Much of Canada's finest canoe tripping is located outside of parks, where trail and campsite maintenance from government authorities is minimal or non-existent. Once upon a time, the Ontario government employed junior rangers to maintain the vast array of canoe routes on the province's public lands. When that program fizzled, the maintenance of canoe routes outside of protected areas fell largely on paddlers themselves.
One great Canadian canoeing destination that's equal parts parks and public (Crown) lands is central Ontario's Temagami region, which boasts nearly 3,000 miles of canoe routes across a sprawling 6,000 square miles of semi-wilderness. Traditional First Nations travelways have remained intact because of the work of trappers and summer youth camps, such as the venerable Camp Keewaydin. Now, the non-profit Friends of Temagami is looking to engage recreational paddlers to preserve their favorite canoe routes.
The organization developed an "Adopt-a-Route" program, where paddlers can select from 15 canoe routes outside of protected areas, connect with local experts for beta, and set out on trip with a few hand tools like clippers and saws to keep the portages passable. After paddlers return from their adopted route, Friends of Temagami president Bob Olajos encourages them to report back on their accomplishments. "We're asking people to go out and keep it simple," he says.
The program is the latest for the Friends of Temagami, whose canoe-specific maps have been popular. Additionally the organization is putting together a volunteer work trip (with power tools) May 7 and 8 to Blueberry Lake, a popular destination for paddlers because of its stunning old-growth pine forest. Olajos says this "plank" of the Friends' maintenance initiative is modeled after The Wabakimi Project, which has led canoe route reconnaissance trips in northwestern Ontario for over a decade. The third part of the plan is to continue lobbying the government for more canoe route work in Temagami area provincial parks, including Lady Evelyn-Smoothwater wilderness park and the Obabika River.
"They're doing a good job keeping the primary routes open," notes Olajos, "but there's always more they could do."
For his part, Olajos is anticipating his own work trip on the Montreal River north of Smoothwater Lake, at the northernmost tip of the Temagami area, a location he scouted on a snowshoe trip in February. "This is a ambitious undertaking," he says. "It's no easy task to put such a huge number of canoe routes on a maintenance schedule. We want to start small and go from there."
–Connect with Friends of Temagami on Facebook
–Read C&K editor-at-large Conor Mihell's feature about paddling to his namesake lake in the Temagami wilds
–Read about a volunteer canoe route maintenance initiative to re-establish a historic, long-distance paddling link between Temagami and James Bay