A Chéticamp based group, Les Hikers, has received one of the top honours for hiking in the province.
Having started small and growing bigger by the day, the hiking enthusiasts know a thing or two about taking it step-by-step. Formed in 2017 with a small team of four to five dedicated people, Les Hikers now has thousands of followers on social media and has led many hikes throughout the Cape Breton region.
Les Hikers president, Leonard LeBlanc, now in his mid-60s, used to hike in his childhood. Reintroduced to the activity about eight years ago, he enjoyed many hikes alongside his wife and fellow Les Hikers organizer, Annette LeBlanc, at Cape Breton Highlands National Park.
“In the first year, we did every trail in the park,” says LeBlanc, noting a total of 26 trails. “It wasn’t planned; it just happened.”
The couple’s hiking addiction grew as they participated in Chéticamp’s annual Roots to Boots Festival, which features hiking, as well as Cape Breton Highlands National Park’s Red chair challenge.
Reaching out to others via social media, the couple found more hiking enthusiasts. Drawing on LeBlanc’s previous experience and involvement with provincial and federal associations, Les Hikers was officially established in 2017. Having since partnered with Cape Breton Highlands National Park by singing a memorandum of understanding and promoting the park’s many hiking opportunities, the group has become a community fixture.
Les Hikers has grown during the past five years, taking enthusiasts on adventures throughout Chéticamp, Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the mainland – even the dead of winter by snowshoes.
“For us, a hike is not five or six kilometres; a hike is 10 to 20 kilometres — that’s usually our average per day on weekends,” says LeBlanc. “I think the longest we went is we started at 8:30 a.m. and came out of the woods at 6:30 p.m.”
Having seen upwards of 53 people at a single hike (pre-COVID-19) and growing its Facebook presence to more than 2,200 members, the group is creating space for connection.
“We’ve connected with old schoolmates that have retired and started hiking with us,” says LeBlanc, who has even seen his Grade 7 French teacher through the group. “It’s been great to socialize with them and take them to very …….