The Secret of the Gnomes:

A Sackville Lakes Adventure

2 hr 2.8 km return Moderate

Trail Info:

This is a pleasant loop through Sackville Lakes Park, a very special and diverse forest. Mosquitos can be plentiful on warm and still days earlier in the summer. It is a wide crusher dust trail that is accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. There is one moderate, downhill grade which is not typically problematic. Trail activities tend to occur a few metres off the trail at various stops, and these need to be adapted to the precise edge of the trail for wheelchairs. The activities cover the first half of the loop, and end with a beautiful view of the lake. You then return by finishing the loop, continuing along the lake.


Sackville Lakes Trailhead
View in Google Maps

Take Exit 4C off Highway 102. Turn left (if coming from Halifax) at the end of the ramp onto Glendale Drive. Travel 1.2 km and turn right onto Cobequid Road. Go 1.5 km and turn left onto First Lake Drive. Travel 0.8 km and turn right into a gravel parking lot with a sign for “Sackville Lakes Park”. To get there by Halifax Transit bus, input Sackville Lakes Provincial Park into the route-finder here. Walk to the far end of the parking lot with a kiosk and enter the trail.

Trail Tools

  • Vision blocker per pair (bandana/cloth for a blindfold)
  • Beast binder per pair (another strip of cloth used with the vision blocker)
  • Frame tool (instructions)
  • Adventure Journal

Go on a Figgywinkle

Enter the trail and go about 30 m and turn off left at a T junction. From the T junction, go 20 m to a sign post which says “All pets must be on leash”. Find the large tree with a “doorway” in it about 10 m off the trail to the left of the signpost.

This forest is a favourite spot for gnomes. They are small, enchanted beings, about three hand lengths high, that keep watch over nature. Forest gnomes, tree gnomes and woodland gnomes are all thought to live here. Why do so few people actually see gnomes? This is a secret for you to uncover. To discover it you will need to learn some special gnome exploration skills and a bit of gnome language.

The gnome word for adventure is figgywinkle. Gnomes always begin a figgywinkle by making a special offering to nature.

  1. Find a tiny, beautiful natural gift right nearby, such as a small seed, leaf or cluster of needles.
  2. Do the gnome forest offering: tiptoe in place, rub your hands together, say figgywinkle three times.
  3. Place your gift at the base of the White Pine which has a little cave entrance in it.

The Little People

The Mi’kmaq tell stories of a similar creature to the Gnome, known as Wiklatmu’j, “little people” (sounds like wih-guh-lah-tuh-mooch). They live in the woods in Mi’kma’ki and sound like birds when they speak amongst each other. They are 2 ft tall and are very cunning and quick on their feet. They enjoy dancing, singing and smoking a pipe. They also spend a great deal of time drawing and carving rock. Be on the lookout for them as well. This is a very old trail that the Mi’kmaq used for 100s of years to migrate inland in the winter from the Bedford Basin so it is quite likely that Wiklatmu’j inhabit these parts.

Learn about Netukulimk

1. Act Like a Gnome

Return to the main path and continue 20 m up the path from the signpost, then turn off to the left and approach the giant pine tree about 20 m in from the trail.

This white pine tree is a tree gnome lookoff. They can see all over from the top.

Gnomes always greet the pine by hugging it and saying “horg”, their word for hello. Try it.

Can you get your arms all the way around? Guess how many hands it would take to go around the tree? Measure it in hand units.

  1. Mark on the ground under the place on the tree where you start measuring.
  2. Everyone in the group places their hands side-by-side and touching around the tree.
  3. The person with their hands at the start line then goes to the far end and adds their hands, followed by the next person nearest the start line, and so on.
  4. Keep adding people to the end of the line as the circle of hands moves around the tree.
  5. Count hands as you go and stop when you’re back to the start.

See if you can find a gnome doorway into the tree.

Before you explore further, sit by the old pine and practice these gnome words and actions to prepare for your figgywinkle.

