WIIKWEMKOONG – The Wiikwemkoong Lands and Natural Resources Department crew were justly proud of their handiwork on the new Wiikwemkoong Marsh Trail and viewing stand. The construction crew took The Expositor on a tour for the opening of the new trail.
The new trail is intended as a learning environment, for both students with the Wiikwemkoong education system, community members and members of the general public focused in large part on the protection of species-at-risk.
Wiikwemkoong Department of Lands and Natural Resources Director John Manitowabi points to a row of brightly painted wood barriers erected near the Rabbit Island powwow grounds before we head out to Prairie Point and the Marsh Trail.
“We have identified Gattinger’s agalinis growing along there,” he said. “It is a species-at-risk.”
Gattinger’s agalinis is a branching, slender, annual plant that usually grows to about 15 centimetres in height, but could reach as high as 60 centimetres. The leaves are very narrow and up to three centimetres long and the plant produces pale pink or rose-purple, bell-shaped flowers very late in the season, usually around September.
That is just one of many plants and traditional medicines that the lands department is working to protect and enhance, explains Species-at-Risk Co-ordinator Theodore Flamand.
As we head down the path, Mr. Flamand points to some small nearby clearings. “We want to start a tree-planting program with the youth,” he said. “Get them involved in hands-on experiences in the bush helping to preserve and protect our resources.”
The trail has a number of entrances, but none of them are particularly challenging for most people. The trails are not fully accessible for some disabled, but are a still a work in progress. While the trails are fairly wide, Mr. Flamand said that they would like to discourage ATV use on these trails in order to better protect the species along the trail. “We didn’t make the trail a circle so that it would be less attractive for ATVs,” he said.
At the main entry to the trail a large sign features photos of the various birds that can be spotted in the forest and marshes.
The trail signs feature artwork by crew member George V. Peltier, who created the artwork as a volunteer effort. That kind of effort reflects the sense of ownership demonstrated by the crew members in creating the Marsh Trail.
Stands along the length of the trail contain booklets with information about the plants and animals that can be found along its length.
Trees deep in the marshes along the side of the trail feature birdhouses of various sizes. “There’s some wood ducks making a home in that one,” said Mr. Manitowabi. Crew member George Aiabens points to a platform high above the swamp, “that’s for a peregrine falcon to nest,” he said.
As we make our way down the trail a brand new viewing stand and seating area come into view. The viewing stand overlooks a small lake and marsh, providing a safe and panoramic position from which to view the constant action taking place.
“That’s a redpoll,” pipes up Glen Toulouse in response to a bird call echoing across the marsh. The other crew members nod in agreement.
In the centre of the circled benches is a large chicken wire enclosed box. Mr. Flamand points to small indentations in the sand within the box. “Those are turtle nests,” he says. “We brought the sand in to make a good place for them to nest.”
While the Marsh Trail was only open to community members while strict COVID-19 measures are in place, it should soon be open to the general public and tourists to enjoy, providing a new and innovative addition to things to see and enjoy on Manitoulin.
“A lot of people want to know more about the bush and the environment,” said Mr. Manitowabi. “This trail will help educate both our own community members and visitors about the importance of protecting the medicines and other plants.”