Birds Hill Provincial Park’s Draft Trails Plan

by Kevin Miller, CCSAM Board-approved Recreational Skiing volunteer

Birds Hill Provincial Park’s Draft Trails Plan has just been released, and public consultation has begun. CCSAM Executive Director Karin McSherry & I met with Manitoba Parks’ staff a few days ago to discuss the plan and provide comments.

Background

In 2011, Manitoba Parks initiated a Birds Hill Provincial Park Management Plan process. A number of public consultations were held, and many ideas and comments were received from many organizations and individuals.

The Birds Hill Provincial Park Management Plan was released in 2013: gov.mb.ca/conservation/parks/pdf/planning/2013/bird_hill_management_plan.pdf. The parts that pertain to cross country skiing are on pages 14 & 15 and pages 21 & 22. In particular, “2.2.2 Guidelines – f. Trails” on page 21 is of interest to many cross country skiers, especially point 1.iii that says “The plan will establish specific direction for: rerouting the snowmobile trails in the park to provide a basic connecting trail from PTH 59 to PR 206, and to achieve maximum spatial separation from other trails in the park.” I wrote a news item about this in May 2013: ccsam.ca/most-snowmobile-trails-in-birds-hill-park-will-be-phased-out/

The Draft Trails Plan

The just-released Draft Trails Plangov.mb.ca/sd/parks/consult/pdf/birdshilltrailsplan.pdf – contains mainly general information. Karin and I learned of some proposed specifics during our meeting with Manitoba Parks’ staff.

Aspen, Bluestem, Esker, Lime Kiln, and Chickadee trails – currently classic skiing

There are no proposed usage or routing changes to the 36K classic ski trail system.

Group Use Road #1 – currently skate skiing, skijoring, and kick sledding

There are no proposed usage changes to the 5.2K loop.

Tamarack and Hazelnut trails – currently snowmobiling and dog sledding

This is the interesting part. It’s proposed that

  • a bit less than half of the Tamarack and Hazelnut trails will be re-designated as a two-way snowmobile trail,
  • approximately 6K of the Tamarack trail will be re-designated as a two-way (out-and-back) skate skiing, skijoring, kick sledding, and dog sledding trail, and
  • parts of the Tamarack and Hazelnut trails will be decommissioned because parts of each of the two trails run through very wet areas.

Currently, the combined length of the Tamarack and Hazelnut trails is 25K.

Karin and I were shown a hand-marked Winter Activities trail map that illustrated these proposed changes. I have hand-marked a Winter Activities trail map from my memory of the map at the meeting:

  • Blue are wet areas. You’d think these areas would be frozen during the winter, but often it’s not until late December or January that this happens. There have been instances during the past couple years when the park’s excellent (and expensive) Pisten Bully grooming machine has almost gotten stuck in these areas, so the park has proposed the decommissioning of trail segments that run through these wet areas.
  • Green is the proposed two-way snowmobiling trail.
    • We were disappointed that this proposed snowmobile trail uses the south branch of the Tamarack trail, but the wet area necessitates this routing. The park also wants the Hazelnut trail’s warming shelter and outdoor toilet facilities to remain accessible for snowmobilers. We were told that more work will be done to close all possible exit points along the trail – especially near the Lime Kiln trail, and if snowmobile impact on other trails – especially the classic ski trails – continues, enforcement will be increased and further actions will be taken. Also see the Draft Trails Plan to read about education and communications initiatives.
    • We were disappointed to see a spur trail leading to/from the stables area. We were told that the restaurant depends on sales to all of the park’s winter users, including snowmobilers, to remain economically viable.
    • We know many skiers and other park users would like to see snowmobiling removed from the park. This desire by many people is acknowledged in the Management Plan and in the Draft Trails Plan,  but politically, it isn’t going to happen. Skiers are a strong lobby group – individually and through CCSAM, but so are snowmobilers – individually and through Snoman.
  • Orange is the proposed two-way (out-and-back) skate skiing, skijoring, kick sledding, and dog sledding trail.
    • The trailhead will be the Nimowin trailhead, which has a fairly large parking lot and also has outdoor toilet facilities. A new short loop will be built at the far end of the trail. This trail has a number of direction and elevation changes. It will double the length of skate skiing trails in the park, and it will be a very different skiing experience than the Group Use Road.
    • The park and CCSAM both feel that skate skiers sharing the Group Use Road and this new trail with dog skiing/sledding users is a better solution than designating one of the trails for only skate skiers and the other trail for only dog skiing/sledding users. We discussed this in detail. (Who would get which trail? A skijorer’s partner is often skiing with them. Dog sledding impacts a trail surface more than skate skiing, but it isn’t incompatible with skate skiing and there really aren’t a lot of dog sledders … actually it’s the “kick” in kick sledding that impacts the trail surface more … and also walkers. Etc.) We realize that skate skiers who do not like dogs may disagree.

The Draft Trails Plan contains many benefits for cross country skiing and many restrictions for snowmobiling. The park is committed to implementing and enforcing these changes, subject to the results of the current public consultation process and political approval.

Your comments

Manitoba Parks is accepting comments about the Draft Trails Plan until March 31: gov.mb.ca/sd/parks/consult/park_name/birdshill.html.

I’d appreciate answering your questions and responding to your comments: Kevin.Miller@mts.net.