For 25 years, Canada has been building a coast-to-coast trail. It's almost done.
Valerie Pringle lives life by a quote attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
After a long and successful career in broadcasting, Valerie has dedicated herself for nearly 15 years to The Trans Canada Trail Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that's building one of the world's longest recreational trails from one coast of Canada to the other.
And, after nearly 25 years of work, they're almost done.
The Great Trail, as it's called, started in 1992 on Canada's 125th birthday. New trails were forged and dedicated across the nation to celebrate the event.
Pringle says the founders of the organization had the simple but powerful idea of connecting all the major trails across Canada.
"They had this inspiration that all Canadians should be able to see [the different parts] of their country," Pringle says. "But who knew it would be so hard?"
Pringle joined the team in 2002. For the past couple of years, she's worked tirelessly to raise the $75 million needed to finish off the 25-year project — just in time for Canada's 150th celebration.
Fundraising challenges were tough, but there was also the little matter of working with hundreds of different agencies, private land owners, and community leaders across Canada's provinces and territories.
"It took about 60 years to build the Appalachian Trail," she says. "We had to be patient."
By rehabilitating old trails, connecting new ones, and dedicating portions of land along the way, the foundation has created a truly impressive network of gorgeous landscape across Canada.
It's all connected or will be very soon — everything from urban walkways, quiet countryside roads, paddling trails, and deep wilderness paths.
Best of all, Pringle says some portion of the The Great Trail is half an hour or less away from about 80% of the population.
If one were so inclined, they could start on a trail in Victoria, British Columbia, wind their way up through Yukon, then trek their way east into Nova Scotia and beyond.
That's Pringle's favorite part about the project. Not just the preservation of nature, but the way it unites Canadians in a tangible way.
"I tell kids, 'If you turn this way, you can go to St. John's, Newfoundland. If you take a right in Alberta, you can head all the way to the mouth of the Mackenzie River," she says. "You can really think global."
While a few people are indeed currently hiking, paddling, and cycling their way across the entire nation, for most Canadians and visitors, the impact will be much more local.
Even Pringle, who has visited many, many pieces of the 15,000-mile trail, has a nearby slice she considers her own.
"My favorite part is along the Niagara River. That's my own personal piece of trail. I walk my labs there, I walk my granddaughter there."
The Great Trail is on track to be fully connected by the fall of 2017, but that doesn't mean the work is over.
Once all the connections are made, Pringle says the team will continue to renovate and beautify portions of the trail for a long time to come.
In the meantime, Pringle and other members of the Trans Canada Trail Foundation consider this project to be one of the most meaningful parts of their legacies.
"I'm now 63, and this is something I left behind of value," she says. "It's the ultimate gift to Canadians from Canadians."
Canadians who, no matter the distance or cultural differences between them, have always been connected to one another by a love for their country. The Great Trail is simply a wonderful reminder.