Today’s post comes from Alex Campbell, a summer student at Wabakimi Provincial Park.
Wabakimi Provincial Park— a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Thunder Bay, it covers an area larger than Prince Edward Island.
This extensive natural area encompasses more than 1,500 km of top-quality canoe routes, with transports varying in length from 20 to 1,800 m. Each transport is maintained by a small group of extremely hard-working people: the Wabakimi Canoe Rangers.
The local knowledge of our rangers.
For the past 20 years, Wabakimi has employed two to four team members through a partnership agreement with a local First Nations community. Three of our crew members have been Wabakimi canoe rangers since the beginning.
Working, rain or shine!
Rangers know the trappers and outfitters, the best places to fish, and the easiest path through a seemingly impassable wall of brush. They have been paddling the area’s lakes and rivers since they were young. His knowledge and understanding of the landscape is remarkable and highly valued.
This route, that route
The park canoe routes, as marked on the canoe route planning map, are divided into eight major trips. The rangers’ schedule varies throughout the summer, but they generally paddle for ten days.
By completing at least four routes each summer, each route is maintained once every two years (at least!).
Park staff and canoe rangers are the only people authorized to open, rehabilitate or improve portage trails. This aims to protect sensitive cultural sites and other natural features, such as critical wildlife habitats. Park visitors may only remove fallen or dead trees that present a direct obstacle to their passage along the transportation path.
Protecting our natural heritage
When attempting to preserve historic trail conditions, it is important to consider traditional clearing methods. Canoe rangers ensure transports are two feet wide at the base, with enough room to transport a canoe on top. Their experience and understanding of local conditions ensure that transportation remains that way!
If trails are cleared too much, sunlight reaches the trail bed and stimulates the growth of understory plants, resulting in increased maintenance requirements.
Keeping with tradition also means you won’t find flagging tape or transportation signs at transportation entrances. In its place, a simple bonfire or cairn is placed when necessary. Along busy routes and large lakes, it is relatively easy to find transportation.
In areas with less visitor use, excellent navigation skills and a keen eye can be essential in spotting the location of a portage.
With a short period of time to complete all the work, crews face some time constraints. The ice often does not clear up until mid-May, and October is generally too cold.
Logistically, simply getting all the necessary people and equipment. in Areas of the park requiring trail maintenance pose several challenges. Transportation of personnel, equipment and equipment between Thunder Bay, Armstrong and access points. It takes time and excellent driving skills to navigate forest roads.
Flights to more remote areas of the park depend on weather.
Limited cell phone service is available only within Armstrong and not outside of town. Once the crews do it To get to the park, they must be able to maintain equipment, repair chainsaws, and navigate with a map and compass in case a GPS device fails (although, truth be told, rangers could easily navigate the park without a map if necessary ).
They also continually communicate their location via SPOT units and satellite phones to park staff at the Thunder Bay office.
Adding to all these challenges is the weather.
Wabakimi’s weather is known for its unpredictability, alternating between blue-sky heat waves and sudden onslaughts of heavy rain and extreme storms. Flexibility and a “roll with the punches” approach are an essential quality when working as a canoe ranger.
Every day is different. Crews are constantly exploring remote areas, seeing new and exciting things, and facing the unexpected. It is reassuring, then, that despite all these challenges, transports are dispatched year after year.
Canoe Ranger crews operate under the following objectives:
BUT rangers do so much more!
Crews also collect information on the locations and conditions of camps, transports, and boat caches. They record incidental sightings of wildlife when in the park and help facilitate the Lakehead University Tourism, Parks and Outdoor Recreation Program’s annual trip to assist with park data collection.
Rangers also assist the park biologist with research initiatives. Over the years, they have assisted with bathymetry (lake bed mapping), fish assessments, forest resource inventory, beaver monitoring (an important indicator species), as well as bird and bat song recordings.
Rangers carefully photograph and document transportation conditions, campsite locations, wildlife sightings, and other observations of interest.
In addition to completing all of these projects and maintaining the canoe trail system within this huge area, the canoe rangers keep us connected to Wabakimi roots. Their knowledge of cultural history, traditional understanding of the land and its various resources and the park itself is amazing.
Although many visitors come to Wabakimi seeking solitude in nature, you can count yourself lucky if you happen upon a foreign canoe crew.
If they cross your paths, take the time to talk to them and thank them; You will be glad you did.