Trails. In A Marine Conservation Area?
by Colin Crowell
So…how do you present a national marine conservation area to land lubbers visiting the region? Fortunately, the geologic events that formed this massive lake and its islands have also yielded some of the most stunning view points on Lake Superior’s shoreline.
Once established, Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area (LSNMCA) will be one of Parks Canada’s largest sites at 10,880 km2 of protected waters, and more than 600 islands. With the Trans-Canada Highway running along the northern shore of its boundaries, and an international airport in neighbouring Thunder Bay, you couldn’t really call the site remote. That said, how do you get visitors to appreciate how vast and pristine this area is? How do you give them a sense of how unique this island chain is? How do you get them to understand how important preservation of the area is for current and future generations?
Well, many locals have known the answer for generations--possibly since the area was first populated during the recession of the very glaciers that formed the lake: trails!
Hiking was once considered by Parks Canada as an “appropriate activity” for campers at its sites. The agency now views its 7,000+ km of trails as major visitor attractions, a way to build connection to place, and a way to promote stewardship and conservation of an area.
Trails along the northern shore of Lake Superior are stunning. With a wide variety of terrain, from cobble beaches where you can dip your feet into some of the cleanest water on the planet, to cliff edge lookouts over 200 meters above the water, this region competes with some of Parks Canada’s most famous hiking destinations.
What’s distinct about these trails when compared with others promoted by Parks Canada, is that none of them are within LSNMCA boundaries, or managed by Parks Canada. The trails in this region are mostly managed and maintained by local community or volunteer groups. Many trails were originally logging roads, or simple paths cut into the boreal forest by locals with a passion for the lookouts, which they wanted others to see.
Parks Canada is a leader in providing world-class visitor experiences, such as safe trails developed with sustainability in mind. In order to ensure visitors get to enjoy a trail experience expected of Parks Canada, LSNMCA has been working with regional trail managers to share Parks Canada’s vast experience.
Staff have eagerly assisted regional trail managers with safety messaging, wayfinding strategies, trail remediation techniques, assessment clinics, interpretive messaging, and building lookout platforms at key locations. LSNMCA staff have performed comprehensive trail assessments, offered trail construction clinics, sat in on trail steering committees, and assisted with volunteer events to ensure these trails will continue to offer current and future generations a way to learn about and enjoy the “big lake”.
Most recently, Parks Canada collaborated with regional trail and tourism stakeholders to develop a Top of Superior Hiking Trails brochure, available at tourism information centres throughout the region, as well as an online hiking trail map (English only) hosted by Superior Country.