What started off as a conversation over dinner after a trade show, led to me clearing trails in northwestern Ontario six weeks later.
A tough winter had done a number on “popular” portage trails in Woodland Caribou. (“Popular” because the whole park sees less than a thousand visitors a year.) An outfitter had its first trip of the season scheduled for the end of May. Park staff would be ready to clear by end of June, early July.
With over 2,000 kilometers of canoe routes maintained, staff couldn’t tackle all the blowdown in the park. So Martin and I set out on a ten-day canoe trip through the northeast corner of the park to clear about 5 kilometers of trails.
Martin ran the chainsaw on the trails. I came through afterwards, removing the debris from the trail and pruning away any overhang.
We spent our first two days on the trails clearing the four portages (~2,125 meters in total) from a small lake in the Olive Lake system to Big Shell Lake. From there we worked our way into the Sabourin river system and eventually into Thicketwood Lake where we were met with an eight-foot high wall of downed trees and alders. It took us two hours to clear two hundred meters.
Thicketwood Lake was the end of the line for me. Martin had a friend joining him via the floatplane that would pick me up, who would help him for another 10 days of trail clearing.
Trail clearing is undoubtedly hard, physical work. And because I’m a thinker there was the mental aspect of the work too. Though I always wore the personal protective equipment, I made sure to stay far behind Martin while the chainsaw ran. I would remind myself: Lift with your legs, not with your back. Don’t impale yourself on that sharp branch break. Watch your fingers (as I pruned). The combination of hard work and cool nights made for some of my best nights’ sleep ever on a canoe trip. Finally, I certainly appreciate more all the hard work park staff do in the summers to make it easy for us to enjoy our canoe trip vacations.
Note: this was an unusual opportunity brokered between an outfitter and a lightly used park. Check park regulations before attempting your own trail maintenance on your next canoe trip.