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  Greenwater Park

by Dave Yanko 

Rain is never taken for granted in Saskatchewan; it's quantified.

"Too much rain" or, more frequently, "not enough rain" are typical phrases here. Innocuous comments about sunny, warm weather often are followed in apologetic tones by "but we could sure use a little rain." Discreet, we Saskatchewanians. Never know who's still connected to the farm.

So, living in Saskatoon with no relatives (and only one far-away friend) in the farming business is about as close as anyone in Saskatchewan can get to taking rain for granted. Unless you're camping.

I'd forgotten just how far earthworms can stretch when they're flooded to the surface by a good steady rain. I mean the kind of good steady rain that can force a man and woman from their tent at 4 a.m. to dump a pond that accumulated above their heads, all the while snarling about sleeping bags dampened by condensation. The kind of good steady rain that can dissolve a mid-May camping trip into a cold and soggy retreat home.

Too much rain or not, I resolved that after we finished loading up the sedan with the camping gear that morning I would go for a hike on the "Highbush" trail, the only interpretive trail in Greenwater Lake Provincial Park (note: the Highbush has been extensively upgraded since our visit and the Marean Lake Birding Interpretive Trail opened in 2004 – ed.). The Highbush trail seemd to offer little promise because of its proximity to cabins and roads – there are many other hiking, cross-country skiing and snowmobile trails in the park. We left our campsite and drove to the trailhead, where my (then) 13-year-old daughter and I donned our rain ponchos and bid farewell to my wife and (then) 10-year-old son, who intended to walk to the nearby café after warming their wet toes in the car. We agreed to meet back at the car two hours later, around 1 p.m.

They were still there, but barely visible through the foggy car windows, when we returned 15 minutes later with a plea that they come see the trail. After much urging but no explanation other than "there's something interesting for both of you," my wife and son acquiesced – the rain had turned into a light drizzle. We left our Gordon-setter cross sitting in her preferred perch behind the steering wheel, looking for all the world like Goofy motoring to Disneyland.

We hiked into the woods no more than half a kilometre (550 yards), but this short section of trail was a condensed experience with nature. The trail follows Greenwater Creek, a charming little waterway that almost dries up in the summer time but is filled with spawning sucker fish at this time of year. The shimmering gold and black fish carry out their rites of spring amid the algae-clad rocks of the babbling creek. Every now and then one of them broke the surface, skittering like a salmon toward some upstream imperative.

As we watched the fish stew roiling at our feet, it occurred to me the wealth of walleye and northern pike (see Fishing Guide) in Saskatchewan has relegated these fish to non-edible status among local anglers. Yet they're a prized catch in many parts of North America and beyond.

Suckerfish flip around in the shallow water of Greenwater Creek.
Suckerfish flip around in the shallow water of Greenwater Creek.

Adorning the banks of Greenwater Creek are bouquets of marsh marigolds, beautiful yellow flowers particularly striking in the subdued light of the overcast forest. Their large, rounded, heart-shaped leaves resemble those of water lilies, which I mistook them for until the woman at the Greenwater convenience store set me straight. Marsh marigold leaves are said to be delicious when cooked but poisonous raw. I wonder who reports these findings.

The highlight of the Highbush trail, or at least that portion we saw, is the series of beaver dams about 400 metres in from the trailhead. Arriving at this scene was like visiting a construction site at coffee break; everywhere were signs of vigorous industry but nary a worker in sight. We marvelled at the narrow waist whittled into a large aspen standing right at the edge of the trail, and we wondered how on earth any beaver could hope to manipulate this huge tree if it failed to fall precisely where required. Then we saw our answer in a large, tooth-felled tree that was decomposing uselessly beside its stump.

Coffee break at the construction site.
Coffee break at the construction site.

Even more than the fish, the beaver dams drew rave reviews from my son, who had just finished studying the beaver in his Grade 5 classroom. He was delighted to contribute information about how beavers waterproof themselves with their own oil, and how they detect even tiny leaks in their dams through sensitive hairs in their coats.

I haven't the nerve to tell him what I later learned in conversation with the park naturalist. Human incursion into this particular ecosystem has driven away virtually all the beaver's natural predators, forcing men with guns and traps to try to impose an artificial balance.

