Nova Scotia’s Blue Route geared towards tourism for cyclists

(The following article appeared in the Chronicle Herald on Nov 29, 2017)

With its winding, coastal roads, world-famous views and breathtaking landscapes both seaside and inland, Nova Scotia can be a cyclist’s dream. But without increased accessibility and awareness, it’s difficult to take full advantage of it.

Inspired by Quebec’s renowned Route Verte, Nova Scotia’s Blue Route is an in-the-works initiative to implement 3,000 bicycle-friendly kilometres connecting rural and urban areas all across the province.

Backed by both federal and provincial government funding as well as support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the project aims to increase accessible, active transportation in the province while also placing Nova Scotia on the map as a cycling destination.

Ben Buckwold, director of Blue Route implementation at Bicycle Nova Scotia, says one of the project’s primary partners is Tourism Nova Scotia.

“They seem to really appreciate the potential for creating these high-quality tourism experiences around cycling and the outdoors, and mixing that with a different way to experience Nova Scotia communities. They’ve done some surveys in nearby markets trying to reach out to people who bicycle as part of their travels, and their testing showed that Blue Route was a good concept, so that helped bring them on board.”

So far, 437 kilometres of the proposed 3,000 have been completed. According to Buckwold, the Blue Route network will be made up of both new and old trails, as well as paved shoulders on low-traffic rural roads.

With funding recently received from ACOA, Buckwold says they were able to add three key trails to the cycling network — The Rum Runners Trail (Halifax to Lunenburg), The Celtic Shores Coastal Trail (Port Hastings to the Town of Inverness), and the Harvest Moon Trailway (Annapolis Royal to Grand Pre) — the latter of which just had a ribbon-cutting ceremony in October for the completion of its final segment.

“With our ACOA contribution we were able to accelerate the development of those trails and, in some cases, construct brand-new segments of trails. And that’s kind of big for the Blue Route, because you have these three distinct, very marketable, usable products that are quite popular. They’re something that appeals to visitors but also the communities, because they’re very well-connected to the communities that they go through.”

According to Buckwold, within a week of opening the Harvest Moon Trailway’s newly-finished portion, they counted 500 users per day, which, he says, is promising for the future of cycling in Nova Scotia.

A recent study done on the Rum Runners Trail found that, over a four-month period, the trail was used 185,241 times by 98,435 people, with cyclists accounting for 65 per cent of that. Of those 63,982 cyclists using the Rum Runners Trail, 42 per cent were locals, half were Nova Scotians, and the remaining eight per cent were out-of-province and international tourists.

“All of that amounts to a lot of evidence that this popularity of cycling is out there and the demand for comfortable infrastructure that’s well located really does exist. I think we are just sort of scratching the surface of what that demand really is.”

Buckwold says, however, the Blue Route will need increased funding to continue the trail development and maintenance in order to finish it — something they hope to complete by 2025.

“We look forward to seeing what happens over the next couple years, and hopefully Nova Scotia can really establish itself as a clear destination for cycling in Canada. I think we can do really well with this and I’m hoping the investment can continue.”