Just where is the best snowshoe and interpretative trail anyway? It’s one of the few trails to have a designated snowshoe symbol, welcoming winter’s embrace. It’s a place not meant for a “quick snowshoe or hike.” It is an area where our ecological perceptions are changing.
Learning to Love Wetlands
At one time everything was considered a swamp, not a place to go for a holiday or spend some quality time. We are now learning that wetlands are important but we still don’t know much about bogs, fens, swamps and ponds. We’ve all seen a pond or swamp of some description—they take many forms including marshes, estuaries, mudflats, mires, ponds, fens, pocosins, swamps, deltas, coral reefs, billabongs, lagoons, shallow seas, bogs, lakes, and floodplains. Some are man-made.
Ecologically speaking, wetlands are areas where water covers the soil or is present at or near the surface of the soil all year, or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season. Water saturation largely determines how the soil develops and the types of plant and animal communities living in and on the soil. The prolonged presence of water creates conditions that favour the growth of specially adapted plants and promotes the development of characteristic wetlands soils.
Marshes and swamps are one of the broadest categories of wetlands and, in general, harbour the greatest biological diversity and account for almost half of all wetlands throughout the world. Therefore we have different types of wetlands; we should come to know them like some of our familiar coniferous and deciduous trees.
And winter is a great time to get around, improving our access.
The BIG Winner: Mashkinonje Provincial Park
The wonders of Mashkinonje Provincial Park (pronounced mas-kin-onj) consists of a diverse system of wetlands supporting all the major wetland types—marshes, bogs, swamps, fens, and ponds. It’s interspersed with undulating granite ridges that cover more than 2,000 hectares between the West Arm and the West Bay of Lake Nipissing. Among its many wetlands, the park counts two provincially significant areas: the Loudon Basin Peatlands and Muskrat Creek.
Nature has helped out over time. The park’s features are the result of a post-glacial lake that covered the area combined with a series of parallel low elevation folded bedrock uplands. The low upland bedrock areas were wave-washed, with soils eroded and deposited in the depressions. Add the moisture and the nutrient variability wave action on Lake Nipissing, and the result is a variety of wetland habitats that make Mashkinonje a very interesting location to observe nature throughout the year.
But the wonderment in the trail system is the interpretative signage that has been erected. It is one of Ontario Parks’ non-operating parks (so there are no fees), meaning there are also no operating facilities. The development and maintenance is directly linked to a local species of residents in the area, “the volunteer.”
Friends of Mashkinonje
Angela Martin is a past President of the Friends of Mashkinonje. She has also done work with Ontario Nature, and is the owner of a tourism business, Welcome Lodge. A member of a dedicated community of volunteers, she said, “we recognize the values of this park.”
The park was identified by John Robart’s government of 1963. It was expanded by the Mike Harris’ Living Legacy program in 1997. Originally, it was named Haddo Provincial Park on some older topographic maps. Thirty-eight percent of the park is wetland and there are many little bridges and boardwalks totalling more than one kilometre of construction. Angela explained that a steering committee was formed in 1997 and then the Friends’ group in 2000.
“A combined group of community and educational partners have developed a system of hiking trails in the park to make the park features available to the public,” said Mrs. Martin. “The interpretative signage is based on our local appreciation and knowledge of the area.”
It is one of the best, in any season.
Hitting the Trails
The Loudon Peatland Trail is one choice because of the lookout tower, but there are plenty of trails to tackle on other days. On the west side of Highway 64 there are nine loops totalling more than 35 km.
According to the Park’s website: “The Loudon Peatland Trail is the easiest trail; the others have varying levels of difficulty up to the most difficult Coastal Trail. View the newsletter section for the latest information. We invite you to come, hike and learn about the wonders of our wetlands.”
This can be a great day trip in the winter, or you can stay in a local West Nipissing/French River lodge. Then look forward to open water in the warmer months—you can launch your canoe or kayak at an access point just south of the Loudon Peatland trail and experience the Muskrat Creek, leading to a more remote part of the West Bay of Lake Nipissing. The east access is 2.4 km north of the Blanding Access Pt., about 100 metres off of the highway. Then there is the West Arm extension to the west of Highway 64, with a roadside picnic area to launch from just south of the bridge. The trailhead signs are excellent—take a picture with your phone for reference purposes.
Travel west from North Bay, through Sturgeon Falls on Highway 17 to Verner, turn south on Highway 64 (stop in Verner to read the historic plaque about Reverend Charles Paradis, “the rebel priest”). Lavigne is 13 km from Verner on the Northwest Bay of Lake Nipissing—an expansive view to the east. Journey 15 more kilometres to the Loudon Peatland Trail on the east side of the highway. Access to the west network of trails is via the Blandings Access Point, just north of the Chemin Samoset Rd. and just 0.9 km south of Memquisit Rd.
Access to the north section of the loops is via Musky Island Rd. The lookout tower is located at WGS 84 17 T E 554576 N 5123255 or N46° 15’ 38.5” W80° 17’ 30.6”. It is a very unique view and vantage point to see the extent of the peatland. It’s a great place to set up your portable stove and have a hot drink.
Northeastern Ontario has BIG destinations—this is one of them. No matter what the season, wetlands matter—go and have a look at the diversity which nature gives us at only the cost of the time we need to spend. Your snowshoes are close at hand.