While black bear remain common to the southern, high-traffic portion of the park, the timid timber wolf was pushed by man into the northern wilderness regions of Greenwater. There's really no choice, the naturalist told me. "We created the problem. We have to deal with it."

Efforts at Greenwater to tweak the natural balance of things extend to a recent controlled burn of a fast-advancing aspen stand located north of Greenwater Lake. Eastern Saskatchewan's white spruce forest was heavily harvested before 184-square kilometres of it was set aside to establish the provincial park in 1932. Hearty aspen trees flourished in both the logged areas, and those destroyed naturally by fire. Fire suppression within the park has since contributed to the aspen's encroachment on a small area of fescue prairie, now an endangered ecosystem that sprawled over much of the southern portion of the province before it was plowed under for crops.

This destruction of park trees has successfully regenerated a fescue patch that's become a feature destination for interpretive tours. Guided tours of the Highbush trail are also available.

Greenwater, a mixed boreal forest region located about 300 kms north of Regina and a similar distance east of Saskatoon, is very much a family park. The vast majority of visitors are happy to spend their time in the well-appointed core/beach area, rather than explore the backwoods. In the future, however, it's expected the park will create more interpretive trails, likely from existing ski-doo and cross-country ski trails, as interest in eco-tourism expands.

The pretty little marina, right next to the beach, is a popular spot with the kids.
-- courtesy Tourism Saskatchewan
The pretty little marina, right next to the beach, is a popular spot with the kids.

Our kids thoroughly enjoyed Greenwater (until there was too much rain). The day before the deluge, they spent several hours in one of the two busy and impressively - equipped playground areas of the beach, and at the adjoining marina, located on a small-mouthed inlet punctuated with a tiny island. They were disappointed, however, when we wouldn't allow them to rent the neat little pontooned bicycles or paddle boats available at the marina. It was May 17. Greenwater Lake, named after the forest's reflection and not the color of the water, was still very cold.

Unlike Duck Mountain Provincial Park, where we spent the preceding three days, Greenwater's four campgrounds and 267 sites are situated near the core area of the park. This centralized land use no doubt accounts in some measure for Greenwater appearing to be a far busier park than Duck Mountain on this Victoria Day long weekend. But a tour of the camping areas in both parks left us convinced there were simply a lot more people at Greenwater, especially kids, teens and twenty-somethings. There are more than 300 privately-owned cabins spread out over several subdivisions around Madge Lake in Duck Mountain park, and about 200 in closer proximity at Greenwater Lake.

Greenwater has a good, large beach that extends inland into a vast and grassy park area quite popular with frisbee players and picnickers when we strolled through it. A nice touch is the handy little sit-down/take-out restaurant located perhaps 100 metres from the beach. Judging by the foot traffic, the pizzas and burgers are popular.

Warm weather brings plenty of youthful activity on Greenwater beach.
-- courtesy Tourism Saskatchewan
Warm weather brings plenty of youthful activity on Greenwater beach.

Within this same core region there's a baseball diamond, laundry facilities, tennis courts, a horse-shoe pitch, a convenience/supply store, showers, phones, and yet another playground in the campground area. An interactive interpretive centre located in the park's adminstrative office area was completed in 2001.

You can buy gasoline and propane at the privately-operated facility at the entrance to the park. This facility also offers rental cabins, an outdoor pool, mini golf, an automated teller, a lounge with VLTs and licensed dining. There's no automated teller in the park, however, the convenience store will give you cash on a debit card for a small fee. Greenhills Golf and Country Club is a beautiful 18-hole, grass-greens facility located within the park's boundaries.

Beyond the sand lies part of the large, manicured park, popular with frisbee players and picnickers.
-- courtesy Tourism Saskatchewan
Beyond the sand lies part of the large, manicured park, popular with frisbee players and picnickers.

Good water and plenty of firewood were available in the Aspen Grove (14 non-electrified sites) campground where we tented, and the washrooms were clean and well stocked.

If you're looking for a provincial park that goes the extra mile to appeal to kids, Greenwater's a good choice. Especially in the sunshine.

For more information about Greenwater Lake Provincial Park or to book a campsite using the online reservation system, click here.

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