Gnome Word Human Word Action
Tsop Touch Touch your head.
Grundle Listen Put your hands behind your ears.
Murk Smell Grab your nose and wiggle it.
Slerken Look Put your hand over your eyes as if you’re shading out the sun.

Test how well you know these words:

  1. The reader says a gnome word and everyone does the proper action.
  2. Repeat the words and actions and see if you can get faster.

On your way to the next spot each person must look (slerken) for at least seven special leaves on the ground. Humans collect things like stamps, cards and coins. Gnomes collect leaves. Slerken for leaves for your leaf collection.

Do You Know?

This white pine is at least a couple of hundred years old. A wide diversity of animal life uses white pine trees. Mice, birds, squirrels and chipmunks nibble on their seeds. Hares eat the bark of young trees while porcupines enjoy the inner bark. Hares, deer and other mammals eat the needles and twigs. Young black bears and porcupines may hide in them for safety. Bald eagles and a range of other birds and mammals nest in them.

2. Slerken for Leaves

Go back to the path, turn left and walk 140 m until you spot a large, double trunked hemlock down and to the right. Sit near the hemlock.

Hope you found some special leaves! Share your collection with everyone.

  1. Display them by arranging them in a special place on the ground.
  2. Ask permission to see someone else’s collection by saying: “May I slerken?”
  3. Trade leaves to get as many different ones as possible.
  4. Add to your collection from the immediate area and then have a second trading session.

How many different kinds of leaves are there altogether?

“Leave” your collection on the ground in a special pattern for others to enjoy.

The Acadian Forest

The old hemlock here is but one prominent tree of The ‘Acadian’ Forest, which is the name for the traditional forest type covering Nova Scotia. Unfortunately little of it is left. Common trees are red spruce, sugar maple, beech, hemlock and white pine, which are all on this trail. In Nova Scotia, these species are greatly diminished due to clear-cutting, tree plantations and overcutting. These trees do not regenerate in full sunlight after a clear cut and they are slower to grow. Old-growth forests covered 50% of the land before European settlement, today it is little more than 1%. Though it is not terribly old, this forest has been protected over many years and is a good example of a new Acadian forest.

3. Find Gnome Holes

Continue on this trail about 140 m and stop where a black plastic culvert runs under the trail. Move a few metres off the trail to the right to do the activity.

Some Woodland Gnomes live underground in small holes. See if you can find a gnome hole by searching around the base of trees. If you find one, don’t stick your hand in the hole. You wouldn’t want a stranger sticking a hand in your doorway!

Gnomes have lots of insect friends and they tend to hang out together. See if you can spot some insect friends near the gnome holes. Share your insect discoveries.

As you continue to the next stop, be on the lookout for square holes dug in dead or rotten tree trunks. Could they be homes for tree gnomes? Hint: Look around at the upcoming trail junction.

Who is digging tree holes?

The natural digger of the square holes in the dead trees is a pileated woodpecker. It is Nova Scotia’s largest woodpecker with a large red crest on its head. It makes these holes as it searches for insects to eat in the dead trees. Listen for its loud ringing calls that evolve into a shriek something like a blue jay. Old forests are their home so they are rare in the city.

4. Make a Gnome Home

Go 60 m to a trail junction, take the left fork and go another 120 m to a black plastic culvert running under the trail. Head uphill off the trail a few metres.

Gnomes love wandering about the forests exploring and discovering things. They collect and eat roots and nuts, and they sleep wherever they can find a good spot. But finding and building a warm and snug natural shelter is not easy. Let’s see how well you can do at this:

1. Find an attractive dead log or rock 
2. Gather dead sticks and lean them against the log in a line. Make it big enough underneath for a small gnome.
3. Cover the sides with dead leaves. 

Remember… Gnomes do not hurt other living things so don’t use any live plants. Once you are done, explain to others about all the special features of your Gnome shelter.

Gnomes only use these shelters for a night and then move on. When they leave, they return the area to exactly as they were before so that no one can see where the shelter was. That’s likely why you never knew about Gnome shelters before. 

So before you leave, carefully return everything to where it was so there is no evidence of this shelter!

Do You Know?
Be Respectful or…

The Wiklatmu’j, the ‘little people” of the Mi’kmaq are mostly known as tricksters. Mi’kmaw parents use the stories of Wiklatmu’j to teach their children to not disobey them or be disrespectful. Be kepmite’tagn! (respectful). The Wiklatmu’jare very strong and have been known to dismantle wikuoms (traditional Mi’kmaw homes) when Mi’kmaq are disrespectful. In some stories, they have been known to assist travelers through the woods.

5. Discover Murks

Walk 100 m up the trail until you see a flat triangle rock on the left edge of the trail and an old, large red spruce tree down to the right.

This rock is a Murk Feasting Table and you can join in the fun! Gnomes have big noses so they can smell all the different scents in the forest. Gnomes learned their murking skills long ago from the owwoo beast, a rare magical creature of the forest. They are very gentle, a bit silly, and have three legs, two heads, two eyes, and one nose. Head down to the large red spruce and practice smelling nature as an owwoo beast:

  1. An adult leader watches for safety during this activity.
  2. Form pairs and use the beast binder to tie one leg from each person to their partner’s leg.
  3. One person wears the vision blocker and is the smeller part of the beast.
  4. The other is the see-er part.
  5. The see-er carefully guides the beast to something neat to murk.
  6. The see-er positions the smeller’s nose close to the sniff item.
  7. The see-er scratches the item with a fingernail and lets the smeller sniff it.
  8. After sniffing it, the smeller lets out a loud “owwoo!”
  9. Murk at least three neat things and then switch roles.

Earth Steps

Here are some things you can do to help restore the Acadian Forest:

  • Plant Acadian Forest species such as red spruce, sugar maple and hemlock in wild areas.
  • Buy tasty, local maple syrup, which protects the species and supports small woodlot owners.
  • Check out Restoring the Acadian Forest by Jamie Simpson (2008) and learn more about our native forest and how to protect it.

6. Tsop Cool Stuff

Go 150m up trail and stop at another black plastic culvert running under the trail where there is a small clear area right off the trail to the left. Move up into the open area.

Greet some needle trees as Gnomes do, using their sense of touch. Gnomes have fat fingertips with special sensors that help them feel neat touches. Human hands work better when you can’t see. Rub your fingertips together to warm them up. Remember the gnome word for touch? Do the gnome tsop greeting:

  1. Pair up, with one partner wearing a vision blocker.
  2. The other partner leads this person to a spot within reach of as many different looking needle branches as possible.
  3. Guide your partner’s hand in reaching out and touching each different kind of branch.
  4. Make sure your partner tsops the branches slowly and carefully so as to remember each one.

Can you find three different kinds of needle trees to greet right on the edge of the open area? Give each one a Gnome name and practice knowing one from the other by tsopping them


There are many different kinds of trees along this trail (spruce, fir, pine, hemlock, birch, maple and oak). This is important in case a disease or disaster strikes one type of tree, such as a spruce. The forest may be destroyed if all the trees are spruce. This is why tree plantations with only one species, often planted for forestry purposes, are inherently weaker. For example, the spruce longhorn beetle may threaten a spruce plantation, but not a forest with many species. Monoculture plantations also attract pests for that species, creating a need to use pesticides to “save” the forest. What is another word for having many different types of life?

Learn about the Earthworks

7. Play the Grundle Game

Continue along the trail for 120m until you see a giant hemlock tree on the left edge of the trail with a nice sitting spot just in front of it.

