STA Photo Contest wraps up

Congratulations to Mitch Serbu for winning the STA Photo Contest. This winning shot was taken at the Beechy Sandcastles along Lake Diefenbaker.

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition. There were some great photos to choose from!

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Toddlers on Trails – Preparation is key!

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Getting out of the house can be important when you’re a new parent, and teaching toddlers about nature can protect them later in life. Exercise for you both might also be very welcome after being cooped up for the winter. However, if you’re planning on going hiking with your toddler, there are some hazards on the trail that we might be able to help you avoid! Let’s go over some trail tips and see if we can make the outing as child-friendly (and parent-friendly) as possible.

How to prepare:

1. Hit the trail solo:
Taking some time to scope out the lay of the land before hitting the trail with your little one can save you a lot of time and hassle. A vanguard solo venture will give you a chance to familiarize yourself with the trail length, any hazards that might be on the way, and will give you a better idea of how to prepare for the journey ahead. Are there wasp nests or poison ivy patches to avoid? You’re on top of it! Muddy spots that require rubber boots? You’ll know. Windy cold areas that require an extra layer? No problem. You’re sure to have more fun if you know what to look out for.

2. Set realistic time goals:
Everything takes longer with children, especially young children. While you may think that you’ve budgeted enough time for you to pack, get to the hiking site, conduct your trek, and return, it is likely that you’ll need more time yet. It is advisable to plan for much more time than you require. Not only does this flexibility keep the pressure off, but it leaves room for both disasters and fun, unexpected adventures! There’s nothing to stop you from exploring that beautiful flowered glade or to look for fossils along that shale outcropping when time isn’t an issue.

3. Set realistic distance goals:
Little legs tire far more easily than bigger ones, and you might end up walking for two. Does your little one walk independently all the time? Are you planning on using a carrying pack, and how far can YOU go walking for two? Kids in carriers can sleep when they are tired, but walking tots can get tired and cranky in a flash. Picking a trail that’s appropriate for your youngest hiker can hold you back a bit but will keep everyone happier in the long run.

4. Head out early, if that’s your jam:
The combination of fresh toddlers, fresh parents, and fresh air is magical… for some people! For those people, we recommend taking advantage of the magic, and heading to the trail before the morning coolness gives way to the midday heat. You could even be home in time for lunch (and a nap for you both!). For people who (by preference or circumstance) get a later start, it is advisable to still avoid the midday sun, which can burn both you and your little one fiercely and can sap energy levels with the heat that it brings. It is important to get back before the sun sets, however, for safety reasons.

What to bring:

1. Ten essentials for survival
Most responsible hiking blogs will suggest that you pack the Ten Essentials for every trip, on the off-chance that you might get lost. This hazard is even greater if you might be distracted (TODDLERS!) due to impatience (TODDLERS!) or if you are responsible for someone else’s life (TODDLERS!). It never hurts to be prepared, even if you don’t use everything in your pack. The worst that can happen is a bit of extra fitness from lugging around a few more items.

2. Water:
Bringing plenty of drinking water for everybody is key to happy trekkers. Even kids in carriers will need to stay hydrated. Remember, that everybody’s liquid requirements increase on hot days! Juice boxes can be a fun treat, but some hikers find them bulky and heavy to carry – your patience with carrying drinks other than water may come down to personal preference, distance, and how much other gear you have with you.

3. Food. So much food:
Food breaks can be fun and rewarding. It isn’t uncommon for meltdowns to happen on long walks, and unhappy hikers can be distracted by cereals, crackers, dried and fresh fruit, and softer nuts like cashews that can be easily broken up. If your little one is old enough to recognize checkpoints or to understand time/distance intervals, snack breaks can be used as motivation. While we don’t advocate using food itself as a primary reward (let’s keep our relationship with food healthy!), some parents restrict certain fun foods to the trail to encourage healthier physical activity. Sugar-free gummy worms or coconut chips are a healthier alternative to higher-calorie snacks.

4. Tools for exploring:
The types of tools that you’ll want to pack will depend on the type of topography that you’ll encounter. Is the ground sandy and soft? Maybe a bucket and shovel are your best allies. Expecting a field of flowers? Perhaps other curiosities may be found along the way. Containers for safekeeping will prevent them from being crushed and wilted in small fingers. Make sure you keep some pockets free for the extraordinary rocks that just HAVE to follow you home.

