An interview with Kathy Picard on the Bluewater South Trails in Lac du Bonnet   

Trails connect us. We are with ourselves, with each other and with Canada when we step onto a trail. Manitobans are heading outdoors, seeking joy in spending time in nature. If you have used the Bluewater South Trails, a part of Canada’s Great Trail, you know the beauty of this region. These trails exist largely due to the efforts and passion of Kathy Picard, President of the Lac du Bonnet Trails Association. She has been developing and maintaining 40 km of trails with a dedicated group of people for over 20 years. Kathy grew up in Lac du Bonnet and graduated from LdBSS. She has Phys. Ed. and Education degrees from the University of Manitoba and has taught in rural Manitoba and Iqaluit. She finished her career as a Phys. Ed. Specialist at Centennial Elementary School in Lac du Bonnet. She is a Personal Fitness Trainer and thrives on the fitness classes she runs in conjunction with the Winnipeg River Recreation Commission. In partnership with HERO’S Alliance, she will be running a children’s outdoor program, Mindful Hikes, focusing on resilience and mental health in the outdoors. She shares her thoughts on the trail system and why trails are so important to our region.

Q:  You started developing the Lac du Bonnet Trail system over 20 years ago. What spurred you on to do so? What keeps you going today?

A:  I have pictures of my Dad’s family from the 1940’s at Blueberry Rock. They’d tell stories of how they’d walk there, 3 or 4 km one way to pick blueberries. It’s a special place for me and an attraction for many people.

I first started hearing about the TransCanada Trail (TCT) in 1992. My initial interest came from the whole idea of a trail that was for physical and non-motorized activity. I was interested in the way the trail would connect us all.  I just thought, “It’s got to come near us. It’s something that has to come through our community because it will be so valuable for our area.”  I strongly believe in the benefits of trails. At the time, I felt that this is something I can do for my community and that I could hang in for the long haul because we knew it would be a long haul.

We held our first meeting with the help of the MRTA (now Trails Manitoba) in 1999. A core team of individuals interested in horseback riding, skiing, hiking and biking on trails came together. We were stalled for a number of years when nothing was happening. We didn’t have any money. You can’t build a trail without money. In 2008, the Border to Beaches initiative resurrected the building of trails from the Ontario border to the beaches of Lake Winnipeg. Grants and funds from Trails Manitoba and the TCT helped us develop our trails.

Q: What challenges have you and the trails faced during development and maintenance?

A:  Funding is always a challenge. If it hadn’t been for Trails Manitoba we could never have done this. Other challenges were determining routes and acquiring permits. Manitoba Trails was essential in helping us negotiate with Manitoba Conservation, Highways, and Manitoba Hydro. The Lee River Management Area permit took 5 years before we could even start building the trail. Dealing with government departments is time consuming and can be frustrating. Some were wonderful, some less than wonderful. Over the 20 years of development the easiest organization to deal with was the RM of Lac du Bonnet. They’ve really supported the development and maintenance of the trails in the past.

We got our first grant for Blueberry Rock in 2000. The transformation of this section of trail is now exactly how we envisioned it to be. But there was frustration and disappointment along the way in terms of how the public treated it, a very small number of people who did damage. Now it deserves special mention. Hike Manitoba features Blueberry Rock in its trail guide. This is where we’ve come to. All of the work we did picking up old tires and garbage; repairing damage, it’s all paid off now. There seems to be public buy-in; and a sense of ownership of a wonderful place to go. I am so excited by the enthusiasm of the next generation.

Q:  There seems to be a growing interest in the trails. If there was one message you could share with residents about the trail’s importance or benefits, what would that be?

A:  Its free. It’s accessible. It’s available. Get out and enjoy it.

It’s good for your soul. There are times when I have gone there by myself. I always feel better afterward. I am thankful that there is this place to go, to enjoy solitude in a time of too much of everything. You are connected with all other parts of Canada. It certainly is an attraction for tourism, bringing people to the area. Research is showing that when people are looking for places to live, they are looking for opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, like access to trails. It certainly adds to our attraction as a community.

Q:  You’re offering Mindful Hikes, a program for children of our region, in partnership with HERO’S Alliance. Why did you choose to focus on resilience in nature during the program?

A:  Nature is resilient and shows us that all the time. You can see a tree in the forest growing sideways and it still finds a way to grow up straight. If that’s not resilience, I don’t know what is! I was on a Whiteshell trail in the fall, in a burned-out area. There were blackened stumps of trees. You can see the undergrowth and the blueberry bushes and by next year you’ll see little jack pines sprouting up. Nature is resilient all the time. People need to take a lesson from that.

The wind and storms of life can push you over but you can always get back up. With a sense of resilience you can think “I can do this… I might need help, but I can do this.” With young kids, we’ve been doing too much for them and taken away resilience. It is a learned skill; a life long skill we all need.

Q:  Flash forward 20 years. What’s happening with trails in our region?

A:  This question gets me excited. This is something to envision. I’d like to see our 40 km section of trail from Pinawa Dam to Great Falls Dam as a high-quality trail all the way. We will have markers indicating every km along the trail so people can know how far they’ve gone. There can be rest stops with bear-proof garbage cans, picnic tables, washrooms at regular intervals, and trailheads with maps that show the whole trail system and the connections with additional trails. There can be an interpretive panel at Blueberry Rock; its history and use in our area. It would be good to have the entire trail on greenway instead of on some roads.

This is the big one: a paved trail all the way from the Winnipeg River Bridge along PR 502 where people can bike or walk into town. Whether coming into town from fishing or just taking a stroll, a trail into town can bring business to the stores or restaurants. It can go past the museum, stopping at the boat launch to see the cairn or the plane sculpture, including all the history and heritage of this community. There’s funding out there to make this happen, but this needs a committed group.