In his first year at the University of Guelph-Humber, Alex Oberkovych started placing pins on a Google Map of southern Ontario. The pins represented trails he wanted to hike. Just a few at first, but the number quickly grew. Now, four years later, his map is highlighted with the markers of nearly 2,000 locations.
To keep all of the pins organized, the Mississauga native has developed a colour code system. “The greens are places that I’ve heard about but have not yet been to. The red hearts, that’s where I have been. And then the yellows are activities you have to pay money for, like movies or restaurants,” Oberkovych says. He adds that the yellows are mainly for when he heads out of town for work and is looking for a place to kill a couple hours.
The vast majority of the map, however, is covered in green pins—the locations Oberkovych plans to visit. He estimates that of the 2,000 trails, he’s visited approximately 500 of them.
His interest in hiking Ontario’s trails started during his undergrad when he and a few friends would road trip to Hamilton, checking out landmarks such as Century Manor, an abandoned asylum. On these trips, the group soon discovered the call of the wild, trekking out to some of Hamilton’s well-known nature trails, including Tew Falls and Dundas Peak. This opened their eyes to other trails around southern Ontario.
During the school year, Oberkovych and his friends would hit the road two or three times to hike. But in the summer, they ramped up the frequency. “It grew to almost every day,” he says.
A few of Oberkovych’s favourite spots include DeCew Falls in St. Catharines, Arrowhead Provincial Park, near Huntsville, and the Bruce Peninsula. “All of Bruce Peninsula,” he says. “I love that place.”
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On top of hiking, Oberkovych has also started mountain biking on the trails. But regardless of his mode of transportation, he’s noticed a change in the trails’ usage and upkeep since the pandemic hit last march.
The flood of people using parks and trails during the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an influx in litter, he says. “It’s become more annoying because people disrespect the area. They don’t really care about cleaning it up and not breaking things.”
This kind of behaviour has made Oberkovych wary about revealing some of his hiking spots. Instead of sharing the exact location of the trails he visits, he’s been leaving geographic hints on his Instagram page.
“If it’s a spot I think is sensitive to those types of problems, I’ll give a hint as to where it is, so whoever really cares about using the spot will take the time to find it,” he says. “This way they’ll actually respect it.”
Oberkovych hopes that his map will inspire others to make their own, and to take advantage of Ontario’s outdoors. “I just hope to get people out there and respect nature,” he says. “But people who just want a quick photo and throw their beer cans out, I’m not supportive of that.”
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