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Spruce Woods Park Rebounds, Open This Weekend

Reid Dickie

In this post a year ago the flooding Assiniboine River had a destructive hold on Spruce Woods Park. Hwy #5 was washed away through the park, campgrounds and buildings were covered with eight feet of water and the summer looked bleak.

Today I had my fourth hike to the Spirit Sands in the last two weeks and have great news to report. As I arrived today, a work crew was taking down the detour sign to the upper campground. That was exciting and promising! The low road to the campground, the one that had about two hundred yards of it washed away by the surging waters last year at this time, has been rebuilt with tons of fill and finished with gravel for now. The badly-damaged lower campground is still off-limits but the park staff are to be commended for their efforts to rejuvenate the rest of the park.

Most of the debris strewn helter skelter about the park by the river has been cleared away, signage has been restored, trails opened, the river-broken trees have been cleaned up and guaranteed there will be no shortage of firewood this summer in the park.

It was evident today that the day use area with beach, Pine Fort, picnic and displays will be open for the long weekend. They have resanded the beach on the oxbow. See how murky the water is before you swim in it. Use caution. Remember the swimming area is largely river water washed in last year containing everything it picked up along the way and it has sat stagnant.

There are plenty of things to do in the park. The trail system, including Spirit Sands, Punchbowl, Marsh Lake, Epinette Creek etc are all open. The covered wagon rides to the dunes and punchbowl are back this year but I’m not sure if they will be available for the long weekend. The upper campground is virtually sold out for the weekend, the yurts are booked solid all weekend.

I was heartened to see many western painted turtles sunning themselves on downed trees today along the edge of Marsh Lake. The turtles were disturbed by the sudden flood but have bounced back, even though the waters of Marsh Lake are still cloudy with mud. The floating bridge at the apex of Marsh Lake Trail has been replaced though the little island it accesses was devastated by the flood leaving mostly broken trees. Painted turtles can also be seen around the punchbowl.

Go for a hike. There are several different terrains and habitats to choose from. The trail on the way to Spirit Sands offers some lovely blossoms these days. The bearberry is turning from red to glossy green. Hoary puccoon (above) speckle the grass with its bright deep yellow flowers. Three-flowered aven (right), their hairy heads drooping sadly, add touches of mauve and rust to the speckle. I saw all kinds of butterflies on my hike today and the air was alive with the buzz of insects and sweet tweets from the trees. Abundant as ever in the shady areas and along the stairs is poison ivy. Barefoot hikers take heed.  The other danger is wood ticks and I recommend a thorough tick check of your whole body after a hike.

The weekend will be hot and hotter on the dunes by up to 10 degrees. Carry water, wear a hat and don’t wear stupid shoes. Maybe the cool evening suits you better. Take a sunset hike and hear a choir of coyotes echoing over the dunes as you watch the sand redden into black and the fireflies sparkle around you.

Remember: no more free parks this year. The three-year moratorium on park fees is over. Buy an annual pass for $30, save a lot of time and cash and relax. Canadian Tire and fishing/hunting stores sell the passes.

When you see the park staff, let them know they’ve done a great job getting Spruce Woods back on its feet so quickly. I look forward to my next twelve visits to it this summer.

Watch my video of a hike I took to Spirit Sands last year. Check out more Manitoba day trips on my Day Tripper page at the top. Have a wonderful weekend. Every mile a safe mile.

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2012 Flood Update

Reid Dickie

A much different spring this year than last! Generally the Canadian prairies experienced a mild winter with very little snow in most areas. What snow there was is all gone; we had a thunderstorm on the last day of winter and the trees are already budding like mad. Unless we get a big blizzard, which is still quite possible between now and May, there won’t be flood threats this year. Lake Manitoba is still high and property owners around its rim are struggling to understand and access the government’s compensation package after last year’s debacle.

I plan to make my first recon trip out of the city this coming weekend which will include a visit to Spruce Woods Provincial Park to see how the little park overwintered. I’ll report on that on the weekend. As well, I’ll update the latest information on the summer outlook for Spruce Woods and the other parks flooded out last spring.

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Criddle Vane Homestead

Reid Dickie 

I have just uploaded my 100th video to YouTube, appropriately it is about one of the most unusual and historically significant families to homestead on the Manitoba prairie. In 1882 London merchant Percy Criddle packed up his wife Alice and their four children, and his mistress Elise Vane and their five children, and transported them all across the ocean to a homestead southeast of Brandon. Exceptional and eccentric describes this family. Music, art, sports, astronomy, entomology – the family had wide and varied interests and pursued them all in what is now called Criddle Vane Provincial Park. This picture shows Percy, Alice, Elise and 11 of the brood which eventually totalled 13 children.

At the park, a short easy well-documented walking trail shows you the significant remains of the homestead. I wrote about the Criddle Vane family and homestead in my 2006 book Manitoba Heritage Success Stories, available at libraries all over Manitoba. Though slightly obscure, the homestead is easily accessible, offers lots of information on the site while providing a fascinating glimpse into the lives of these pioneers. Below is a picture of Norman Criddle standing in front of his entomology lab, the first one in western Canada.

Step back in time to pioneer days now and join the Criddle Vane adventures via my video report.

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Pictures of Spruce Woods Park Flooding

Reid Dickie

These are from July 14 to 16, 2011. This is the low road to the campground, flooded with washouts.

Access along the low road flooded out.

Here in the bottom of the valley the Assiniboine River is almost two miles wide.

Super sandbags couldn’t hold back the mighty Assiniboine.

At a bend in the river, the low road is completely gone.

This is the temporary park office set up to handle the sparse customers for the yurts and high campground.

These are shots of Hwy 5 on the north side of the park. Boulders and gravel piled down the middle of the highway above Marsh Lake.

Destruction caused by the surging river water.

At the entrance to Marsh Lake, the highway lies in ruins. Just past the bend on the right in the distance was where the entrance to Spirit Sands used to be. The road is gone now.

Marsh Lake – overgrown and reverting back to the wild.

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Yurting at Spruce Woods Park

Reid Dickie 

Watch my 3:17 video tour of Yurt #4.

I spent Thursday and Friday of last week at Spruce Woods Park, staying in one of 13 yurts they rent out to not-quite-campers. It was a quiet stay. The park has been ravaged by the flooding Assiniboine River since break-up this spring and most of its amenities are inaccessible. There isn’t much to do except enjoy the outdoors and catch up on cloud watching.

Kiche Manitou campground is a shadow of its former self due to this year’s flooding. Only the upper campground and yurts are in use this summer with a makeshift camp office set up to process visitors. The lower campground has been under water for months. Just two other yurts were in use on Thursday and just five on Friday. It’s been a slow year, park staff told me. The detour map from the provincial parks website was easy to follow to the campground on good gravel roads. To cut down on noise, motorized vehicles are prohibited from getting close to the yurts. To haul your camping stuff from car to tent, the park provides good quality red metal wagons. Here’s a shot of my wagon.

Every yurt is electrified with a nice porch – mine faced northwest – fire pit, picnic table and chopping area.

The yurts sleep five and, although the days were very hot – both about 30 degrees C – the yurt has a domed ceiling that opens to allow hot air out. The place cooled quickly and adequately at dusk resulting in pleasant sleeps both nights.

I wasn’t completely alone for the two days. A little red squirrel adopted me and defended our territory against other squirrels, chipmunks and even a crow. I named it Tenacious. I think it was my constant supply of Spanish peanuts that ensured the critter’s loyalty. Here’s a shot of Tenacious.

Friday began with an intense thunderstorm at dawn. Heavy rains and a wild light show resulted but I stayed cozy and dry in the yurt. The rest of Friday was a perfect prairie summer day, hot and clearing. I caught up on my cloud watching and made this time-lapse video of the afternoon cloudscapes from my porch.

For the third year in a row, there is no entry fee for Manitoba provincial parks though camping fees still apply. In the case of the yurts, the charge is about $54 a night all in. Very economical for a family. If you are interested in a quiet getaway experience this summer, rent a yurt at Spruce Woods. Respite from the weary world, peaceful trees and easy accommodations await you. For information and bookings, the provincial parks website is http://www.gov.mb.ca/conservation/parks/

Today in Winnipeg the temperature is 34 degrees C or 93 degrees F, add in 63% humidity and it feels like 48 degrees C or 118 degrees F. Thunderstorms are predicted. Our precious prairie summers!!

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Spruce Woods Park Flood – Video Update

Reid Dickie 

I just spent two days in Yurt #4 at Spruce Woods Provincial Park and brought back three video reports of the damage the little park sustained. It’s sad!

The main access road – Hwy #5 – is a broken highway with washouts fifteen feet deep and spanning hundreds of yards. The bridge over the Assiniboine held but serious washouts occurred on both sides of it. The prospects for doing anything other than camping or yurting at the park this year are dim. One park attendant told me there is a slim possibility Spirit Sands may be accessible before the year is out but I’m not counting on it, judging by the condition of the highway, access roads and the continuing high water levels. Although full moon night was clear and warm and would have been perfect for a midnight hike on the sands, alas I was only able to watch the moon rise and listen to the surging river from the porch of my yurt.

My first report shows the Assiniboine’s damaging effect on the park road which leads off Hwy #5 to the lower and upper campgrounds and yurt area. The road is washed out as you can see in this short video report.

The second report shows Hwy #5, closed and barricaded, and the some of the damage it sustained. This is a long shot looking from the south taken on a hot prairie morning. You can see the heat waves rising from the asphalt.

The third report shows in detail the extensive damage and washouts along Hwy #5 near Marsh Lake in Spruce Woods Park.

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Spruce Woods Provincial Park Manitoba Flood Update – Friday May 13, 2011

Reid Dickie

The Assiniboine River runs through Spruce Woods Provincial Park and not only has its flooding closed the park indefinitely, Highway #5 which runs through the park is closed between Glenboro and Carberry. Water is over the road and some of the highway is washed out. The lower areas of the Spirit Sands and Marsh Lake are water covered and there is more on the way.

The lower campground at Kiche Manitou campground in Spruce Woods Park is under several feet of water and all buildings have been severely damaged. Yurts are on high ground and unaffected by flooding. Manitoba Conservation is hoping to re-open the park to camping in the lower campground by the end of July! That’s right, the end of July! Some aspects of the park are expected to open in mid-June but there is an enormous amount of water to move first. Many provincial parks are affected by flooding. Check here for updates on campground closures and delayed openings.

In Brandon, the dikes are under heavy maintenance, another foot is being added to most of the dikes as water flows are expected to increase. Saskatchewan has had heavy rains and the Qu’Appelle River, which drains into the Assiniboine at St. Lazare, MB, is swollen. Everything downstream from there is under flood watch. The final stores have closed in the Corral Centre and Paddock. The last evacuees are expected to be gone by this evening and the city waits. The crest, once thought imminent, is now predicted for the middle of next week. The Saskatchewan rains and subsequent surges are making crest predictions extremely difficult. One certainty from Manitoba Water Stewardship is to expect higher than predicted crest levels along the Assiniboine. This announcement resulted in the new endeavours to raise Brandon`s dikes by at least a foot.

At Portage the military is working to raise the Portage Diversion to move more river water into Lake Manitoba to the north. Tonight there is more water in the Portage Diversion than in the Red River Floodway around Winnipeg! The Trans Canada Highway remains open today through Grand Valley west of Brandon where the ditches are being re-enforced with stones. Structurally the two bridges that span the river at Grand Valley are sound and uncompromised by the rising river.

The proposed “controlled” breach at Hoop and Holler Bend has been delayed again, now scheduled for early Saturday. There are 122 provincial roads affected by flooding, 73 closed. There are approximately 750 municipal roads closed. Though Brandon is predicted to get a little wet snow tonight, the forecast for the Assiniboine region including its headwaters in Saskatchewan is for clear sunny days ahead with no precipitation for a week. That would help immensely!

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12 SACRED PLACES

12 SACRED PLACES

DAY FIVE

STAR MOUND

 July 2, 2010

“The cone of silence descends over me”

            In extreme southern Manitoba, a few kilometers from the North Dakota border outside of Snowflake, MB, the prairie rises sharply into a 200-foot high hill, one of several mounds in the area, used as a landmark for millennia. This is my second visit to Star Mound, a precious little site that harbours reminders from several significant eras.

            Easy to access on a good gravel road, Star Mound offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the prairies. Rolling hills cut with treed breaks flow off to the north, shadows of massive lazy clouds slide across the land, the garish colours of the monoculture glow. Explorer La Verendrye witnessed this vista; artist Paul Kane made sketches from its summit. Instead of tractors, half tons and toxic canola yellow, their landscape had buffalo, tipis and tall rippling grass. Had they come in spring, they would have found the sides of Star Mound glorious with crocuses.

Beaver shaped burial mound, tail to left, body to right, with flagpole, sign and geodetic marker on top

           The heat thickens but the hilltop is cooler than the flatland below. The gentle slope of the hillside scoops up every little zephyr creating a constant breeze that keeps the sweat and bugs at bay. Tiny happy voices winkle on the wind.

            I wait for the telling welcome and feel it behind my eyes. I smile and rattle a small gratitude song. Stripping off my shirt and shoes, I sing my power song as I enter the site. Prominent on top of the hill is a large burial mound in the shape of a beaver, one of only two such relics in western Canada. The mound is about 8 feet high, 20 feet across and 50 feet long. Hidatsa and Mandan used it for centuries to bury their dead and hold ritual. Now it’s my turn.

            I have come with a modest intent: to encounter the local spirits and discover healing possibilities they may have. Circling the mound in a slow sunwise dance, singing my power song and spontaneously gesturing, I feel the place bring me into its deep present. The veil is thin here. The cone of silence descends over me and I am awake and alive inside Spirit once again.

            Climbing to the flat top of the mound, I lay on the mowed grass and wait, quickened, present, perfectly still. Little earth and wind elemental spirits surround me. The wind blows through me, my skin and the earth’s skin commune, the Ancients stir underground and bliss awakens in me. I burn here, languishing in pure pleasure. Ecstatic again! The bliss in this case stems from the harmonic integration of all three aspects of my being – body, mind and spirit. Here and at most sacred sites, when that integration occurs, I am healed on every level possible, including the psychic, subtle and causal realms. The simple act of integration begins the healing, thereafter my intent combines with my spirit helpers  I rise and give thanks for another rejuvenating encounter with Spirit.

            On top of the burial mound, a flagpole flies the Canadian flag, a small sign signifies the mound and a three-foot tall cement marker from the geodetic survey of the Canada-US border indicates distance to the border. Star Mound School, sits next to the mound. The school is so well preserved and furnished as a museum, you could walk in, sit a class down and begin teaching. It is an honourable reminder of the one-room schoolhouse.

            The top of the hill features several huge boulders moved in for an unknown purpose but beautifully displayed next to the school. Excellent meditation stones! On the west end of the hilltop a suspicious buffalo rub stone has been brought in and signed. Trying to figure out where the buffalo rubbed against the stone seemed too difficult. I think they positioned the stone wrong when they set it down.

            As I sit in the Avenger writing this report in my journal, a half ton truck rattles up the hillside and parks next to me. Bert Moyer gets out and introduces himself. He grew up five miles from here and farms five miles from here “but in the opposite direction.” Bert is “a reader, not a watcher. Goddamn TV!” We hit it off and spend half an hour jawing.

Star Mound School opened in 1886 and closed in 1962. Now an excellent museum, it sits next to the burial mound.

           This is the “according to Bert” section of the report. Bert says this is the sixth location of the school and points out the other five locations in the landscape. He didn’t attend this school. He tells me the hill is composed of “200 feet of bentonite and the usual glacial junk under that,” and points out the hole a few away where they drilled to get this information. Bert tells me Star Mound is one of three mounds around here. Pilot Mound to the east and another one, whose name Bert can’t remember, just across the border in North Dakota. 

            Bert says this place is respected and cherished by people around here. He’s come to clean up after last night’s fireworks display for Canada Day. “Had near a thousand people out here for it.” I am amazed! The site is virtually clear and clean but for a ballpoint pen I found in the grass. There is zero garbage anywhere on the hill. Bert will have an easy job cleaning up.

             Whether or not we fully appreciate the power of a sacred site, people often feel an unbidden respect for them, something transformational that affirms they are a human being here now. Star Mound is one of those places – accessible, holy and respected.

DAY TRIPPING

PEMBINA VALLEY PROVINCIAL PARK 

July 2, 2010

            Before going to Star Mound, my wanderlust takes me on my first visit to one of Manitoba’s newer provincial parks, Pembina Valley. Located south of Morden on the banks of the Pembina River, this small park once encompassed part of a farm owned by Henry and Elma Martens. The couple wanted to preserve the area’s natural elements and landscape and offered to sell the land for a park. The combined efforts of Manitoba Conservation and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, who jointly purchased the land, resulted in this lush little oasis.

           The day swelters but a sweet breeze whistles along the Pembina Valley, cooling the bare skin and keeping the mosquitoes away. Around me is an almost circular windbreak of mature spruce and blue spruce, three deep and very effective against the winter winds. I feel well tended and safe among these old trees. During my entire 90-minute stay, I am the park’s only user.

            Numerous trails of various difficulties provide wildlife viewing opportunities and magnificent vistas of the Pembina/Tiger Hill region. Picnics and family gatherings can be accommodated although no camping is allowed and the washrooms are primitive. I am lazy today so prefer the shade of a beautiful basswood and the wiles of my pen to a hike in a forest full of bugs. I languish instead.

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