Paddling for Protection

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Wilderness Witness Tour on the Lower Bird River

September 29, 2014

A few weeks ago, we invited members of the public to join us for a day paddle along the lower Bird River. That Friday afternoon as I left the WC office, four people had signed up for the Paddle for Protection to tour the river. When we checked emails after the weekend, we realized how popular this river was, as the list had swelled to 39 people!

We came up with the idea for the paddle earlier in summer, when we were considering what we could do to recognize World Rivers Day on September 28. The Wilderness Committee has been organizing Wilderness Witness Tours for several years in Manitoba, which are meant to give easy access to wilderness and help build community around an area in need of protection. We decided a day paddle of the lower Bird River was the perfect fit.

The overwhelming response we got proved that other people felt it was a great idea too. So we decided to run the trip twice, on both Saturday and on Sunday, which was World Rivers Day. The local business community kicked in support for the event – we'd like to thank Wilderness Supply, Mountain Equipment Coop, Tall Grass Prairie Bakery and Stella's Bakery for helping make the weekend a big success! Our amazing volunteers Jordan, Don, Sue, Heather and Andrew also lended their efforts on the trip.

Saturday broke sunny and warm, and there were smiles and excitement as we got organized at Trapper's near Lac du Bonnet to start the trip. Ten boats set out from the bridge on Tanco Mine Road, with vibrant fall colours reflecting in the sparkling waters of the Bird River. Experienced boaters and complete rookies wound their way downstream, enjoying visits from otters and snapping turtles, kingfishers and eagles, and a blue heron that seemingly did not want to leave our presence.

At our first portage a couple hours later, our campaign assistant Laura had driven in and set up lunch for us. Hot soups, sandwich fixings, muffins and pastries were greatly enjoyed. I gave a talk about the threats to the Bird River, about the incredible possibility of making a new protected area and about the support we have been receiving for this initiative.

After lunch, several of the inexperienced paddlers got a thrill as we shot our canoes through the rapids. Our next portage was quickly upon us, and wispy clouds provided beautiful light to view the waterfall here – known in whitewater paddling circles as “The Staircase.”

After this we drifted off to our take-out spot a few kilometres further on, with ducks and geese lifting off the river in front of us and soaring fast overhead. As boats were pulling out of the river, one canoe was lucky enough to see a black bear wander down to the river's edge for a drink before scampering back into the bush at the sight of paddlers.

When a storm woke me up at 7 a.m. on Sunday, I had concerns about how our paddle would proceed. When I arrived at Trapper's though, a crowd of paddlers waited under the awning in front of a bevy of boats, and there were eager smiles everywhere. We set off along the river in very different conditions than Saturday, but there were hearty souls in these sixteen boats and the cool rain didn't phase them.

Don and Sue had lunch set up under tarps when we arrived at our first portage. Hot coffee, hot chocolate and tea were much more popular this day. Again, there were smiles as people shot their boats through the rapids, after a lunch and talk.

At the Staircase, Trevor demonstrated smooth whitewater skill as he flowed his kayak over the bony Staircase waterfall, with an enthusiastic crowd looking on from the shore. As our journey along the Bird drew to a close, the rain had subsided, the sun was trying to come out and a tail wind pushed us downriver to the take-out.

Our World Rivers Day trips proved some important points. First, the lower Bird River is still wild – a healthy and functioning river ecosystem that is enthralling to experience. Second, this river is accessible, and it is easy for people to come out and get a day's dose of wilderness. Paddlers left the river knowing that the Bird is worth protecting, and all of us will be putting effort into ensuring it gets protection.

If you haven't done so yet, please write your own letter to the Manitoba government, asking them to protect the lower Bird River. You can do so through the letter-writing tool on our website here.

At the Wilderness Committee, we know we can get this river permanently protected. Enough Manitobans and stakeholders understand that this river should be preserved for future generations. We've already started planning another lower Bird River trip for next May, and we're ready to host another Paddle for Protection for World Rivers Day next year.

Together we will preserve another jewel in wild Manitoba!

Keep those paddles in the water,



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