Today’s post comes from Kristiana Wilson, Deputy Park Superintendent at Woodland Caribou Provincial Park.
2021 was a big fire season in Ontario.
Last year alone, approximately 55% of Woodland Caribou Provincial Park burned due to natural wildfires.
The park is no stranger to forest fires: fire is key to the regeneration of the boreal forest.
Still, when most people think of picturesque park landscapes, they typically don’t think of park areas that have been burned.
We’re here to change any preconceptions you have about traveling through big burns and share some tips to make your next post-wildfire park paddling trip a little easier!
Although it can be difficult to travel through a recent fire, it is an experience like no other that gives you a little extra challenge on your adventure.
You’ll see the growth of alders and plants like Bluebead Lily and the purple color of Fireweed as the forest regenerates.
You’ll be greeted with ample wildlife viewing opportunities, including species that visit in the immediate aftermath of fires, such as black-backed and three-toed woodpeckers.
Several years after the burn, you may even be lucky enough to see elk eating new bushes!
One thing to keep in mind is that fires don’t always burn evenly across the landscape. You may be able to travel through a recent fire that still has many green patches of forest.
You may also find a portage trail that is burned on only one side or a completely green campground that you weren’t expecting!
This all depends on the intensity of the fire.
Surface fires burn plants beneath the forest canopy, but typically do not kill mature trees. You will be able to camp in these mature forests shortly after a fire.
Although the first two years after a burn can be difficult for navigation (especially if crews have not yet visited the trails), there are things you can do to make your travels easier.
Get familiar with your route
A park canoe route map is the first step in defining the chosen route.
From there, a topographic map can help you identify the details of your route, including where transports begin and end.
Please note that transports usually follow the easiest route.
Look for straight paths through the trees. Aligning these lines with natural openings in the forest can give you clues that there was once a path there.
A GPS is also a useful tool for tracking those harder-to-find transports!
Once you’re on a trail, there will be subtle hints along the way to help guide you.
When the soil is compacted by traffic, the haul road may not burn.
This isn’t always the case, but there are other clues you can watch out for as well.
If much of the forest’s trash has been burned, traces of the park’s transportation team’s last work may still be in the area to help you.
When a tree has fallen on the trail in the past and been removed, you will see a cut stump or the end of a log on either side of the carry. Although the wood burns, often the crisp edge of a chainsaw cut is still visible.
Look at the ground for signs of cutting and walk between the two cut edges – you’ve found a transport!
Rock cairns and marking tape
Although our haulage routes are typically marked with burning trees, park staff sometimes need to use rock cairns or marking tape to temporarily identify haulage routes after a burn.
This is necessary when burned trees will likely fall over time, leaving much more exposed bedrock to navigate.
Keep an eye out for these trail markers. They will help guide you when the road becomes complicated or confusing.
Whether you’re on the trail or at your campsite, always be aware of your surroundings.
Avoid camping under burned trees and branches that could fall on you. Even a small burn to the root system can compromise a tree and make it unsafe.
Camping at Jester Lake
Be careful when traveling by transport, especially on windy days.
Always choose your campsites and travel routes wisely.
A more serene experience
Often after a park has experienced a wildfire, visitors may be reluctant to return immediately.
This means you may encounter fewer people during your trips through the park.
Planning a trip after the fire will allow you to not only witness the wonders of nature regenerating, but will also provide you with greater solitude during your trip.
Want to learn more?
Visit our Woodland Caribou Trip Planner blog for current park conditions.
Please contact park staff at 807-727-1329 or [email protected] for pre-trip help with planning your trip after the wildfire.
A forest fire can be a beautiful thing!
Whether you’re planning a post-wildfire trip to Woodland Caribou or another wilderness park, we hope these tricks help you navigate recently burned areas of the park.
There is an unspoken beauty in traveling through a recent park fire – we hope you visit soon!
The closest access point to Woodland Caribou Provincial Park (Johnson Lake) is located approximately 34 km northwest of Red Lake, Ontario.