Quetico Park’s “plan”

     The Quetico Park is looking for comments regarding their "plan" for the Provincial Park.  Much of the plan centers around the Dawson Trail Campground and surrounding area which doesn’t affect us at the southeastern entry point into Quetico.  There is however a part of the plan that deals with fly-in options that does affect us.  

     Guests can fly from Saganaga Lake to the edge of the Quetico Park and paddle back to us through the Park.  We’ve had groups fly-into Beaverhouse but the majority of our guests fly into Clay Lake.  When low water levels have made travel on the Greenwood River near impossible the Quetico has allowed planes to land in Mack Lake.  This was the case at the beginning of the season but it changed around the first of September when we were confirming travel plans for a group of ours.  We were told planes were no longer allowed to fly into Mack, end of story. 

     Our guests wanted to do the route very badly so we had them taken to Ross Lake.  After paddling several hours and traveling across lots of portages(one over a mile in length) they made it into Mack Lake.  Just in time for a float plane to drop down in front of them and let a group of canoeists plunk down into Mack Lake to begin their trip.

     It’s confusing to say the least.  It’s obvious the Quetico Park needs a plan and one they will stick with.  But I don’t understand why just because you can drive to an entry point means you shouldn’t be allowed to fly to an entry point?  A fly-in is exciting and it saves time which is very valuable these days.  Is the "plan" to make Americans drive into Canada if they want to access Beaverhouse and Clay Lake?  The folks in Atikokan and outfitters think it’s a good idea, well, duh!  Does the Quetico need to force folks to drive into Canada just so they can gain access to the Quetico?  Isn’t it enough we already have to use Canadian flight services and pay extra for the camping fees when groups come from the US. 

     And if the Quetico Park "plan" isn’t what I’ve stated above and they just want to get rid of planes then why still allow float planes to drop only Canadians into Cache Bay?  Do Canadians make a different noise when they fly or cause less impact than an American?  Why can’t they just drive down here and paddle across Sag to get to Cache Bay like everyone else?     

The park would prefer to continue to allow commercial aircraft on Saganaga (Cache Bay) and Basswood Lake, yet only for Canadian residents. The reason being, said Reilly, is that for Canadians the only other option is to enter through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

     I’m not sure what would happen to a Canadian if they had to enter through the Boundary Waters but obviously Reilly is concerned.  Is it because Canadians would realize the fees for the BWCA are considerably less than they are for the Quetico Park?   

     I have no clue what kind of a "plan" these people can come up with.  For years the outfitters and businesses have been trying to cut off access to the Quetico Park from the south.  It seems to me pretty soon they won’t have to because they are doing such a good job of cutting their own throat that very few people want to access the Quetico from the South anymore.  Will those folks drive to Atikokan to start their trip or will they bypass the Quetico altogether and go to Wabikimi or Algonquin or even worse yet, the Boundary Waters?

     They say they want input and public comment about the "plan."  I encourage you to contact them with any of your concerns or questions.  Maybe you’ll get a straight answer and then again maybe not.  We’ll just have to wait to hear the "plan." 

      New Quetico plan reaches ‘options’ stage  Atikokan Progress on September 15, 2010 

Range of operational changes being considered

Jessica Smith

Quetico Park managers are seeking public input on a wilderness recreation zone around Dawson Trail campground, designated routes and campsites in the interior, a new eastern access, reduced aircraft landing, new hiking trail development and potential allowance of commercial dog sledding.

At the mid-point in the creation of an updated park management plan, public review of eight potential management changes began August 16 and runs until October 15. During this time the public can submit comments, and attend the September 23 open house (at the Atikokan Arts Centre, 4-8 pm) to learn more.

Park superintendent Robin Reilly said the document builds on topics identified by management, stakeholders and public in the earlier stages of the planning process, which began in 2006.

“This document becomes a hybrid of things we want to address and others that people wrote in about and said they wanted to see addressed.”

Each topic outlines the existing mandate and new options, as well as the MNR’s preference. Reilly said those may in fact, be more “slight leanings” toward a certain action, not a strong preference.

“People can say they lean toward one option, or that option with an amendment,” he said. “Tell us what part you don’t like, or let us know if there is something that is outside of any of these options [that you would prefer].”

One key topic is the establishment of a threshold wilderness zone around the campground to allow day-use activities such as cross-country skiing, hiking, and mountain biking. This zone would accommodate widened trails, semi-permanent warm-up tents, trail signage, groomed winter trails and designated walk-in or canoe-in campsites.

The zone is not really new to the activities of the park, said Reilly. Park staff and the majority of the public have viewed the area immediately adjacent to the campground as a blended or transitional zone, due to the fact, that the area includes development such as power lines, old logging roads, and the adjacent highway which cuts through a portion of the park territory (around French River).

“I think most of the public understands that the campground world extends beyond pavement; you don’t walk 10 feet behind your campsite and there’s trackless wilderness,” said Reilly.

Rather, management is hoping to clearly define that area to reduce confusion.

The proposed zone could encompass between 920 and just over 2,000 hectares, but the park’s preference would be a 1,993 hectare area which encompasses the French Lake shoreline to a distance of 60 metres from the water, east to the north bank of the French River, west to the Pines on Pickerel Lake from Baptism Creek, and south from the Pines to Sawmill Lake.

