen Matheson, named it Rogart Mountain, meaning “high plateau” in Gaelic, to commemorate the origin of a number of the Scottish settlers in the area who came from Rogart, Scotland.”
“The whole history of the mountain is on the 17 interpretive signs along the trail,” says Alasdair, who said he could have easily stayed hours listening to Norris talk about how Rogart Mountain was formed more than 380 million years ago and about the ecological benefit of the flora of forest floor. But instead, he points to the trail, “Shall we begin?”
We say our goodbyes to Norris and enter the forest. The well-maintained, undulating earthen 6.2-km loop path beckons us through arches of healthy stands of sugar maple, yellow birch, contorted beech trees and old-growth lichens. Dappled light streams through the branches, magically playing with our strides along the wide, well-worn path.
It’s a hot day, but the shade from the trees makes it a perfect temperature for walking. We cross over a brook on a sturdy wooden boardwalk, clear proof of many hours from Sheila’s volunteers.
To the left of the path, a sign explains that the remnants of a stone wall is where Peter “Bonesetter” and Elizabeth Murray once built their home in 1822. Peter “Bonesetter” was aptly nicknamed because he had set the bones of humans and horses.
Alasdair, a long-distance hiker who often hikes alone on trails for days at a time with his 60-pound backpack, tent and other necessary camping supplies, is now plowing ahead. We race to catch up.
Once together, we stop to have a chat, a laugh or two, and admire the beauty around us. “I love snowshoeing here in the winter,” shares Leo proudly. “It’s so peaceful and because the path is so wide, it’s perfect
Alasdair agrees. “Yes, and the snow makes a good cover for the roots and rocks that dot the path in the summer months,” he says.
I admire the year-round versatility of the Rogart Mountain trail. Alasdair tells us of the proposed plan to soon join it and the other six trails in the Cobequid Eco-Trail system with the Cape to Cape (Cape George to Cape Chignecto) and Appalachian trail systems.
“It will make it Nova Scotia’s first long distance trail of over 400 kilometres,” he says proudly.
Our path ascends now, passing over New Portugal Brook. I remember Norris’ explaining that the Mi’kmaq First Nations people first settled the land and used it many years ago as a connection between Northumberland Strait and Bay of Fundy.
Climbing higher, we cross a beautiful field of purple fireweed. I stop to snap a few pictures on Andrew’s Plateau, just ahead where the Scottish pioneer Sutherland family made their home in 1832. I can see why. A beautiful, gently rolling slope fades off to an impressive vista of distant mountains.
We stop and chat with two spirited hikers who are hiking the trail from the opposite direction. When asked if they hike this trail often, Janice Fralic-Brown replies with a smile, “Oh, my friend Karen (Walsh) and I are from Halifax. We love coming up here to hike. We make it a day and have lunch afterwards.”
They are off again, and we wish each other well. As they descend, we continue up to the Rogart Mountain lookoff of 1,129 ft.
To the south, across fields of variegated shades of green is a panorama of rotating windmills on nearby Nuttby Mountain. We stand silently, basking in the rich history we have just traversed, and revelling in the miles of natural beauty around us.
“Look,” says Leo. “Here’s a bench dedicated to Norris Whiston.”
“We must sit down on it then, and have our snacks and drinks,” says Alasdair, at which point he unzips his pack and takes out four drinks. I choose the grapefruit lemon, and ask in wonderment, “How are they so cold?”
Alasdair laughs. “I always carry an ice pack or two. Nothing better than chilled drinks on a hike.” We sing Happy Birthday to Suzanne.
It’s a birthday, she says, she will
Our last stop, before the open path leads us back to Sugar Moon, is Jane’s Falls. Named after Jane (Matheson) MacDonald, the interpretive sign tells us she emigrated from Rogart, Scotland by 1818. It’s a magical spot and very different from anything else on the trail. A tall rock slope falls sharply between stands of maple and birch trees covered in a long, stringy, carpet of soft, deep green moss. No water is flowing today, but it appears still damp, perhaps from the trickling remnant of a previous rain.
The sun is hot now on the wide-open path as we head back. We are all missing the protective shade of the forest. Just before reaching the parking lot, we spot a four-foot-tall remnant of a stone foundation amid a field of yellow flowers that once housed the family of Robert and Nancy (Fraser) Munroe.
I remember Norris’ words about the purpose of the Rogart Mountain trail. “It’s designed to be beautiful but also to protect nature and the properties the trail goes through. It celebrates the movement and rights of the Indigenous people, the homesteads of the pioneers and loggers, and the resilience of nature.”
We leave Rogart Mountain Trail reflecting on what we have learned, its beauty and the fun we’ve shared along the way. It’s a trail above all the rest.
Five ways to respect and enjoy nature trails
- Stay on the path. Go through puddles, not around them. This helps protect
the fragile ecosystem. The only exception is going to
- Carry in and carry out. All food wrappers, peelings and, of course, doggie poop bags. FYI: A banana peel can take a month to decompose.
- Speak softly and no music, please. This is respectful, not only for the birds and animals of the forest, but
also to fellow hikers.
- Leave nature the way you find it. It can be tempting to pick that unique flower, take a sample of moss you’ve been searching for, or break a twig off a tree to identify it. The rule of thumb is to enjoy your walk and leave it the way you found it for others to also appreciate.
- Never feed the animals. That goes for the cute little squirrel who approaches, chattering away. Feeding wild animals “people food” can cause serious health issues.