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PostPosted: September 8th, 2011, 7:29 pm 
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Bigwind Lake park: tucked away and little-known

One of the biggest provincial parks in Muskoka, Bigwind is easy to find but really tricky to access

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NO EASY ACCESS. What was once a decent road through Bigwind Provincial Park has been allowed to deteriorate. After too much abuse, the park has been closed to ATVs and campers, although snowmobiles travel the road in winter and cyclists and hikers are welcome. Photo by Jon Spratt

SOUTH MUSKOKA -- About 30 kilometers east of Bracebridge, there’s an unspoiled swath of land, 1,967 hectares in all, that lies almost untouched by humans.

Bigwind Lake Provincial Park is what’s known as a non-operating park, as it has been since at least 1983.

“It has representative natural features,” said Peter Briand, operations manager for Ontario Parks central zone. “It would have been set aside to capture a certain representation of an ecodistrict in the province.”
“Instead of it being operated and collecting fees, it remains just as a portion of crown land set aside and regulated for protection purposes. But it doesn’t have any budget or staff and it’s not operated to provide facilities for the public.”

The park is a protected environment; features include a ground moraine, Precambrian rock, forest, swamps, marshes and meadows.

At one time it was home to a Ministry of Natural Resources Ontario Ranger camp, located on Crosson Lake within the park. That’s been closed for over 20 years now, though some ruins remain on the site where it sat.

Visitors are asked to respect the park’s ecosystem, which is a nice idea in theory. In practice, they haven’t in the past, and that’s led to some of the park’s restrictions.

Camping was once permitted in the park, but no longer.

Briand said Bigwind was seeing increasing use, which proved increasingly troublesome to its natural environment.

“There was certainly a level of impact occurring: garbage left behind, and in some cases people were digging pits and making kind of temporary… septic pits for their trailers,” he said. “Because of that and our lack of operating funding as a non-operating park, we decided to institute a no-camping policy in the park.”

“I know we renewed (no-camping) signage about four years ago. And we do have some ability to carry out enforcement in the non-operating parks.”

As far is Briand is aware, the roads in the park have never been maintained by Ontario Parks since they took control of the land around 1983.

However, the Happy Wanderers Snowmobile Club out of Baysville does some maintenance in the interest of keeping the roads suitable for snowmobiling during the winter months.

“We’re maintaining a trail through the park and in the wintertime, people are riding that park,” said Rick Shantz, club president.

The club maintains a bridge in the park – they had to re-deck it last year because of their 10,000 pound grooming equipment – and go through the park each fall to clear downed trees off the road.

Bigwind is so nondescript, Shantz points out, that even regular users of the park may not be aware of its status.

“I’ve ridden that trail for many years, and six or seven years ago, when I got heavily involved with the club, is when I came to actually realize that we were riding through a provincial park,” he said. “The majority of snowmobilers that would ride through that area certainly wouldn’t even know that they’ve ridden through a provincial park.”

While snowmobiling is encouraged, ATVing is banned in the park.

Briand is aware of some individuals who received tickets for operating their vehicles within the park’s boundaries.

“It is posted along the road at both ends, an ATV symbol with a bar through it,” he said. “The same with camping.”

Shantz recalled seeing ticketing in progress while carrying out stewardship activities.

“A bunch of us were going back to do some trail maintenance and there was an MNR guy back there nailing all the ATVers,” he said. “It suited me just fine, because those guys destroy our trails.”

While Ontario Parks is committed to keeping the land undisturbed, Briand pointed out that the public is more than welcome to visit the park during day hours – provided they leave no trace, of course.

“By all means, it’s open for days and there’s a place you can drive in to across the lake if you can manage the road there, or you can walk across the road,” he said. “People do go in there and they go fishing and go walking or paddling in the lake, and that’s fine.”

While there’s no boat launch, many people bring their canoes in, he added.

Bigwind’s interim management strategy was last updated in 2007. Briand said that parks with more complex management issues are generally given priority in terms of developing management strategies.

“Those are typically ones where there’s higher levels and different types of use going on that require management attention,” he said. “We don’t have (Bigwind) on a five-year list right now to review it.”

For now, there are no plans to develop any facilities or additional trails. But if you’re looking for a day amid pure nature, Bigwind is a good place to start.

Bigwind: a land o’ lakes

Bigwind Lake might be hidden away, but local anglers know about it.

The lake is stocked with lake trout yearlings every two years, according to online documentation from the Ministry of Natural Resources. In 2010, the ministry stocked 800 trout, down from 1300 in 2006.

Brook trout were once stocked in the lake, but that program has been discontinued since 1991. The species is believed to spawn naturally there today.

The lake also has a population of invasive largemouth bass; there are also smallmouth bass, pumpkinseed and yellow perch on the lake, according to MNR reports.

Bigwind Lake goes down to maximum depth of 36 metres with an average depth of 7.8 metres.

Other lakes within the park or bordering it include, from largest to smallest: Pine Lake, Gullfeather Lake, Crosson Lake, Keyhole Lake and a few unnamed water bodies.


Ontario Parks Bigwind Lake page: http://www.ontarioparks.com/english/bigw.html

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