Local Eco-Tours Enhancing Tourist Experiences On The Bruce

EcoAdventures Tour Leader Graham Thomas explains the geological forces that shaped the landscape on the Hope Bay Forest Nature Preserve Greenbelt Hike October 8th.
By Joanne Rodgers, Bruce Peninsula Press

The Northern Bruce Peninsula is seeing an exponential growth in day visitors due in part to COVID-19 travel restrictions and in part to the “over-tourism bucket list” phenomenon common to other well-known tourist hotspots. EcoAdventures’ Caeli Mazara says many of the visitors come expecting “a curated wilderness experience”. One way to build appreciation and respect for the natural beauty of the area is to educate about the history, geology and ecology of the area. While some local companies have taken up the challenge, the year of Covid-19 has proven most challenging and they had to adapt their programs and offerings to deal with safety protocols and the almost overwhelming influx of visitors.

EcoAdventures: Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association’s Guided Eco Tours

EcoAdventures was awarded a Trip Advisor 2020 Travellers’ Choice Award placing them in the top 10% of experiences and attractions around the world! It was started four years ago under the auspices of the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association as a means to educate and deepen appreciation of the area and to reinforce conservation messages. All proceeds go to support the Biosphere’s projects. Another mandate is to support the local economy and add value; as such, local residents serve as guides providing local knowledge and sharing their love of the Bruce.

Tour Leader Graham Thomas says “a big challenge is convincing people to see the benefit of a value-added tour program. Visitors are used to coming up here and “consuming” natural spaces at little to no charge. EcoAdventures provides a much deeper experience showcasing hidden gems while informing participants about the importance of protecting these rare biodiverse landscapes.”

Adapting to Covid-19 social distancing rules forced EcoAdventures to reduce groups to family units/social bubbles and to shelve certain activities.

The Forest Escape activity has been growing in popularity and was of great interest for team-building retreats. Over the past two years, all the winter activities (skiing and snow-shoe hikes) have been sold out. EcoAdventures had hoped to launch their quintessential Canadian experience, a canoeing adventure in an eight person canoe, however this offering has been postponed.

In cooperation with the Ontario Greenbelt Foundation, EcoAdventures continues their ongoing efforts to inspire and educate and are currently offering a series of guided adventures of Greenbelt trails.

Hope Bay Forest Nature Preserve Greenbelt Hike

Eight persons joined the October 8 Greenbelt hike at the Hope Bay Forest Nature Preserve. Lorlie Dean of Sauble Beach joined the hike to learn more about the area and the trails. Catherine Buckley of Tobermory had not previously visited this trail and was interested in exploring new terrain. The Gills of Stokes Bay viewed this outdoor event as a good activity in COVID-19 times.

The three hour guided tour was packed with interesting nuggets of information. Thomas explained about the coral reefs when The Bruce was tropical and located further south, to glacial erratic deposits from the Canadian Shield and potholes from the ice age, to the formation of the spaghetti type underground landscape of water channels and the effect of toxins to our water systems. Mazara identified the trees of the ancient forest, the effects of logging and homesteading by European settlers and the charred remains from the forest fires of the early 1900s – thus proving that the area is in constant change and effects of these changes are reflected in today’s landscape. 

Thomas hopes these hikes will continue the dialogue on how to maintain the beauty of the area while supporting the growing number of visitors. 

The next event is an Owl Prowl, a Greenbelt night hike on October 30. 

Contact Info: Tel (226) 277-0944 or email [email protected] 

Tobermory Wave Adventures: Educating Visitors on the geology, geography and flora of the area

Tobermory Wave Adventures has been operating for three years. In 2020 the company found itself with the ideal business model, as they were already focused on smaller intimate groups. Owner Tracy Edwards had previously worked on the Flowerpot Island Boat tours and saw an opportunity to complement the Flowerpot/Shipwrecks tours by offering private tours and fully interpretative boat tours showcasing more of the area. 

Tobermory Wave Adventures consistently receives feedback from clients saying that they learnt so much about the area, developed a new appreciation and saw landscape features that they had never seen before. Photos Courtesy of Tracy Edwards.

Tobermory Wave aims to educate visitors on the geology, geography and flora of the area. The guides explain how the landscape came to look the way it does, explaining the process that shaped it over millennia of years. Tobermory Wave Adventures consistently receives feedback from clients saying that they learnt so much about the area, developed a new appreciation and saw landscape features that they had never seen before. 

They were awarded a Trip Advisor 2020 Travellers’ Choice Award, placing them in the top 10% of experiences and attractions worldwide!

The Flowerpot Island and the Grotto tour had always been their most popular tour and is a specialized, fully interpretative two hour boat tour, travelling 40 kilometres of shoreline, depending on route and weather conditions. Stating that they are the only boat tour that allows visitors to look directly into the Grotto, making it more accessible viewing, especially for those unable to climb down into the Grotto from the Cyprus Lake Trail. The Wave, a zodiac, can legally take 40 persons but during COVID-19 times only booked 20 persons per trip. This boat is more maneuverable and can get closer to the rocks and other landscape features. 