“In total, it’s less than half of one per cent of the park,” said Reilly. “The other 99.5 % is available to those who want to go on that wilderness canoe trip.”

The concept is to provide a defined area that offers a “window on the wilderness”, accessible to young families, elderly and those with disabilities, and educates about Quetico’s unique wilderness interior.

The campground was built in the mid 1970s, and because it pre-dates the park’s wilderness designation, has always existed as an exception to the rule. Reilly said an area around Dawson Trail was clearly envisioned for day-excursion opportunities and natural heritage education programs since the park’s early days, right up to the last park plan revision in 1995, where the current area in question was roughly defined on a map. While the intent was there, the document referenced an approximate 250 hectare area, a size that would only encompass the area of paved roads, and campground facilities.

“If that was the purpose and intent, then somewhere along the line there has to be some property to do this with,” said Reilly.

The creation of this zone complements the 2004 recommendations of the Atikokan-Quetico committee to strengthen the town and park’s connection and to attract tourism to the area. While Reilly said the cost involved in the maintenance of the zone currently off-sets any revenue, particularly due to off-season usage, that may change over time.

Complementary to a new threshold wilderness area is the document’s discussion of allowing mechanized trail grooming in that zone (the Pines, Sawmill Lake and French River Trails.)

Also included is a proposal to re-open a network of old logging roads to encourage backcountry hiking, skiing, and snowshoeing in the north and northeastern corner of the park, where a relative lack of lakes and a rolling topography of valleys and ridges are amenable to hiking. Management is seeking direction on whether long-distance trail development is consistent with Quetico Park objectives. Currently, new long distance trail development is permitted anywhere in the park where it is deemed appropriate and does not conflict with other park uses.

Management is also looking to remove two of four commercial aircraft landings from within the park. Currently it has allowed landing on Mack, Beaverhouse, Saganaga, and Basswood Lakes, as well as permitting the Lac La Croix community aircraft access to one of ten lakes yearly (on a rotating basis). Mack and Saganaga landings have been permitted in recent years on a trial basis.

The Mack Lake landing could be eliminated with the creation of a new road access outside of the park’s eastern boundary, a move supported by local outfitters and the Town. Due to low water levels, visitors have been unable to access the park via the traditional fly-in to Clay Lake and paddle through Greenwood Creek. As a temporary measure, alternate fly-ins directly into Mack Lake during low water levels has been permitted. The park’s preference would be to create a short access road off an existing logging road outside the boundary, subsequently removing the need for aircraft landing there. Another possibility would be to move the entry to Cullen Lake via a portage from Ross Lake.

Beaverhouse Lake landings could easily be removed because a road into the lake has been constructed, also removing the necessity of aircraft, said Reilly.

The park would prefer to continue to allow commercial aircraft on Saganaga (Cache Bay) and Basswood Lake, yet only for Canadian residents. The reason being, said Reilly, is that for Canadians the only other option is to enter through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

“It seems an appropriate concession to allow that to happen, not just because it is convenient, but because there really is no other practical option.” Other options include permitted landing on those two lakes by both US and Canadian residents, or restricting all landings in the park.

Another topic for discussion in the document states a management preference of enforced designated routes and campsites in the interior. Mink Lake Junior Rangers have completed a multi-year project of mapping GPS coordinates of over 2,000 established campsites, and designated campsites would be marked with campfire rings.

Reilly said there is a case to be made for preserving potentially ecologically, culturally, or historically sensitive areas by directing paddlers to established routes where portages and designated campsites (evidenced by a campfire ring), as well as reducing risks of forest fires, and those  associated with lost canoeists. However, he would prefer such a move was only enforced in areas where research identified specific need for protection.

The Quetico Foundation’s Arthur Saunders said he is a little unsure about the designated routes option. “My personal opinion is that Quetico is set up as a wild area and campsites and portages are not marked. It would be my hope that it stayed that way, where wilderness travellers have the option to trek off into [wild, untouched areas].”

He said his opinion would be that allowing people to camp where they wish would in fact take pressure off the traditional campsites.

Management also wants to revisit its vision for Dawson Trail campground and consider whether to create additional campsites, including a few RV sites and a group campsite, and whether non-mechanized recreation will continue to be allowed.

Also up for discussion is whether to allow commercially outfitted dog-sledding in the park. While not really a recognized tourism activity here, it is growing in popularity in the BWCA, and the park is considering allowing it in the park on a five-year trial basis.

Of these topics, the Foundation, which promotes the preservation of the park through research and serves on the plan’s advisory committee, notes that while it hasn’t prepared its response to the options yet, “at first blush” the document and park’s preferred options “look really good.”

“I think the flexibility of the document is very important,” specifically the provision for management to monitor and respond to new impacts on the park, said Saunders.

“We feel that the planning process has been very inclusive.”

After this 60-day review, public input will once again be invited in the fall of 2011on a draft plan, followed by the release of the approved plan, scheduled for spring, 2012.

The public can comment on, or pick up, the current proposed options at the Ontario government building at 108 Saturn Ave. The document can also be viewed at www.ontarioparks.com/english/invit.html.

The open house will provide an opportunity for comments and questions, and Reilly said he is hoping people bring a variety of perspectives and ideas.

“The best thing would be to see all kinds of people with all kinds of opinions.”