by David Conyers
The Sault Ste. Marie Canal and Fort St. Joseph National Historic Sites beckon cyclists and hikers to experience their trails thanks to the significant effort of our trail maintenance workers, Daniel Lethbridge and Travis St. Germain, who showered the extensive network with care this past season.
Collectively, both sites have 12 kilometres of trails requiring regular maintenance to ensure a pleasant outdoor experience for all ages and abilities. At the Sault Ste. Marie Canal there are 2.5-kilometres of primary trail systems, with additional extensions of 500 meters leading to scenic lookouts, which required rehabilitation. Much of the work completed involved clearing overgrowth along trail edges, requiring chainsaws and brush clearing to widen the trails and clean them up. Grass was beginning to push through the trail surfaces on St. Mary’s island, and the Assets crew used a 15-foot tall pile of gravel to resurface the trail, hand-tamping it along the way.
The Attikamek Trail, where you can experience the wonder of quiet woods and wetlands as you wind your way to the St. Mary’s Rapids, is not yet completely finished, because more gravel is needed. Since the canal effectively divides St. Mary’s Island into two, getting the necessary equipment and supplies for the project across the lock poses a challenge for the crew. Much of what is brought over is limited to what can be carried by hand. The remaining trail work on St. Mary’s Island has been deferred to next season once transportation logistics to bring more gravel across the canal are finalized.
Four of the trails on St. Mary’s Island leading to scenic points have been widened and hand-tamped in order to meet Type 1 trail requirements, allowing for accessibility by wheelchair. Old benches have been refurbished and placed at the scenic lookouts to afford visitors a place to relax.
At Fort St. Joseph trails are much more rugged, many of them had slipped to a Type 4 trail level prior to the rehabilitation being undertaken. Type 4 trails are unmaintained, and are the equivalent of a wilderness experience. While rehabilitating these trails the Assets team had to respond to unforeseen events, such as extreme weather systems blowing down large trees, which needed to be cut up and removed.
Much of the work on the 8-kilometre trail system at Fort St. Joseph required clearing overgrowth and widening the trails, pulling grasses and small shrubs, and cutting back trees as necessary. Due to these efforts many of the trails are now classified at a Type 3 level, one that is hand-built and maintained.