Gnomes have large ears to help them grundle to the sounds of nature. They grundle carefully to protect nature’s gems in the area and to make sure no one steals them. Practice this skill with a game.(2)

  1. Find some gems nearby: Four sticks, each about as long as your hand.
  2. One person is the gnome and everyone else is a thief.
  3. The gnome sits in the centre of a circle of thieves, who are about three giant steps away.
  4. Place the gems in front of the gnome.
  5. The gnome wears a blindfold. Gnomes hear better when they can’t see.
  6. The gnome wiggles each ear with both hands to get ready.
  7. The thieves try to sneak up and steal a gem without being heard.
  8. If the gnome hears the thief before the thief sits back down, the gnome points in that direction.
  9. A thief who is caught becomes the gnome.

Now sit quietly in your circle and listen to the nature sounds. What do you hear? Can you hear the wind? Birds?

8. Forest Friends

Continue 150 m to another black plastic culvert running under the trail. Look for a face about 1 m off the ground on a tree trunk on the left edge of the trail.

Gnomes love to discover friends in the trees. Maybe you can find some too. The first one is easy. See the two eyes, nose and a mouth in the tree to your left at the culvert? Take out your frame tool and put it in front of the face to frame it and look at your new face friend! Is it happy? Scary? Sad?

Let’s find some other friends that are a bit more of a challenge on the trees in the area.You can tell a tree’s personality by its face. Find and share faces that look:

  • happy 
  • angry
  • silly 
  • sleepy 
  • sad 
  • scared
  • scary

Look for more faces in the trees as you move up the trail to the next stop.

9. Write a Mope

Continue 150 m to a trail junction with a sign post. From the post, spot a big, old hemlock tree about 20 m to your right. Head to the tree.

A Mope is a funny, short gnome poem. Gnomes often use weird angles to make up mopes about their favourite things in nature. The technique is “foolproof” since gnomes don’t like to write much. Try it for the hemlock tree.

Start by coming up with eight words below and write them on the blank lines.

1) Hug the tree and think of two words to describe its feel:
_____ _____

2) Now look at the hemlock from a gnome’s view:

Lie down with your head at the base of the tree and look up. What patterns and shapes do you see?

Search for the first letter of your name and show it to someone else. Find a good gnome perch. Do you think a gnome could be watching from up top?

Think of two more words to describe the tree:
_____ _____

Now, take 15 steps away from the tree. Look at the tree and think of two more words to describe it:
_____ _____

Head back to the trail and look up at the tree. Come up with two more words to describe it:
_____ _____

Now fill in the blanks using your words to make a silly mope (or copy the poem into your Adventure Journal and draw the tree). The poem does not have to make complete sense.

Our Mope to a TreeThe {sl_a1} white pine {sl_a2} against my cheek.
It stands {sl_a3} with {sl_a4} branches.
{sl_a5}, it makes me wonder.
I see a {sl_a6} giant, {sl_a7}.

Read your completed poem slowly as everyone looks at the tree in silence from the trail. Take a picture of the tree from a favourite angle and upload it to the trail gallery if you choose at the final stop.

So what is the secret as to why most people do not see gnomes? Part of it is making an offering when you enter the forest. Part of it is keeping off gravel and pavement. Most important is to be very quiet and to use all your senses to discover the forest. That way the gnomes realize you are a friend. If you didn’t see one today, keep at it. Persistence can pay off!

To learn about the history of Sackville, read The Captain, The Colonel, and Me: Bedford, NS since 1503 by Elsie Tolson (Sackville, N.B.: Tribune Press, 1979).

10. Find the Hiding Spot

You have learned some gnome skills and language. Now find the spot where a gnome would hide a secret plaque. Search on something wooden near the signpost.

Make a rubbing of the mystery creature on the plaque in your Adventure Journal with the side of your pencil.

The plaque symbol is:



Please login if you would like to record your trail completion, provide feedback or upload photos to the trail gallery.

Login if you’d like to upload a photo to share in the Adventure Gallery

Congratulations on developing gnome senses for exploring. Use them on more figgywinkles with your friends and family.

It is nicest to return by completing the loop as the trail the trail continues along the lake before returning you back to the start.

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Tap share and then "Add to Homescreen".