Crossing the 60th Parallel

We were thrilled to learn earlier this year that we would be heading to Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories to work with the Parks Canada staff at Wood Buffalo National Park. It's home to many endangered species with the only nesting site in the world for migratory whooping cranes and the world's largest free-roaming herd of wood buffalo. During our visit we were stopped by black bears and bison everyday and we spotted sandhill cranes, bald eagles and pelicans as well.

Geographically, you can experience everything from boreal forests, karst lands and salt plains in a single day. It is the largest park in Canada and the second largest national park in the world covering an area the size of Switzerland. Wood Buffalo National Park was dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unique geological features.

After meeting the staff and sorting out logistics, we explored the park through its trails. There aren't many trails but they take you through interesting landscapes. The park doesn't have high traffic like Banff or Jasper so evidence of human impact is minimal. However, the impact of bison on trails can be major. This was something that we needed to keep in mind when designing trail in the park.

The project we picked was a section of trail that was wet, even in the driest part of the year, and the aforementioned bison had trampled it into a cratered mess. The solution was a simple reroute around the boggy section, keeping the corridor as tight as possible to dissuade the bison from using the new trail.

The weather was cool on build day which kept the swarms of mosquitoes to a minimum. Park staff worked alongside local volunteers to build an 80 meter section of trail in just under 3 hours. A small crew helped to reclaim the entrances to the old trail in just under an hour. Those who were keen test rode the new trail on our Trek bikes. The others were able to hike along and enjoy the scenery around them without worrying about tripping on roots or stepping in bison poo.

We spent Sunday morning on a community hike along the TransCanada Trail (TCT). A large section of the TCT runs along the Slave River as a blue route, or water route, and it turns into a land route where people historically portaged around three sets of rapids near Fort Smith. This historic route is now part of the town trail system and a paved portion of the TCT.

Fort Smith surprised us with a very active mountain bike community for such a small town. In summer the night the sky gets no darker than twilight for a few hours so there is plenty of time to ride after the workday. The trails in both the park and around town provide plenty of variety. There is even a Norco dealer in town who keeps a small inventory so that residents can buy bikes locally.

We want to give special thanks to the Parks staff at Wood Buffalo NP organized the visit and spent time with us as tour guides including, Ceiridwen, Janna, Sarah, Helene (and Jason!), Richard and Mike. We look forward to returning to the North in the future to continue exploring the parks and natural landscapes unique to the territories.