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