5. Day pack:
Plan for the day ahead! It might be a good idea to pack a carrier, even if you are confident that your little one can walk the trail alone. A blanket (with plastic backing to guard against wet terrain) is nice for sitting. Does any of your food require spoons? Maybe a spray bottle to keep cool? Should you bring diapers, or perhaps tissue paper for the trail? As much as we would all prefer to wait until convenient bathrooms appear, it might be advisable to pack some toilet paper to prevent the “trail tragedies” that might come from being ill-equipped.

6. Weather-appropriate clothing:
Hiking shoes or boots for you both are recommended and are preferable to open-toed shoes or sandals. Dressing in layers is recommended for adult hikers as well as for younger ones. Layers can come off or on as the person/environment warms and cools, and this adaptability helps with comfort and endurance. Also, long sleeves and pants can help to ward off insects without having to resort to repellents and can offer protection from the sun. Brimmed hats help to keep sun off faces and necks for both you and your little one, although we’ll forewarn you about wearing a hat with a wide brim in the back if you have a child in a back carrier – this is a fast way to a cranky passenger.

7. Sunscreen:
We probably don’t have to tell you that it is advisable to keep babies younger than 6 months old out of the sun, or to use sunscreen (sparingly) if that is not possible. Kid-friendly sunscreens exist and are less irritating if your little one should get some in his or her eyes.

8. Bug repellent:
Saskatchewan contains beautiful wildlife. Unfortunately, its insect life isn’t always so beautiful. Mosquitos can be unrelenting, and ticks can be unwelcome hitchhikers on little legs. The additional concern is that ticks can carry diseases. Clothing may be the best protection against bugs if they are not bad. Kid-safe repellents are always an option too, although there have been concerns with repellents with high DEET concentrations. It is important also to make sure that hands and eyes are avoided.

What to do on the trail:

1. Stay positive:
The whole point of getting out into nature is to have fun! Praise, encouragement, and a positive attitude go a long way in keeping both of your spirits high and in making your trail hike a bonding experience. The fresh air, lovely scenery, lush flora, and sunshine are not to be taken for granted these days. This IS your chance to stop and smell the flowers!

2. Weather-watch:
In this land of living skies, the weather can turn on a dime! Checking the forecast the day before (and even the day of!) the hike can mean the difference between success and sorry. You won’t be caught unprepared if you’re forewarned, and you’ll know if you can sit and wait out this little drizzle, or if it is the signal to pack up and head back.

3. Keep your expectations in check:
How far your child can wander, curiosity, and tolerance to the elements will depend on how old they are. Your own stamina and your child’s will largely determine the rest, although there are other considerations. Are you using a carrier? Are you or your little one used to the carrier, or will the extra weight or confinement be distressing to either of you?

4. Rest often:
Breaking often might be frustrating for seasoned hikers, but it’s important to remember everyone’s limitations. It’s tempting to forge ahead but accommodating for little legs and small attention spans means that breaks to rest and refuel will be frequent. Goal-directed hiking is a good way to proceed with toddlers and encouraging them to check out the scenery ahead might be a great way to set achievable objectives before giving them a chance to rest.

5. Play games:
Educational and fun games help to pass the time and can distract cranky kids from their distress. Sit down beforehand with a book of local bugs and flora so that you can recognize them together with your tyke. Sing songs, play chase, and tell stories along the trail to keep children interested in the activity of hiking. If you encounter stairs or fenceposts, you can practice counting. Bodies of water can never have too many rocks skipped into them, or objects floated downriver.

6. Explore!
Toddlers get fidgety and cranky when they haven’t been moving around enough. If your passenger is fussing in his or her carrier, you might try letting them wander for a bit to see if that is the remedy. Letting them walk until they are tired enough to need carrying again may be the way to avoid fussiness. Kids love to collect, dig, explore, and learn in a hands-on environment. Collecting and exploring is a great way for them to connect with nature and to enjoy the sensations and smells of the trail.

We hope that this list contains some advice that will help you prep for your trail hike with your toddler and that will make it more fun for both of you. Remember, it is your job to do all the planning and to bring all the gear! Our final piece of advice is to check and double check your packing before your leave. Make a list and make sure that you remember all items. Have a great time on Saskatchewan’s trails!

A new old trail

Trail enthusiast Russ Hodgins has made many trips to Pasqua Lake over the years, but on March 31 he discovered a new trail and a new adventure. Learn more in this guest blog post.

