I joined the staff of CPAWS Wildlands League in February 2007 and over the years one thing has continued to irk me; I had come to work for this incredible organization, but had never set foot in majestic Algonquin Park. After all, our organization was founded in 1968 as Algonquin Wildlands League, by staff and supporters of Algonquin Provincial Park who were concerned about the effects of logging on its infamous old-growth forests. It only made sense that I should see it first-hand.
Having seen and heard so much of the tales of northern Ontario wilderness from staff, the Board of Directors of CPAWS Wildlands League decided it would be great team building opportunity for us all to camp and paddle in Algonquin. So we spent a weekend among the tall, whispering pines of Mew Lake.
We arrived to a campground fresh with rain. The earthy smells of the forest grounded me immediately and felt like I was finally home. We quickly raised tarps over three campsites. The rain tripped up a few of us newbies providing us lots of “learning opportunities” aka this is what it feels like when water seeps in the bottom of your tent soaking your thermarest!
The next day we put in at the East Beach Picnic Area at Lake of Two Rivers, amid grey, threatening skies and a brisk breeze. We meandered our way through Pog Lake, Whitefish Lake and ended at picturesque Rock Lake. We faced rain and wind but by the time we stopped for lunch, the sun delighted us with an appearance, encouraging us to keep going for a few more hours of paddling. Great Blue Herons and Loons kept us company along the way.
Nothing could dampen my spirit to be in this gorgeous wilderness. In fact, for me, it was just my second time paddling a kayak, and my first excursion of such length! It was a really big challenge for me and nothing could wipe the smile off my face as the day wore on! It was a truly exhilarating experience, made so significant because I knew I had finally arrived at the heart of where it all began.
Those excited spirits were dampened a bit when my eyes adjusted and I realized what I had spotted across the lake. I called out to my paddling partner, “Is that a private cottage with a no trespassing sign in the park?” Our conservation staff tell me there are more than 300 of these private leases within the park. It’s definitely time to phase these out, I thought. Private leases in the park might have made sense a hundred years ago but our laws and science have changed. Thank goodness. Parks need to be for all people and need to put nature first.
Dave Pearce in my office told me that the MNR conducted studies and acknowledges that these private leases ‘represent an additional challenge to the maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity of the park’.
So why are they still there? I’ll have to ask Dave more about why Ontario hasn’t phased them out yet? What’s the hold up? With so few places in Ontario that are actually protected, we need places like Algonquin, the flagship of the parks system, to put nature first. And don’t get me started on logging in the park! It’s the only park where this is allowed. That’s a blog for another day. I’m grateful to have had the chance to visit Algonquin to see the park where it all began for us. I hope we can finish fully protecting it one day so it can be the magnificent jewel in the crown of the parks system of Ontario.
See photos from our trip: