It has taken a couple of years, but the Northwestern Ontario Recreation Trails Association now has a path for hikers to enjoy.
The association has opened the first 22 kilometres of the Shabaqua Trail, which will eventually span from Kakabeka Falls to Shabaqua, and hosted its first Discover the Trail guided hike on Sunday.
“This started out as an idea and a concept,” association president Len Day said. “Now that we have a trail in place, it gives credence to us as we work on the other four phases of the trail system.
“We’re getting really good support from the townships out that way that are impacted by the trails and the City of Thunder Bay has said that they are definitely willing to look at our proposal once we have something in place.
“Having those messages come in is great and once we have the trail fully established, we’ll be looking at getting community support for regular maintenance and upkeep of the trail.”
Day says the group started to look into the trail back in the fall of 2020 and it took a bit of time to get approval from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, though that was mainly due to staffing changes with the ministry as people retired and new workers came in.
“After they got settled in, we sat down with them and explained to them what we were looking at doing,” Day said.
“Once that happened, everything just kind of took off and we got to the point in August that we were granted approval for our Phase I trail.”
The feedback from Sunday’s guided hike was positive, with another seven km expected to be in place to hike for the next Discover the Trail event on Oct. 1.
“What kind of blows people away is that once you get halfway between Kakabeka Falls and Shabaqua on the trail, you are 100 metres higher than Mount McKay,” Day said.
“It's kind of hard to fathom until you look up and then you go ‘Holy cow.’”
This trail is the first of five that the group hopes to have completed over the coming years.
Phase II will connect to the City to Thunder Bay and the existing Trans-Canada Trail system that ends at Fort William Historical Park.
For the third phase, the association is looking at connecting the trail south towards the Minnesota-Ontario border and tying into the Trans-Canada Trail and the Path of the Paddle Water Trail.
Phase IV will look to make a connection east towards Nipigon and Red Rock, while the fifth and final phase would see the Shabaqua Trail connect west with Quetico Provincial Park and Atikokan.
As the Shabaqua Trail and the other phases of the project continue to evolve, Day says the biggest thing for the group is to find people to help general upkeep of the trails.
“On Sunday when we went out, we found a beaver dam that had flooded the trail so we had to find a way around that,” Day said.
“As you go further down the path at certain points, there may be trees down or brush down, especially after the winter. I think at some point, we will probably have people who volunteer to walk through the trail and help clean it up so people can use it.”
Those looking for more information on the Northwestern Ontario Recreation Trails Association can visit the group’s official Facebook page.