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Top 10 Beach

by Dave Yanko

GOOD SPIRIT LAKE PROVINCIAL PARK - Any path to a beach is special. It's a trail whose only destination is fun.

Big Muddy
The beach at Good Spirit.

What's particularly noteworthy about one of the main paths that leads to the wonderful beach at Good Spirit Lake is the belt of brooding pines that separates the parking area from water's edge. This is aspen country. The adjacent campgrounds take their character from the cheery, leafy trees that announce every breeze. The beach path here is dark and pensive in late afternoon. When we exited the trail, it was like someone lifted a curtain to introduce a bright, attractive beach.

In 10 years of travelling the province and writing stories for Virtual Saskatchewan On-line Magazine, I've seen only one beach to match Good Spirit's sandy, shallow shoreline, the primary feature of this lake.

It's the beach at the south end of Kingsmere Lake in Prince Albert National Park. There, too, the water remains shallow and the bottom sandy for a long distance. One difference, though, is that Kingsmere's beach is largely an underwater phenomenon with virtually no apron for lounging. Candle Lake, east of Prince Albert National Park, has extraordinary beaches, as well. But there's nothing to match the gentle grade that makes Good Spirit so popular with young families. It's no wonder Maclean's magazine lists the beach at Good Spirit among the Top 10 in Canada.

It's always difficult to estimate these things, but I suspect I waded out into Good Spirit some 100 metres (yards) before the water reached my waist. It's a frisbee player's dream. And in spite of the fact the lake is shallow—only 20 to 25 feet at its deepest spots—algae is never a problem. The frequent breeze creates a wave action that kicks up sand from the lake's bottom. With only half a metre of underwater visibility due to this churning sand, the water screens the sunlight algae needs to grow.

good spirit
Old cars or the beach?

Aspen and balsam poplar are the predominant tree species in the area. There's a full understory of vegetation in the Aspen Campground where we set up camp. And although there were only four non-electrical sites vacant when we arrived on a Friday afternoon, we found a nice, cozy site. If you appreciate privacy in a campsite, you may wish to make sure the site you choose at Good Spirit is not adjacent to one of several well-travelled paths that lead to washrooms and the service centre—we were fortunate. (First-time visitors to Aspen may also wish to take a good look at the park map to see where to exit a campground that's based on two adjacent circles.)

It was good fortune, as well, that we landed in Good Spirit for "Cruise Spirit", a weekend car show that attracted about 120 beautifully refurbished automobiles from the '50s, '60s and '70s. The park's events calendar shows scheduled events for kids and parents virtually every day of summer 2006, the 75th anniversary of Saskatchewan's provincial parks system. Good Spirit is one of the original half dozen provincial parks established back in 1931.

On this particular weekend, antique cars and proud owners vied for space among four or five parking areas within the central activity region of the park. In front of the treat shop, a spot that must be indelibly etched into the memories of all who grew up with this fine old park, was a DJ playing Beach Boys and Four Seasons tunes on a big sound system. It was all quite perfect. Even a little nostalgic, I'm sad to say.

Ah yes, when cars had fins. . . .

I don't make a habit of frequenting car shows but I do love old cars. I wasn't sure how to answer Renée's question about who are these people and how do they find the time to pursue and share their hobby. I think I know them.

Good Spirit is one of Saskatchewan's natural environment parks. While development is limited in such parks, the golf course adjacent to the park features a good number of modern, log-cabin accommodations with plenty of amenities. At 5,000 square acres, the park is small by provincial standards. But aside from the privately-owned cabins you'll encounter in many parks, it is not over developed. The lake is about 12 km (7 miles) long and five km (3 miles) wide.

There's a neat, 3-km hiking trail that skirts the shoreline on the southern end of the lake and leads to an active sand dune region almost directly across from the main beach. It was breezier than usual, I suspect, when we did our walk—the trail, part of the Tran-Canada Trail system, is well maintained and easy for walkers and cyclists, alike. But parts of the last section of the trail, which leads to a sandy lookout point about 50 feet in height, may be best traversed in bare feet because the fine sand is very loose. If you choose to go barefoot, keep an eye out for the three shiny leaves that characterize poison ivy.

the dunes
The dunes are best traversed in bare feet.

Animals and insects in wide variety find everything they need to thrive in the 250 acres of dunes, most of which have a good deal of vegetation on them. One of the more curious of these is the antlion larva, which lives amid the wee sand granules and traps small insects by creating a vortex beneath them. Apparently, you can spot these little funnel-shaped depressions in the sand, although we didn't notice any.

We were slightly disappointed with the firewood at Good Spirit. The supply at our Aspen Campground was either green or a little wet. Maybe more revenue from park admission and camping fees should go towards providing campers with well-seasoned wood that's protected from the elements.

storm dunes
A storm whips up the water by the dunes.

But that's a minor complaint. Over all, our trip to Good Spirit Lake Provincial Park was a very good and memorable one. It was nice to finally experience a place that's given so many people so much pleasure for so many years.

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