Maybe I don’t get out enough but there is something special about finding a trail you have never been on before and exploring new country. Last weekend, I took advantage of the fact that winter has extended into spring and headed off across the lake ice at my wife’s family cabin. The norm for this time of year would be slushy snow, mud and wet feet but the minus-18 temperature made for solid footing on top of the crusty snow. The plan was to explore along the far shoreline and turn around when I got tired. Snowmobile tracks heading off the lake were calling to me so I followed to see where it might take me and was rewarded with a trail that ran parallel to the lake, just inside the tree line. I wasn’t sure who had built it but had the feeling it may have been used at one time for trail rides with horses. After a scenic mile through the forest with beautiful lake views, I came out onto a hay field and for fun, followed the snowmobile trail along the edge of the field.

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It turned out to be a good decision as a short time later, the snowmobile tracks forked with one heading up into a side valley. This led to almost two more miles of exploration, following an old road in a side valley that climbed to the top fields. I imagined I was taking the same laboured steps as horse drawn hay wagons doing the climb in the days before motorized traffic. The trail made good use of the topography, following a route with more gentle climbs and when the valley split, the trail followed the left fork. I was high enough now to get a great all around view of the area with the beaver ponds in the bottom and the country behind me from where I started this adventure. It all has me wanting to return in the other seasons of the year for a different perspective.

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This was on the return trip. Just as nice a view with the bonus of being gravity assisted!

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STA announces recipients of Member Grant funding

STA logo high res cmykThe Saskatchewan Trails Association (STA) is pleased to announce that the Fatlanders Fat Tire Brigade, Timber Trail Sno Riders Snowmobile Club and Whiteswan Snow Hawks Snowmobile Club are the latest recipients of funding through the STA Member Grant program.

Through the program, grants of up to $1,000 for building new trails or undergoing maintenance projects such as updating maps, fixing signs, purchasing maintenance tools or adding GPS capabilities are available to STA members through an application process. The grants are reviewed by a volunteer committee.

“We are pleased to fund these worthy projects that will help to strengthen the trail network in Saskatchewan,” said STA President Saul Lipton. “This year’s funding will assist with new trails being built and existing trails undergoing much-needed renovation, while also help with the development of a new winter sport that’s generating widespread interest in our province.”

Fatlanders Fat Tire Brigade is receiving $1,000 to support their Winter Fat Bike Groomed Trail Network. Fat bikes are off-road bicycles with oversized tires that are designed for low ground pressure to allow riding on soft, unstable terrain such as snow, sand, bogs and mud. The group has been working with the City of Saskatoon and the Meewasin Valley Authority to establish a winter fat bike specific groomed trail network “Man of the Trees Winter Trail Network” in an abandoned tree farm at the edge of the city limits.

The STA is giving Timber Trail Sno Riders Snowmobile Club $500 toward the upkeep of their trail in Big River. Whiteswan Snow Hawks Snowmobile Club is also receiving $500. The group is looking to build a trail to be used by ATVs and snowmobiles running from East Trout Lake to Little Bear Lake. STA Member Grants are handed out annually.

The next application deadline is Dec. 31, 2018. Further information on STA funding programs is available at http://sasktrails.ca/trail-builders/#funding.

The holiday trail

A guest post by Russ Hodgins

Christmas day of 2017 was a cold one outside the walls of the cabin full of relatives. The temperature inside was quite pleasant while outside, it was a balmy -31 Celsius. Add the ever present wind of the sunny south, it felt more like -42.

One of the perks of this cabin is the number of trails just a short dash out the back door that climb up and down the hills and through the trees, something most don’t envision when talking about the south. As the turkey cooked, the sun was shining and the trails were calling. A wise person once said “there is no bad weather for running, just bad clothing”, so after piling on the layers and covering as much exposed skin as I could, I was off.Russ H Jan 1

I stopped for a photo to document the insanity, and while the sunglasses seemed like a great idea at the time, they instantly fogged up and were quickly stowed away. The tree cover blocked the majority of the wind and I was quite comfortable in my many layers. With the snow less than ankle deep, the running was easy (relatively speaking) as the sun lit up the country around me.