COVID Compatible Private Boat Tours Sell Out

Their Private Boat tours were in huge demand, being very COVID-19 compatible since families or social bubbles could charter a boat for their group. Operating seven days a week, all the tours were sold out. The customized tours could be booked from 3.5 hours to 8 hours which works out to be an economical way for groups to enjoy the beauty of Fathom Five National Marine Park.

While their core customer base is day visitors, for those staying longer, Edwards regularly recommends the traditional Flowerpot and Shipwrecks tours to their clientele as a way for them to get a fuller tourist experience.

The company does all their bookings on-line having no physical ticket booths and advertising is mainly by word of mouth and referrals from owners of local tourist accommodations. From the end of June to mid-September 2020, they had over 1 million clicks on their website, compared to the first year of operation when they had only 200. 98% of their tours sold out this year. While they have been quite profitable this year, Edwards looks forward to a post-COVID time when she expects the crowds to be more manageable.

In 2021, there will be changes to how tours are managed within Fathom Five but Edwards sees new opportunities by offering more education and more quality experiences for visitors. She feels that her business is well aligned to meet Parks Canada’s changing requirements.

Contact Info: Tel 226-974-1880 email [email protected]

Tour with Tobermory Wave for fully interpretive tours showcasing more of the area than just the Flowerpots and Shipwrecks. Photos Courtesy of Tracy Edwards.

Explorer’s Tread: Four Season Outdoor Adventure Guiding, Facilitating & Educating 

Explorer’s Tread, operated by Zane and Muffy Davies, is a four season outdoor adventure guiding, facilitating and educating business. It specializes in hiking/backpacking, canoe/kayaking, mountain biking and winter and summer camping. Owner/guide Zane Davies says it is important to offer a quality guided experience. His trips are usually for 2 to 6 persons, which allows him to connect with his clients and provide a unique experience based on their needs, wants and desires.

Explorer’s Tread, operated by Zane and Muffy Davies, is a four season outdoor adventure business offering a unique guided experience based on the clients needs. Photo Courtesy of Explorer’s Tread Facebook.

In 2020, out of caution for the community, he and his partner decided not to operate their guided tour business.

Davies says his biggest challenge is that his tours would take visitors “off the beaten track” but now all those paths are well-beaten due to the influx of tourists, especially along trails which are truly rugged and not really suitable for the foot traffic they are seeing. Even though he is not advertising this year, he still gets about 5 to 10 inquiries daily about guided tours.

He says there is a definite need to coordinate the response to tourism and control the flow of traffic, especially in regards to Cabot Head Lighthouse, Devil’s Monument, Lion’s Head Lookout and other fragile areas. Davies suggests a “pay to play” model; pre-bookings and a tourist passport would reduce traffic with controlled access to the main hotspots on the Peninsula while offering some protection to the landscape.

Peninsula Bruce Trail Club: A Full Schedule of Educational Hikes

Volunteers from the Peninsula Bruce Trail Club maintain the Bruce Trail between Wiarton and Tobermory. The club hosts hikes on the Bruce Trail, some of which include interpretation about the flora and fauna of the area.

On October 8 the Club held an interpretive hike whose theme was identifying trees by autumn leaf colour. Some native species have very specific autumn leaf colours, the brilliant orangey red of sumac, reds and oranges of sugar maples, bronze and purples of white ash, yellow and browns of basswood, bright yellow of large tooth aspen, characteristic purple of alternative-leaved dogwood, and the reddish brown of red oak.

Members of the Bruce Trail Club learning about tree identification at the Hope Bay Nature Preserve October 8th.

Bob Gray, the hike interpreter, says “introduced species stand out like sore thumbs with their green foliage. As one travels through the countryside at this time of year, many of those trees and shrubs hold their green leaves until well after the native trees and shrubs typical to our wild landscapes have turned colour and fallen. It is not because they have not yet had frost, but rather, that they are species introduced from other parts of the world. Such species include Norway Maple (often easily identified by black spot fungi on the leaves at this time of year), Horse Chestnut, etc. Eventually their leaves will shed but normally weeks after the native species. The most reliable way to identify trees is by their twigs (leaf buds) in the winter condition. Leaves are actually quite variable, winter buds are not.”

Hike interpreter Bob Gray showing the green leaves of the non-native Norwegian Maple (7 points) which made it onto the old pennies – vs our native sugar maples (5 points). Photo courtesy Peninsula Bruce Trail Club – Facebook.

At this time, Peninsula Bruce Trail Club hikes are under Covid-19 restrictions. They are limited to a maximum of 25 participants, including the hike lead and sweep, and available to Bruce Trail Members only. Information on membership in the Bruce Trail Conservancy is available at https://brucetrail.org/pages/get-involved/membership

A full schedule of the Peninsula Club hikes and those of the other Bruce Trail clubs are available on the website https://www.pbtc.ca/hikes