Wagg’s Park makeover unveiled and ready to welcome the public

A glimpse of the scenic new Wagg’s Park Trail in Mindemoya. photo by Andre Leblanc

by Andre Leblanc

MINDEMOYA – Wagg’s Park has been getting some positive play over the last number of weeks, and for good reason. This 42-acre parcel, of immeasurable value, that was donated by the late A. J. Wagg (in the early 1900s) has been going through a great transformation. 

My connection to the park has been as a teacher. Over the years the park has been a regular Earth Day clean-up project for students at nearby Central Manitoulin Public School and every year, unfortunately, it can use it. Students have found everything from a car hood to a bed frame and, regretfully, everything in between. It is such a shame because students have also found a threatened Blanding’s turtle, salamanders, deer, fossils, land-locked fish, etc. They also use the park for phys ed and for an outdoor classroom where there is learning to be had under every rock! Although an extremely important clientele, students are just one segment of the users of the grounds.

Thankfully, Central Manitoulin has decided to return the park to a welcoming place for everything! The municipality applied for an up to $25,000 grant through the Farm Credit Canada Agri-Spirit Fund for sustainable trail development, signage and amenities like bike racks, garbage cans. Current donations have come from: Wayne Legge of Manitoulin Chrysler; Basil Panamick of Finn’s Gas Bar; Dr. Dale Scott and Holly Scott; Steve Fisher and Dr. Johanne Paquet of Island Animal Hospital; Adam and Erin Smith of Jakes Home Centre; Gail Meehan and Madeline Wagg Becks; Hal Love; two loads of screenings from an anonymous donor; Taylor’s Sawmill; and James Millette Forestry. Central Manitoulin anticipates they have over $10,000 in donations so far, which of course doesn’t include volunteer labour.

The municipality has been able attract new volunteers on just this project alone. The new volunteers are David Kains, Lesley Phillips, Ted Williamson, Dale Scott, Marcel Beneteau, John Diebolt, Al Tribinevicius, and even me. The trail committee members—Dale Scott, John Diebolt, Marcel Beneteau, Al Tribinevicius, Wendy Wiggins and Katie Gilchrest—have been very active with planning and trail building. The township and one of the main spearheads of the trail’s planning and building, Marcus Mohr, community development/outreach coordinator, would like to extend thanks on their behalf.

A new trail head is located at the corner of Forest and Thorne streets in Mindemoya. There is also a designated 10 car parking lot right there at the end of Thorne Street. Additionally, the roads department has installed a 10-foot-wide culvert and ditch crossing. Putting the new trail head to the south of the creek makes the park more accessible to all users, as the current trail head between Manitoulin Chrysler and the Island Animal Hospital had to cross the creek bed. The seasonal creek bed has long been a barrier to enhancement and promotion of the park. A bridge that would cover the creek and its seasonal flood plain has been deemed impractical and too cost prohibitive. 

During trail construction the park had to be closed for about three weeks, however the wait was worth it and half of the eventual trails are now open to the public. The main ‘Accessibility’ trail is nearly half a kilometre of wide and smoothly-graded beauty that even those with mobility issues can access. It features a gently sloped and winding path with places to rest and turn around wheelchairs and scooters. The Fossil Trail is also open and follows a treasure trove of ancient fossils from the Silurian Period of the Paleozoic Era (thanks, rock star William Scott!). This amazing walk (all except spring run-off time) shows an exposed fossilized creek-bed. These fossils, as they are all across Manitoulin, are some of the earliest fossils to be studied and date back some 440 million years ago. Dinosaurs, by comparison, are their far-future relatives as they occurred much more recently at 150 million years ago! Of course they are a finite resource for everyone to discover and it is encouraged that you only take pictures or even the old-school pencil rubbings.

The Escarpment Trail and Alvar Trail are still under construction. Mr. Mohr thanks everyone for their continued patience. He is thinking that this is more of a “soft” opening because he and the team is planning a grand opening for the new trail sections in the near future. Along with that they are hoping to have some proper signage in place and maybe even another section of trail called the Escarpment Trail, to open this fall. The Escarpment Trail traverses a plateau of the first and second level of the escarpment. Its difficulty level is a bit harder than the Accessibility and Fossil Trail but is sure to offer new, exciting views and adventures for the park. 

Mr. Mohr then reveals that, “The next enhancement is the Alvar Trail, which will be a giant loop around the upper two thirds of the large parcel. Interpretive signage identifying plants, animals and geological features is also being developed. They have identified 63 herbaceous and other ground vegetation and 27 tree species and tall shrubs so far. The final jewel in the crown of the park will be the tentative plans for a viewing tower at the top of the escarpment. The tower will be a destination and get visitors over the lower-level canopy, offering long views of Lake Mindemoya, Treasure Island and beyond. It will surely be a beautiful backdrop for many photos and memories.  There are obviously a lot of logistics to be worked out but there is a clear vision and a strong will to complete the project.”

This story has been in progress for over the last months and now the breaking news, that the Escarpment trail had just opened and it allows people to experience an ancient, sedimentary formation as you ascend the bluff. There are many interesting things to discover. It is always amazing that life, vegetation (especially) can still flourish in this harsh, ancient, environment.

It is great to see the community at large coming together to support such a cherished spot. There is always a need for more volunteers and donations. If you have help with either, please contact Central Manitoulin.