On a long uphill, some ATV, snowmobile and boot tracks came in from a side trail so I assumed someone had been out the day before. Then, coming around a bend in the trail, I came up behind two kids on a mini snowmobile with dad walking behind, keeping the parade moving. The fourth member of their family was up ahead on the side by side ATV with one dog running and the other comfortably perched on the front seat. We had a short visit, but it was keep moving to keep warm so I passed them and carried on, happy that others were sharing the trail on a less than ideal day.

The next downhill brought more company, this time in the form of a whitetail deer who had been bedded in the sun a short distance off the trail. He was feeling the cold far more than I and had no warm cabin to return to. As such, he was in no hurry to move but simply stood and was watching me. As I didn’t want him to bolt and burn off much needed energy, I did the running and hurried off so he could relax.

The daylight was disappearing but I managed to explore one more trail that took me out onto an open field where a snowy owl took flight from the tree top.

The run ended back at the cabin as the sun was setting with no regrets and a lot of fun had on the trails.

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STA working on State of Sask Trails Report

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The STA will be undertaking a research project to determine what the current state of trails are in the province, identify existing gaps, and develop potential solutions. We will develop an on-line survey that we will distribute to all members, municipalities, resort communities and provincial sport and recreation association.

More in-depth research will be required with key stakeholders such as the Saskatchewan Cycling Association, Saskatchewan Horse Federation, Saskatchewan All-Terrain Vehicle Association, Saskatchewan Snowmobile Association, and Cross Country Saskatchewan. A final aspect of this research is to review how our provincial trail association compares with other provincial associations.

We have currently secured funding from the Community Research Unit at the University of Regina (the same group that funded our Rails to Trails Manual).

Stay tuned for more information.

What to do when encountering a bear on the trail

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Recently, we received an interesting question from Moosomin Regional Park. Trail officials noted that there are bears in the park on occasion and they like hanging around the trails as that’s where it’s the quietest and there’s the largest supply of berries. Because of this, some people are worried to use the trails because they’re concerned about encountering bears.

Encountering a bear is something that is certainly possible while exploring the province’s trail system. So what should you do in the event of an encounter? The Government of Saskatchewan has a document called Living in Bear Country that provides some great information: http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/66/89520-English.pdf

Another point not brought up in the document is the use of bells. Upon contacting the STA, Moosomin noted that it had received suggestions to hand out “bear” bells. They were told the noise can cause the bears to leave the area. This question prompted an interesting discussion among the STA board of directors.

The STA would like to stress that there is no evidence to support, in any way, that bells they will deter a bear encounter. Bringing a bell on a hike will only provide a false sense of security. The STA advises that talking in normal voices will normally move the bears away from human contact. If the bears are habituated to humans and do not move away or have had access to garbage, we would suggest you contact the local conservation officers to possibly set up a trap and relocate the bear. If you administrate a trail where there have been beer sightings, you may want to post signs at trail access points and\or trail heads.

STA increases funding available through Members Grant Program

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The STA is making it easier to access funds for trail projects in the province. Through the Members Grant Program, grants of up to $1,000 are now available.

These grants can be used for maintenance projects such as updating maps, GPS trails, fixing signs, purchasing maintenance tools, etc.

These grants are only available to current SaskTrails members. Some of the eligibility criteria include length of membership and how long you will be committed to the organization in the future. All applications are reviewed by a volunteer committee.

The deadline to apply is Dec.31, 2017. For more information, visit http://sasktrails.ca/trail-builders/#funding.

 

Hudson Bay Ski Club completes trail improvement project

The Hudson Bay Ski Club is pleased to announce that the trail improvement project for the Pineview Cross Country Ski Trails in the Hudson Bay Regional Park has been completed. The project was supported by a $500 Membership Grant from the STA.

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Jasper and Benny are excited to try the new upgraded trail!

The project organizers were able to add a 1.6 kilometre loop that is wide enough to skate ski in the winter as well as being suitable for mountain biking or hiking in the summer. The total trail system in the Regional Park now sits at 12.3 km, which is maintained for skiing in the winter and hiking in all other seasons. All of the trails, including the new fun loops, now have GPS coordinates. A large trail map showing all current trails has been erected beside the first shelter at the start of the trail system. Each of the shelters has a new sign plus a number of small signs reminding users that these trails are not meant for motorized use.

The STA was proud to support this worthwhile project. If you’re interested in the STA helping bring your trail project to life, visit http://sasktrails.ca/trail-builders/#funding to learn more about our funding programs.

Deb Serhan at the improved Hilltop Shelter

Deb Serhan at the improved Hilltop Shelter