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Story by Chris Marchand
“Its name is ‘Josh’,” says the 17 year-old junior ranger nodding at a maliciously chewed-up tree root on the side of the trail as though it were a grizzly bear she had dispatched with her bare hands.
Named for a former boyfriend, the jackpine root had taken two young rangers a good part of the morning to pry from the ground using every ounce of malice they could swing into their handtools.
Not everyone who enjoys a walk or a bike ride on a wilderness trail can fully appreciate the primeval struggle of the trailbuilder – the back-breaking effort required to impose order, create a path on ground that has known nothing but organic chaos for billions of years. Such suffering and frustration is best spread out among lots and lots of friends.
Hard manual labour in Ontario’s north wasn’t on Ottawa teen Maggie Gollish’s summer to-do list, though she says she’s glad she let her mother talk her into it.
“It’s really satisfying,” said Gollish. “I never thought I would be able to do something like this. You can really see the change. There was no trail here before and now there is. It feels really good to see you’ve been doing something substantial. The closest thing I ever would have done to this is washing the kitchen floor.”
This past week the Ghost Lake Trail Alliance welcomed 21 female Ministry of Natural Resources Rangers, based at Ojibway Park, near Sioux Lookout, to put in a few days work on a new trail project underway in the Mavis/Ghost Lake Trail System. The young women hail mostly from Southern Ontario and have come to experience the north, paid by the MNR to work on regional projects.
The Hill Billy Trail project blazes a 4.5 kilometre route through thick, recently re-generated forest on a chunk of hilly terrain bisected by Ghost West Rd. When completed the route will expand the trail system’s beginner and intermediate level offerings to the public – offering less technical difficulty but adding the fitness challenge and fun factor of hills for mountain bikers, hikers and runners.
Ghost Lake Trail Alliance’s Mike Wood says the Junior Rangers contribution makes ambitious projects like the Hill Billy Trail much more viable.
“Having their help is amazing because we cover so much ground,” said Wood. “Sixteen and 17 year-olds have a lot of energy and you get a lot of work done in a short period of time. This is not easy work. This would take forever on our own. It’s tough going in this young re-gen, but it’s worth it because we’ll have the trail for 50 years. “
The strength of her bonds with her fellow Rangers is something Ottawa’s Gollish never anticipated. ”I’ve never lived with anyone but my family and suddenly I have a bunkmate that I’ve never met before,” she said. “It’s really nice to see how close we’ve all gotten in a month — people that would have never met each other otherwise. My friends back home thought it was strange that we’d all have to live in the same bunkhouse. It teaches you a lot about how to deal with other people.”
Last year a contingent of Junior Rangers from Sandbar Lake forged a connector trail between the ‘Ferguson Singletrack’ and ‘Ghost Hollow’ that has since distinguished itself among local mountain bikers as one of the most desirable downhill sections of trail in the entire system. The Sandbar Rangers are expected to make another appearance this summer to assist with the Hill Billy project.