How to Lead Trails

Each trail is an adventure built around one focus that captures the imagination. We call it a “storyline” and it varies from solving a detective mystery to becoming a hungry blue heron to exploring as a nature pirate. The storylines present puzzles, mystery problems and wild characters to hook your interest and bring you to ‘life’. The activities are opportunities to discover, be creative and have fun in nature. The storyline links the activities together to make it one fun experience.

As a leader, you’re a wizard of sorts. And although Merlin and his friends try to keep it a secret, anyone can be a wizard! These recipes for spells (trail write-ups) are everything you need to know and Mother Nature provides lots of magic. The key ingredient you bring to it is enthusiasm. What makes a successful wizard? It’s the sparkle in your eyes, the enthusiasm in your style and your participation along with the kids. Anyone can bring enthusiasm to an outing. Make it an adventure rather than a ‘hike’.

“Adventure is not in the guidebook and beauty is not on the map. Seek and ye shall find!”

– Jerry & Renny Russell

What about early teens who don’t do magical, ‘silly’ things? Our experience is that teens are much better as leaders for younger children than participants themselves. Leading can be cool!

One thing to consider is whether you use the phone app or instead choose to print out the adventure instructions so you can leave the phone behind. It is up to you. The phone is easier but we are old school and prefer to leave the screens behind when out in nature.

Of course, the Trails Wizard has a few tricks to help you along the way. Let’s step through a trail example briefly so that you earn your official wizard’s apprentice certificate. There are 10 tricks in the basic trail wizardry course. The adventure write-up for Point Pleasant Park is a good reference point.

Trails Wizard Tricks:

  1. Read Ahead
  2. Hook Them with the Map
  3. Track the Directions Carefully
  4. Know When to Read Out Loud
  5. Join in
  6. Go with the Flow
  7. Play Along with the Storyline
  8. Tap into the Boxes
  9. Use the Adventure Journal and Online Gallery
  10. Discover the Plaques and Connect Adventures

Trick 1: Read Ahead

Parents know this tip from way back. Stay a step ahead of the kids and you’re in control. So read the full write-up beforehand. This means you’ll crack the code before the kids do for the Point Pleasant Park Adventure. You’ll be the wizard on the trail when they need help. You’ll understand the time travel idea and can encourage the spying from the start. You may even be able to add your high school French to the atmosphere!

Trick 2: Hook Them with the Map

Check out the trail map and its neat illustrations together at the start of the trail to hook everybody in… “Hmmm, what’s that crow have to do with this Point Pleasant spy mission anyway?”

Trick 3: Track the Directions Carefully

Read the directions (in the orange font under each stop title) to yourself. Then you can easily point out the path. The write-ups describe the landmarks and distances between stops. In many cases there are small grey icons in the directions, click on the icon and you get a relevant picture to help you find your way. There are sometimes activities to do along the way between stops, but be sure to read the directions to the next stop first. For distances, one adult pace averages about three-quarters of a metre. You’ll cover 75 metres in about 100 paces, adjusting for your size.

Trick 4: Know When to Read Out Loud

For the main instructions, decide what works for you when it comes to reading. It’s written to be read out loud… “Find the special stone…” But don’t read out loud if it doesn’t work well for you or the kids! For many people, it is better to read it to yourself and describe things in your own words.

Maybe the kids will want to read. Encourage them. But usually, after a few chances, they’ll be off doing rather than reading. That’s what it’s all about!

Trick 5: Join in

Parents and leaders are supposed to enjoy themselves too! Your participation is very important to the kids. Be a kid and join in the activities. Both you and the children will have more fun! Youthful enthusiasm and spontaneity make all of the difference in the world. You are a role model and the kids model their participation after yours. Of course, watch out for safety too.

Trick 6: Go with the Flow

It’s really hard to predict what will be the big hit on a trail when it comes to each set of kids. They are all different! But you’ll know when everyone is excited and having fun discovering. Enjoy and spend more time there. Discovery and fun are what it’s all about. If an activity does not engage the kids, don’t worry, simply move along to the next one. Be flexible and adaptive to create the best experience for your group.

Trick 7: Play Along with the Storyline

Maybe you enjoy photography, so bring your own “spy camera” along and add it to the spy theme. The storyline provides a hook to draw you into the adventure. It gives you a focus to add in your own creativity. There are a lot more possibilities for spying in Point Pleasant Park than what is described. Encourage the kids to discover neat things and share what they find. A touch of fantasy, a sprinkle of surprise and a sense of humour can sure spice things up.

Dear Trails Wizard,

You wouldn’t believe it but we played Search and Discover at Cambridge Battery for more than an hour. What fun! And crow calls – I’ve had a gaggle of crows screeching around the house ever since.

