Jon Joy has always enjoyed the isolation and remoteness that comes with hiking in the wilderness. It’s a passion that led him to start his own hiking company this year, called Tuckamore Discoveries.
“We’re trying to combine hiking with learning, I guess. And make it interesting, not just like in a classroom,” says Jon, who escorts hikers around the coastline of the Bonavista Peninsula.
Jon, whose background is in marine biology, came to Newfoundland from Scotland to teach in 1989 and it quickly became his new home. While he’s spent time living elsewhere in recent years - a stint teaching in Iqualuit, and working offshore on seismic vessels as a protected species observer - in the last year or so he wanted to find a way to stay in Bonavista.
“I got a little bit tired of being away from home, so we decided to start this company,” he says. And the hikes he offers aren’t your typical guided walks. While hikers trek along the beautiful, rugged shores, Jon instructs them about their surroundings. His aim is to give people a lesson about eastern Newfoundland: “What grows here and what lives here and basically how it all fits together,” says Jon.
“We talk about medicinal plants, we talk about plant ecology, what makes up the ecosystem in terms of soils and geology, what grows there and how they manage to grow there. What plants you can eat. And what local plants people use for jams and wines. And as we get towards the coastline, we talk a little bit about cultural stuff.”
Jon’s already led hikers hailing from as far away as England, Australia and Holland on his three custom treks. For many, catching a glimpse of our provincial bird is a highlight of the experience - and that’s practically a guarantee on Jon’s Puffin Island Hike. The three-km trek includes interpretation of heathland plant ecology on the way to Puffin Island, teeming with seabirds. Bird enthusiasts will also enjoy the Klondike Trail Hike, which shifts focus to songbirds; the six-km trail starts in Spillars Cove and meanders along an old cart trail connecting Elliston to Bonavista. Finally, the Burnt Ridge Hike picks up at Elliston Ridge and brings hikers along an old American military base while Jon explains the interesting geology of the area.
While many tour operators close up shop when the temperature begins to drop, Jon is dreaming up plans that he hopes will keep him in business year round in the future. Some of his ideas - still in development - include foraging hikes that will bring adventurers to prime berry patches, and boil up hikes that will incorporate eco-interpretation and end with a traditional boil up on a beach. He’s also considering adding winter snowshoeing, treks to the area’s old military installations and wilderness survival courses to his list of offerings. (Jon is certified in advanced wilderness first aid, proficient in field navigation and a volunteer member of the Discovery Trails Ground Search and Rescue team.)
“To me, its not only a business - it’s a kind of calling almost, to make people aware of their environment. And at the same time make a living out of it,” Jon says. When people finish their hike, he hopes they take a lasting interest in the outdoors with them - or, as Jon puts it - “An appreciation of what makes up natural Newfoundland, appreciation of the environment and how we need to look after it and how complex it is. And how much we have to learn about things. We know a lot, but there’s a lot more to learn about.” - By Elizabeth Whitten