By Carly McHugh
Nothing puts your mind at ease better than a walk in nature. Starting on a trail feels like entering a whole new world, leaving the pressures of daily life behind. As you continue around each bend, you make discoveries you never thought about before, learning more about the land with every twist and turn.
While the experience is beautiful, not everyone is able to freely access it, as the tight paths and uneven terrain present a challenge for some, who may opt to avoid trails for their own, or their family’s safety.
However, thanks to two partnered communities in Blind River, Ont., and Laird Signs of Iron Bridge, Ont., the lack of inclusive trails may not be a reality for much longer.
In 2020, the sign shop was approached by Karen Bittner, director of facilities and community services for Blind River, along with Jon Cada, community economic development officer for Mississauga First Nation. They had a vision to create a shared accessible trail, where teachings about the territory would be provided through a First Nations’ lens.
The product of this vision was the Mossy Rock Trail. The first of its kind in the area, it was conceived as a year-round destination designed to accommodate wheelchairs, strollers, cycling, walking, snowshoeing, and other community activities—for a safe, welcoming experience for all visitors.
Laird Signs had experience with similar projects in the area, including 17 interpretive signs for the Blind River Boom Camp Trails in 2007. The Mossy Rock Trail served as somewhat of an extension of this project, as it was one of the many new trails being developed by the town.
At the outset, Bittner and Cada spoke with the shop’s graphic designer, Monique Gagnon, to share their vision for a lasting, inclusive experience. They provided a general outline of the ideas, concepts, and information they wanted to include, which Gagnon took back to her team to make a reality.
Unfortunately, the project came around the time when the COVID-19 pandemic had first tightened its grip on the world, and everyone would need to think strategically. Despite routine closures, supply chain issues, unpredictable markets, and winter weather, the team refused to sacrifice quality, rush the process, or use the pandemic as an excuse to cut corners.
The project was rolled out in phases and began with two trail entrance signs, followed by seven trail markers, four interactive interpretive signs, and one selfie sign.