Thu. Feb 29th, 2024

In our “Behind the Scenes” series, Discovery Program staff from across the province share a “behind the scenes” look at their favorite shows and projects. Today’s post comes from David Bree, Discovery Program Leader at Presqu’ile Provincial Park.

Trails and parks go together like (write your favorite combination here: “like peas and carrots,” as Forrest Gump would say). Trails are arguably the most used recreational facilities in our park system.

But paths do not arise by chance; A concept must first be born.

Where do we want a trail and why?

A trail is often conceived to allow visitors to experience a special feature of the park.

The Spruce Bog Boardwalk in Algonquin Provincial Park or the Marsh Boardwalk Trail in Presqu’ile Provincial Park are obvious examples of a trail that provides access to habitats that would be difficult and/or harmful to explore otherwise.

Sign and swamp lookout.View from the Marsh Boardwalk at Presqu’ile

Then you have to build it, control it, maintain it, and sometimes close it and dismantle it. All stages require work, and depending on the park, it could be the superintendent, maintenance foreman, operations technician, or director (or more likely a combination of all) doing this work.

In my 31 years at Ontario Parks as a Discovery staff, I have been involved in all aspects of trail life.

Laying the foundation

Since we know the park’s flora and fauna, it’s only natural to have Discovery staff on the ground floor of a trailhead.

What park feature are we missing in our trail system? Where can we establish the path so that it displays characteristics with the lowest possible ecological impact? These are important questions that Discovery staff may have answers to.

To be honest, the opportunity to work on this aspect of a trail’s life doesn’t come around all that often. I’ve only been involved in trail design a couple of times.

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Pioneer Trail, Peninsula.

Even with 31 years in parks, all the parks I’ve worked at are even older and had well-developed trail systems when I arrived. But trail design has often fallen to park naturalists in the past.

In a recent conversation with Bud Guertin, Presqu’ile’s first naturalist in 1957, he told me that one of his first jobs was laying trails. They made four that summer, two of which are still part of our trail system today.

To interpret or not; That is the question

In the minds of Discovery staff there are only two types of trails: interpretive and non-interpretive. The only difference is that the interpretive trail has associated material for its own use that allows the visitor to obtain a greater appreciation of what is found along the way. Traditionally, these have been a trail guide that you carry with you or panels that you read along the trail.

Father and daughter looking at trail signage.Interpretive panel found along the FIT Trail in Bonnechere Provincial Park

I say “traditionally” because there are innovative paths that incorporate touch and sound, and new technologies allow access to educational material directly from the mobile phone.

Regardless of how it’s done, you can be sure that a Discovery naturalist or historian has painstakingly researched, written (draft after draft), and designed each guide or panel, and then worked with a printer or manufacturer, checking proof after proof, to reach the end. finished product.

I’ve been involved with interpretive guides for the Cliff Top Trail in Bon Echo, the trail in Peter’s Woods, and panels along the Marsh Boardwalk in Presqu’ile, among others. These have been some of the most important and rewarding projects of my career.

Things change and so do the signs

Nature changes, and another aspect of trail work is monitoring the trail for those changes. At the beginning of the season, I walk the interpretive trails at Presqu’ile to make sure all the panels and posts are still standing and that what has been written at each stop is still valid.

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Failing to describe a yellow birch growing from a nursery stump that fell over two years ago is not a very effective interpretation.

Hiker at the viewpoint over the lake.Bon Echo Provincial Park Viewpoint

Monitoring (picking up trash, clearing the trail, and identifying damage or hazards that need repair) occurs year-round. Sometimes I can fix it and other times I pass the job on to more skilled members of our maintenance team.

I also look at trail conditions, what birds are nesting, what’s blooming, and how bad the blood-sucking insects are.

This information is often needed to answer the many questions I receive about what is happening in the park, as well as useful material for social media posts. I also keep an eye out for invasive species that need to be removed before they get out of control.

(Okay, I admit that most of the time monitoring park trails falls into the “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this” category and is one of my favorite parts of the job, but it needs to be done.)

The park trails change too!

Sometimes it is necessary to close or reroute a trail. Perhaps a sensitive species has been discovered along a trail, maintenance requirements are too high, or new information suggests that a new trail would be more effective in telling the story.

Installation of a boardwalk in Silver Lake Provincial Park in 2015Installation of a boardwalk in Silver Lake Provincial Park in 2015

Fortunately, I have only been involved in the closure of a couple of trails in the park, all for environmental reasons.

One was to stop erosion along a canal in Bon Echo. That work required posting signs and filling in the old trail with load after load of cut brush. People become very attached to their trails and don’t want to leave them!

Trails have certainly been a part of my life in the parks and I think they are an integral part of the park experience for most visitors. The trails, like everything, have life from beginning to end. Some are long, some short, some interpretive, some not, but you can rest assured that Ontario Parks Discovery staff are involved in navigating the trail, every step of the way.