Path of the Paddle Project looks to establish regional trail committees
The waterways around Atikokan and through Quetico have long served as transportation routes—from the earliest Aboriginal travellers to fur traders. For a time they were the sole connection between north-western Ontario and the rest of the country—and now they form the first water-based segment of the Trans Canada Trail network.
Named in honour of Canadian canoeing icon Bill Mason, north-western Ontario’s Path of the Paddle canoe route will take advantage of the region’s wealth of waterways to connect Thunder Bay to the Manitoba border. In this region, a land-based trail was determined to be too costly and monumental a task—a $6.5 million undertaking compared to the estimated $500,000 this canoe route will cost.
The project, a partnership of Trans Canada Trail Ontario (TCTO, the provincial counterpart which is responsible for the 2,000 kms to connect to Quebec and Manitoba), the federal TransCanada network and the economic development corporations in the communities located along the route, began in earnest last year. With an $80,000 grant from the Regional Tourism Organization 13 (RTO) product development committee, a continuous route was identified. It is comprised of five trail segments, totalling over 900 kilometres.
It will be overseen by regional trail committees (RTCs) in each community to serve as trail stewards, noted Path of the Paddle project manager Vicki Kurz and TCTO’s Kirsten Spence who hosted an information session at the Atikokan Economic Development Corporation last Tuesday.
Last year’s grant was used to hire consultant and eco-trail builder Hap Wilson who traversed and physically mapped out (also known as “ground-truthing”) three of the five proposed trail segments. This involved tripping through the areas through both high and low water levels to ensure routes would be navigable, and documenting the canoeing (or in some areas, kayaking) skill level required, locations for the development of portages and access/egress points, and some signage.
The project is seeking a total of $110,000 to complete the field research portion over this summer and next, which includes $40,000 to complete the Maukinak and Eagle-Dogtooth trail segments, $47,000 to digitally map and produce draft guidebooks for these routes, and $23,000 for a four-month project manager position. In 2014, the final piece of the project begins: marketing and promotion.
The east-west route contains access and egress points from each selected trail segment, where mini-excursions will also be possible for novice paddlers or day trips. The segments are: Anishnabe Onigum (MB to Kenora), Eagle-Dogtooth (Kenora to Dryden), Maukinak (Dryden to Atikokan), Quetico (Atikokan to Pigeon River) and Voyageur (Pigeon River to Thunder Bay).
“It will be a world-class, marketable, experiential tourism destination” located in the heart of the continent, said Kurz.
A first-ever water-based TCT trail, the Path will serve as part of the coast-to-coast trail system the organization hopes to have completed by 2017, the country’s 150th birthday.
The actual trail infrastructure will be built and maintained under the direction of the community RTCs which, through local member associations, will access funds for the development of portages to link waterways.
The entire route incorporates Thunder Bay, Atikokan, Dryden, Ignace, Kenora, and many First Nation communities, and links numerous provincial parks, and community engagement and oversight in each segment of the trail through the creation of the RTCs is the immediate focus at this point.
Atikokan connects to both the Maukinak and Quetico Trail segments which are to the west and east of town. Here the routes trace through the White Otter, Turtle and Steep Rock lakes into the Atikokan River to end the 212 km Maukinak Trail. The 208 km Quetico Trail goes through Nym into Pickerel Lake, down into the southeastern portion at Saganaga Lake, further east along the Pigeon River and finally into Lake Superior.
Already some Path partners have begun seeking funding for their trail segments however. Quetico Park is already securing TCT funds to complete trail-work in September (they should have word on that funding in August) using its own staff and the Beaten Path Nordic Trails is seeking funds to create a 1 km segment of trail and bridge in the Little Falls area and a 1 km segment on the south side of the highway to connect the Atikokan area land-based trails with the water route.
Kurz and Spence are holding another public meeting here at the AEDC training room, August 30 at 6:30 pm, in hopes of identifying potential RTC partners. They plan to hold at least one additional meeting before Kurz’ position ends in September. The two have also held a public info session in Kenora July 10 and will hold one in Dryden July 24. In addition to community and regional cultural, recreational organizations and agencies, they are hoping to have input on the RTC by local tourist outfitters (none were in attendance at Tuesday’s session). Kenora and Shoal Lake FN tourism operators have expressed the most interest at this point, and Kurz is keeping all regional tourism associations informed of the Path’s progress.
The Path represents obvious tourism potential, yet there other issues which may be of concern to that industry and their voice needs to be heard, noted several attendees at the meeting. The project is seeking MNR approval for Crown Land green zone exemptions along the route, so non-resident users won’t be subject to the current restrictions on overnight camping (clients of tourist operators are exempt). Kurz noted however, that the land breadth requiring the exemption would be basically “a 200 foot corridor or buffer for people travelling the Trans Canada Trail.”
All park restrictions whether relating to camping, bottle bans and signage will be in place, noted Kurz.
The project has developed some mock trail signs, similar to ones that will eventually be installed at the access and egress points of each trail segment. Where, how many, and what type of signage along the trail will be determined by each RTC, and be sensitive to park’s and locals’ concerns about visible intrusions on remote wilderness.
As stakeholders, communities and organizations are encouraged to identify tourism initiatives that have tie-ins with the Path theme and location. RTCs should represent those partners, noted Kurz.
The August 30 meeting here will see Kurz and Spence seeking to “gather interested names of individuals,” she noted. “The regional trail committee will be an overarching group representing those diverse groups.”