This summer has been a bust for several Manitoba provincial parks as some were
unable to open due to the devastating floods. Others, such as Spruce Woods Provincial Park,
opened on a very limited scale, but I hadn t
realized the extent of the damage there until just recently when my husband and I spent several hours at Spruce Woods.
We began by walking through the lower level of Kiche Manitou Campground, the section that was under water for over two months. It s mostly dry now, but covered by 10 to 15 centimetres of thick clay cracking in the hot sun. Picnic tables have floated off campsites, lodging among nearby trees. The bathrooms have been flooded by two to three metres of water, and the campground office shows watermarks almost to the eaves. It would appear that these buildings may have to be torn down and replaced. Damage to the electrical, water and sewage systems is still being assessed, according to Luke Peloquin, regional director of Manitoba Conservation, Western Region.
Trails around and through the campground are littered with branches and debris that floated there. Whether the trees that made this place so special will survive is still uncertain. Some of the smaller trees have died as well as some of the big tamaracks, but Tim Moore, park district supervisor at the Carberry office, said that they hope others will recover. The only thing that seems to have flourished is the poison ivy!
At the beach, the bathrooms are destroyed, with doors gaping open. The beach itself is a mud-covered mess, while the lake appears to be filled with silt. It will probably have to be dredged to make it suitable for swimming. The bridge has been eroded at both ends and is blocked off to prevent people crossing it. Perhaps it can be repaired.
On the east side of the lake, things are in somewhat better shape. Pine Fort IV, with its store, concession stand and miniature golf course, was surrounded by water, but remained above flood level. So did the Friends of Spruce Woods Gift Store and the Spruce Woods Interpretive Centre. These at least survived and barring another flood next spring should be usable then. Obviously, though, if only the upper section of the campground can be used, business will still suffer. This summer was a complete writeoff.
Highway No. 5, although it is now passable, needs a lot of repair work. It was under nearly two metres of water in several spots and has deep holes eroded in the ditches. Minnows and small jackfish still swam in some of these when we visited. A giant pile of dead trees and other debris lies beside the bridge. The road from the highway to the campground and day-use area, along the Assiniboine River, is impassable blocked with what remains of the dike, eroded holes and litter of sandbags and debris. Nothing had been done to repair it when we visited the first weekend of October. Access to the upper campground, which was used sparingly during the summer, is presently by a secondary road about four kilometres to the south. This entrance will probably still be used this winter to reach the winter recreation area.
The road leading to the canoe launch is totally destroyed. Directly in the middle of it is a hole about five metres deep and half the size of a football field, which has been washed out by the river.
The park s trail system has suffered extensively. The Trans-Canada Trail has been wiped out or eroded for several kilometres. The hiking trail at Marshes Lake had Closed signs posted. The boardwalks at the beginning of Isputinaw Trail are wrecked. Cyclists will find the first two loops of the Epinette Trail usable, but the crossing beyond that was washed out. Fortunately the Spirit Sands are high above flood level. The trails there are lovely to hike in the fall, when it s not so hot. The day we visited the park, at the beginning of October, there were 20 vehicles in the parking lot there. If it doesn t snow, hikers can still enjoy this trip.
Before our visit I hoped that by next summer things might be back to normal in our parks. I realize now that s not going to happen. No doubt most of the provincial parks around Lake Manitoba are in the same position or worse. Even if the lake water is lowered, what remains will require a huge work effort to repair, and the budget to cover the expenses.
At Spruce Woods Park, officials do not yet know what can be salvaged. We need an overall assessment before decisions are made, says Peloquin. And then, because so many parts of Manitoba have been affected, we ll have to compete with other areas for equipment and manpower.
Donna Gamache writes from MacGregor, Manitoba