PHOTO: At French Lake (Courtesy Ontario Parks)
Lac La Croix First Nation is an integral part of the revised preliminary management plan for Quetico Park, which has been released for broader consultation.
Norman Jordan, chief of the Lac La Croix FN, opens the plan with greetings, and a reference to how the people of the First Nation and Quetico officials are striving to realize “the dream of working together as equal partners and strengthening our relationship”.
“This Park Management Plan was written with the voice of Lac La Croix,” he concluded. “This reassures that Lac La Croix, Anishinaabe Nation will always be there to help protect the park, as it is our homeland. Just like our leaders before us the land of Quetico Park hold a strong cultural, spiritual meaning that will always be present and must be respected. Quetico Provincial Park sits on our traditional territory and we are very happy and honored to work and manage this land together.”
Quetico Park staff met with Lac La Croix community members in late 2013 and early 2014, meetings which eventually led to the formation of a Lac La Croix park management advisory committee. That group spent nearly a year reviewing the preliminary park management plan released in 2013.
“A number of themes emerged from these discussions,” notes Park superintendent Trevor Gibb, including:
- The shared history and relationship between Lac La Croix and Quetico;
- Phase-out of motorized guiding;
- Cultural heritage resource management;
- Fish and wildlife resource management;
- Changes to zoning (wilderness, nature reserve zones);
- Opportunities for youth.
These discussions, and a report approved by the First Nation’s Chief and Council in June 2015, contributed to a number of text revisions in the revised preliminary plan.
In 1991, the Minister of Natural Resources made a public apology to Lac La Croix FN for failing to involve the community in the creation and development of Quetico, and for unilaterally cancelling Indian Reserve 24C and evicting the Sturgeon Lake Band from the home the Crown had assigned in 1887.
That apology eventually led to an agreement of co-existence between Lac La Croix and Ontario in 1995. It “established a framework for long-term employment targets, spiritual and cultural use of Quetico, management and interpretation of Anishinaabe resources, co-management of mechanized guiding activity, and year-round road access to the First Nation community”. The agreement is now undergoing a joint review. “If a renewed agreement is finalised it will also provide direction to this plan,” notes the province.
The revised preliminary management plan would allow motorized guiding by members of the Lac La Croix Guides Assoc. to continue on ten lakes, reduced from the twenty lakes permitted in the agreement of co-existence. Ecological monitoring of these lakes will be enhanced, noted park superintendent Trevor Gibb.
Quetico staff also met with Seine River FN and Lac Des Milles Lacs FN in 2015, and their comments are reflected in this revised preliminary plan as well.
Other changes in this plan include:
- The elimination of a threshold wilderness zone proposed for the French Lake area. That was part of the 2013 plan, and aimed to expand cross-country skiing, hiking, and mountain biking opportunities by accommodating widened trails, semi-permanent warm-up tents, trail signage, groomed winter trails, and designated walk-in or canoe-in campsites.
Although the threshold wilderness zone is out, the way the French Lake access zone is used won’t change. As long as the area is managed “in keeping with the character of Quetico Park” non-mechanized recreation such as natural heritage education, hiking, cross-country skiing, skijoring (skiing while pulled by a dog), mountain biking (in designated areas), as well as providing staging for day trips and short overnight trips into the interior, will continue to be permitted.
Some limited dog sledding will be allowed. Private users with two dogs (or three, and the superintendent’s permission) will be allowed. Commercial operators, and private dog teams, are out.
- A guideline that would have supported the development of some long distance hiking trail, particularly in high ground on the eastern side of the park, was dropped. That was deemed inconsistent with the wilderness nature of the park.
- The creation of two nature reserve zones to extend additional protection to some significant, and rare, features. The first is the extremely fertile Wawiag River flood plain; this is an area with a very rich diversity of flora – diversity “perhaps higher than anywhere else in Quetico”.
The other is spread over areas over cliff faces along eight lakes (Blackstone, Other Man, Ottertrack, This Man, Littlerock, Emerald, Fisher, Sheridan) and a Wawiag tributary. These areas are home to very rare basic cliff communities – tundra and prairie plant populations that have persisted since the retreat of Ice Age glaciers.
The nature reserve designation will mean camping, rock climbing, and scrambling, in these areas will not be allowed.
- The French Portage, which includes the area depicted in Paul Kane’s nineteenth century painting, will be designated an historical zone. This will allow for some limited development to encourage day-use visitation at the site. The Friends of Quetico are helping to finance this work.
(Quoting from the plan) “In recent years, approximately 26,300 people visit Quetico each year, with 118,000 The nature resevre designation will camper nights spent in the park (an average of four and half nights per visitor). Approximately 8,200 people visit the campground each year, resulting in 15,000 camper nights (1.8 nights per visitor). Approximately 18,000 people visit the interior of the park each year, resulting in 103,000 camper nights (5.7 per visitor).
Since the last management plan review in 1995, there has been a gradual but steady decline in the number of interior park visitors. In 2014 there were 11,333 interior visitors and 2,786 campground visitors, as well as 1,581 day users.
A visitor survey indicates that, in 2011, 83% of park visitors were from the U.S. and 60% of interior visitors entered through the southern boundary of the park. The 2011 Quetico Provincial Park Interior Visitor Survey asked respondents to provide their entry point: 38% of visitors entered via Prairie Portage; another 20% of entries were associated with the Cache Bay Entry Station: these figures represent 58% of entries through the two southern entry stations and eight entry points. Dawson Trail and Atikokan accounted for 31% of all park entries via the northern entries with Pickerel entry point at 16%, Batchewaung at 8% and Cirrus Lake/Sue Falls/Baptism Creek at 7%. Beaverhouse entry station accounted for 9% of entries and Lac La Croix entry station accounted for 6%.”