The Greenwich Dunes from the boardwalk. Click picture for a bigger version or here for QuickTime VR.
Although I am corporately a part of the Prince Edward Island tourism promotion industry, and thus unlikely to say much of anything negative about the Island and its wonders, please believe me when I say that at your next free moment you should drop everything and go up to the new extension of PEI National Park in Greenwich.
It is an understatement to say that I am not an outdoorsy kind of guy, no matter how much I might aspire to one day be so. I live in an ocean paradise, yet go to the beach only one or twice a year, and reluctantly at that. But today wee Oliver and I needed a field trip, and Oliver [Duncan Lowell]’s namesake Lowell Croken and his wife Cathy sang the praises of Greenwich after their recent visit, so this morning it was off down east for Oliver and I.
Parks Canada has done a fantastic job at creating low-impact visitation system for the Greenwich Dunes. After you leave the interpretation centre, which is at the head of the park just off the road, there are no power lines, no pop machines, and only one [solar-powered] washroom. After you leave the last parking lot, there’s nothing but 4 or 5 miles of trails between you and the ocean.
And what trails they are. Oliver and I took the trail that leads out over a floating boardwalk and ends up cutting through the dunes to the beach. At the risk of sounding like a tourism brochure, the walk is truly spectacular: you start of about 1/4 mile up from St. Peter’s Bay on a trail packed with fine gravel. About 15 minutes later you veer right into the shade of the forest onto a trail that’s less hard-packed, but still suitable for a stroller (or even a wheelchair, I think, if you have strong arms). And finally, after a 10 minute walk through the woods, you emerge at the marsh and walk over the floating boardwalk which carries you out to the dunes where a new-fangled sort of enviro-mesh cuts a trail over to the ocean proper.
The total trip from car to ocean is about a 45 minute walk, and was a reasonable distance to wheel along with Oliver without collapsing or enduring too much fussing. We stopped mid-way over the floating boardwalk (see panorama above) for some water and a jar of mushed carrots. Remember that there are no facilities once you leave the parking lot, so you should be sure to pack enough water and supplies to hold you for an hour and a half of walking in the sun.
Once you reach the ocean you will, dollars to donuts, find yourself alone on a vast expanse of pristine PEI beachfront. The water’s just now about warm enough for swimming, though Oliver and I only waded around and infused ourselves with sand.
The interpretation centre is worth a visit. Although it’s a little pricey — $6 admission for adults, less for kids, free for under age 6 — there’s a really nifty model of the coastline from Morell to Cable Head that sits down 2 feet underground, covered with thick glass panels that let you walk (or crawl, as the case may be) right over it. Otherwise there is the usual sand, dunes, wind and sea propaganda, and a 12 minute slide/tape presentation that hits the usual Miꞌkmaq, French, English high/low points. The building itself is well designed, has large clean washrooms, and there’s a pleasant enough gift shop that sells the usual giftiness, but also sells bottled water, sunscreen, and a variety of beach toys.
On your way through St. Peters on the way back, you can marvel at the explosive growth that the small village has undergone (relatively speaking), presumably to serve the eco-tourism trade. There’s a couple of restaurants, places to rent bikes and kayaks, the new Visitor Information Centre and a gas station.
So, now you know; turn off the computer, get in the car, and go see for yourself.