– Your Chief Spy

Trick 8: Tap into the Boxes

Check out the information boxes in every write-up. They add depth to the adventure and opportunities for learning. Read them to yourself and decide how and when to share them. Bring them in when there are practical examples nearby. Here is the skinny on some of the regular boxes that appear on every trail…


These boxes feature key ecological concepts that are connected to the trail themes. See if the kids can guess the concept from the box. Discuss examples of the concept you can see nearby. Here is the Point Pleasant box:


Look at all the plants growing on and around the forts. Two and three hundred years ago, most of the trees on Point Pleasant were cut down to make way for forts and other military buildings with a good view of the sea. It took a long time for the forest to grow back and take over the forts, which created a beautiful mixture of history and forest. In 2003, Hurricane Juan brought down many of the trees in the park, and now many smaller plants are thriving as more light is reaching the forest floor. This is an example of

Learn about the Earthworks


These boxes illuminate local Indigenous knowledge which helps us to appreciate that most of us are settlers to this land. One small step towards Reconciliation is for Settler peoples to reach out and appreciate the essential lessons and expertise of Indigenous cultures. In Nova Scotia, this is Mi’kmaw culture.


Mi’kmaq have inhabited the Halifax area for 1000s of years. The Mi’kmaw word for this area is ‘Kji’puktuk’ (biggest or chief harbour), which the British translated as ‘Chebucto.’ After European contact, many Mi’kmaq would trade with the Europeans and sometimes use the canvas sails from their ships as a covering for their wikuoms (wigwams) and other structures instead of the more traditional birchbark or skins.32 “Early on, perhaps in the 16th century, the Mi’kmaq learned to use small European sailing vessels such as the shallop which would have made long-distance trips much easier and safer.”32 The British first established a settlement in Halifax in 1749 and named Point Pleasant at first as ‘Sandwich Point.’ The mid-1700s featured an on-going series of global wars between the English and the French, for which Halifax was the major British military base in the Maritimes. There were ongoing hostilities between the Mi’kmaq and the British, and ultimately a series of Peace and Friendship Treaties, which recognize the Indigenous rights of the Mi’kmaq in Canadian law to this day.

Learn about Netukulimk

Earth Steps

Use the suggestions in these boxes to help make a difference as a family or a group by reducing your environmental impact. It is empowering to take practical steps together that are drawn out of your trail experiences. You can chat back home about how to put them into action. These steps can become positive family activities.

Earth Steps

Here are some things you can do to keep plants or animals from distant places from being introduced and doing damage to local natural communities:

  • Do not return from a province or another country with seeds, plants or animals.
  • Buy local produce. This saves transportation energy and reduces the risk of introducing foreign pests. Farmers exporting crops long distances sometimes have to use more pesticides for fear of introducing pests elsewhere.
  • Buy wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as meeting minimum environmental standards. These practices enable more diverse forests that are less susceptible to destruction by one introduced pest.
  • Learn more about invasive species in Nova Scotia.

Do You Know?

These are numerous boxes with nature and history tidbits, interesting facts connected to the trail settings and creatures. Share them and you’re the wizard!

Beyond the Adventure

These ideas can take you a little further along the path that day or give you possibilities for another day. Adapt them to your group.

To find out more about the history of the park, check out the book Point Pleasant Park: An Illustrated History, by Janet Kitz and Gary Castle (Halifax, NS: Pleasant Point Publishing, 1999).

Trick 9: Use the Adventure Journal and Online Gallery

Each trail has an opportunity for the kids to record a part of their adventure to bring home in their Adventure Journals. Maybe it’s drawing a picture, writing a poem or sharing a favourite discovery. It keeps the memory alive and gives them something to share with others. You’ll find ideas for helping them make or get a journal they value here. Then encourage them to use it.

Watch to see what works with the journal and adapt it to your kids. Some kids love to draw and avoid writing, and vice versa. Age makes a big difference. Use the journal spontaneously on the trail or back home when the time and spirit seems right. Maybe it’s a beautiful day on the trail and there’s a magnificent spot to stop and draw. Maybe your kids get most excited about adding to their journal when they get home. Maybe they like using big paper and the journal ends up as a three-ring binder. Go with what works!

Make your own journal and take some time for yourself on the trails. It’s a creative tool for you too. Parents and leaders deserve a bit of quiet time, although getting it may involve advanced wizardry. If we could only teach that here!

Trick 10: Discover the Plaques and Connect Adventures

The plaque is the final reward at the end of each trail. They are the hooks that get you to the poster, creature stickers, titles and personal trails site. They make Earth Adventures a great family or group experience over time rather than an occasional fun outing. They help the kids look forward to the next adventure! Make it a fun challenge to find and collect the rubbings.

Dear Trails Wizard, 

The kids saw three crows right off and then we started flying like crows. Pretty soon we were thinking like crow spies rather than French spies. We had lots of fun looking for bugs and discovering spiders along the way. We tried sneaking up on the crows and we came pretty close.

-An Excited Wizard

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