Long Island trails: Central Grove vs. Balancing Rock

Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
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Long Island has two relatively easy trails that quickly transport hikers into another world: the Balancing Rock trail and the Central Grove trail.

Yes there are others on Long Island: I also love walking out to the Boars Head Lighthouse, to Dartmouth Point and round the Loyalist Cove loop from the ferry to Beautiful Cove.

But the first two trails are my favourites – I guess because the trails provide access to some otherwise very isolated shoreline – a hidden world of basalt and sea life.

The two trails themselves are radically different.

The Balancing Rock trail heads south to St. Mary’s Bay – and despite warnings at the trailhead, the trail is level, mostly smooth and easy for the whole family – until the very end. There are just a couple patches of roots and rocks mid-way on the trail; otherwise it is either wide smooth gravel or boardwalk.

At the end of the trail though, there are about 200 steps taking you down to the shore. The steepest steps over the cliff are the sturdiest. The sides are well-fenced in and there are plenty of handrails. Granted it is a lot of steps for old knees but worth it.

The rock is amazing and has to be seen to be believed. But I’m always just as struck by the strange gorgeous landscape you see down there – the basalt cliffs and blocks and towers, like forgotten Lego pieces of the gods – are something you just don’t see every day.

Down there on the viewing platform the world slows down, the waves splash in and out, and a feller starts to dreaming. More on that in the future.

My only problem with the Balancing Rock trail is how straight it is. I understand they only had a narrow right of way when they built the trail and maybe it was easier to build straight. I do hope now that the municipality owns it, that maybe some day in the distant future, they will think about making the trail twist and turn a bit.

In the meantime there is some interesting new signage on the trail with information on the incredibly varied plant life in the island’s bogs.

The Central Grove trail I don’t think gets enough mention. It is a fantastic walk leading north to a wild and forgotten shore on the Bay of Fundy.

The trail is not level or smooth. It’s hilly, covered in roots and rocks and swamps. To my mind it gives you an accurate picture of the terrain on that shore; you really feel like you have walked through a Nova Scotian seaside woods.

And then it dumps you out on an undeveloped, unpaved wilderness. There are lots of signs of “civilization”: buoys and fish crates galore, plastics and other garbage. I don’t generally like garbage but I have to grudgingly admit the huge piles of driftwood down there are picturesque.

My last trip down there I sat on a rocky outcrop with a thermos of coffee and a couple oatcakes.

I was hoping to see a whale after reading about another fellow who saw one breach from the viewing platform at the end of the trail.

The ducks were interesting and fun to watch but I wanted more. I heard something rustling and grunting behind me – I was scared it might be the Long Island bear. Then a big buck strolled into the meadow and jumped 6’ straight up in the air when he saw me. He was not a happy camper. He was gone before I could even think about my camera.

Then I heard a long wet sigh from the water. Two big seals were swimming along the shore. They saw me too but more curious and less timid than the deer, they stuck their heads up high out of the water several times to look at me before swimming up the shore.

When they left so did I, back to paved roads and cell phones and the daily grind. But I took with me a big helping of peace and contentedness.

Geographic location: Long Island, Central Grove, Dartmouth Point Bay of Fundy.The Nova Scotian

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