Somewhere in a box of old photos, I have a picture of myself from a trip I took to PEI with my sister in the 1970s. I’m sitting on a sand dune among a waving field of marram grass, the vegetation whose matted root system literally keeps the sand from blowing away.
We didn’t realize then – and maybe scientists didn’t either – the fragility of the sand dune ecosystem of which marram grass is a part. Trampling it – much less sitting on it – causes irreversible damage to sand dunes. Now, on PEI, there are fences and warning signs alerting people to “stay off the grass” and avoid climbing on the dunes.
However, if you want to get up close and personal with PEI’s largest dunes, while still respecting the ecosystem, head out to Greenwich, on PEI’s undervisited northeastern coast. Now protected by Prince Edward National Park, you’ll need to pay a small fee at the interpretive centre to access the trails. It’s also a smart idea to fill up a water bottle and access the bathrooms there because once on the trails, there are no facilities.
You can choose from three trail lengths – 1, 2.5, and 4.5 km round trip. We decided on the longest one because it takes you over a marsh and out to the dunes themselves, whereas the others do not.
It’s advisable to wear closed shoes to avoid getting little pebbles in your sandals, because the first part of the trail is a fine gravel pathway through what used to be farmland. All kinds of flowers bloom along the route, including clusters of aromatic wild rose bushes, baby’s breath, Queen Anne’s lace, and a stunning meadow of lupins.
After a short walk through a forested area, we emerged onto the boardwalk that would take us across a marsh and out to the dunes. It was rich with flora and fauna and tranquility.
At the crest of a sandy slope, we could appreciate the boardwalk from above and get our first glimpse of the beach below.
If you’re looking for an uncrowded beach and interesting sand dune formations, you’ve come to the right place.
On our return trip to the interpretive center, we paused to add to our understanding of Mi’kmaq culture. Parks Canada has hired several members of the Mi’kmaq nation, including an elder, to introduce people to the culture’s past and present. An encampment set in the forest is designed to encourage visitors to wander and ask questions. I heard the story of a canoe that was added to by community members as the elder and several others paddled it between communities.
And who knew there’s a difference between a tepee and a wigwam , the first covered in hide and designed to be dismantled for travel, the second, covered in birch bark and a permanent residence? Now I know, and so do you 🙂