Georgian Nordic Outdoor Activity Centre - Reimagined
During the last three years there has been a concentrated effort to develop a trail system that has something for everyone, whether that is just riding along a trail or grinding up a steep, rock-and-root-encased single track.
Mountain biking the Rattlesnake Trail of the Georgian Nordic trail system gives one an idea of what it must be like to slither through the Canadian Shield, over moss-covered granite ledges, down winding tracts, through hemlock forests, under pine boughs and beside beavers in wetland environments. Following the painted arrows along the well-marked trail isn’t for the faint of heart. These loop trails will challenge the best riders.
With new trails like Rattlesnake, Eagle and ‘as yet some unnamed trails being developed’ comes new challenges that will draw riders back time and again. These trails join the regular ski trails like the Otter, Wolf, Partridge and Lynx Loop, a Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve ‘Amazing Place.’
“This seven-kilometre trail is the backbone of the fantastic Georgian Nordic trail system. It features a mix of rolling hills and flat sections and meanders through mixed forests, rock outcrops and wetlands,” says Rebecca Pollock, executive director of the GBBR. “Lynx Loop was nominated as an Amazing Place to help show visitors the kind of trail system that offers something for everyone and promote activity year-round. Ecologically, there are species at risk that enjoy the Lynx Loop, including the eastern hog-nosed snake.”
Georgian Nordic Ski and Canoe Club has been a pillar of outdoor activity for more than 30 years, providing ski trails for both classic and skate skiing, as well as snowshoeing and, more recently, fat biking. The canoe aspect has been organized and coached by Gord Cole for more than 30 years. With the membership ranging between 400 and 500 members and a thriving Jack Rabbit program (kids learn to ski), hundreds of children and adults have experienced well-groomed trails, and a sense of accomplishment in their journey to healthy living.
“ We are trying to enhance snowshoeing, fat and mountain biking and trail running. The five-to-12-year-olds will be able to come and go over rocks and logs to develop their skills to ride on the trails. ”
After a recent brainstorming session, it was decided that the Georgian Nordic Outdoor Activity Centre would be formed making it a year-round space for local enthusiasts to use the club, as well as a tourist destination for people from all over the world. Their mission is, “Promoting healthy outdoor activity for all ages.”
People have been hiking during the non-ski season and some have ridden it over the years but during the last three years there has been a concentrated effort to develop a trail system that has something for everyone, whether that is just riding along a trail or grinding up a steep, rock-and-root-encased single track.
Get Outdoors Parry Sound (GOPS), a group promoting cycling, hiking, walking and all things outdoors in the Parry Sound area has formed. According to Peter Istvan, one of the developers and promoters of this idea, “GOPS was primarily focused on cycling at Georgian Nordic. We are now promoting almost anything outdoors. We want to run other events, there’s been discussion about doing trail runs, and a long swim around Hole-In-The-Wall. The membership (fee) mainly covers use of the trail system for cycling and hiking. We also typically offer discounts on the races and events for members.
“It’s a not-for-profit club, and every dollar goes into overhead, insurance, events, and trail maintenance/development. We are continually adding more trails to the network and work hard to plan and pre-position materials for our trail enhancement projects.
“Wil Smith and Don Brisbane have done 90 per cent of the trail development at the club,” Istvan adds. “Wil has been the brains behind the organization as far as all the development of the trails and Tim Redmond deals with the financial aspects. Down the road, if there’s enough people using the club, we would have an attendant to answer questions, suggest routes, and take fees. Right now, it is an honour system to get your pass online or have a membership.”
When Smith moved to the area, the ski club was only used three or four months of the year, but he sees so much more potential. “About three years ago we started laying out bike trails and have been adding a few kilometres every year since that time. We have a few more planned trails in the works,” he said.
It’s very evident that there has been a lot of thought put into these developments, as they are trying to make it a cycle-friendly, family destination. “There are now trails for everybody, including our ski trails that have been widened for cycling, hiking and running,” he continued. “We have about (six kilometres) of quite technical single track and then probably (20 kilometres) of wider, ridable ski trails allowing for different skill levels. We hope to grow that in a slow, deliberate way.”
The International Mountain Bike Association of Canada chooses a few places in Canada to offer their expertise in developing trails, or work on established trails to make them better every year. They work with the local volunteers and help build a new skill set. This year, the group has chosen the Georgian Nordic Outdoor Activity Centre to help in late summer or early fall.
“Get Outdoors Parry Sound has been the driving force for turning these trails into what they are and it has been a vehicle towards getting new volunteers and new people, new blood into the club,” says Smith. “We have been able to tap into a whole new base of volunteers. We have deliberately designed the single track so it crisscrosses the main trails so an advanced rider could ride the tougher sections and others might be able to ride the other easier trails.”
“GNOAC will have a new logo and marketing aiming for a year-round type of thing,” he explains. “Trail running is something we’re looking at more, people still hike and do nature walks. I expect there will be a lot of people taking advantage of the trails possibly through school groups and other users. The club is a resource that is now becoming more accessible and more people have been experiencing it. The trails have signs and are well marked. McMaster University, where ‘I Science’ is available, asks people to text in water levels in a couple of swamps, all part of an effort to grow community involvement.”
The Georgian Nordic Outdoor Activity Centre is always looking for partners. They are hoping to extend the trail system down to Nine Mile Lake so people can finish up a ride with a swim. They are waiting to hear back on a grant to help develop a kids’ park, in the area closest to the burrow (main building). It’s the area that gets used the most in the winter and they’re hoping for the same in the summer. Adding some obstacles, little berms and bumps would make it a permanent skills and play area for long-term development in both skiing and cycling.
“The canoe club has rejoined, reconnected. It was technically part of the club but they have formally reconnected, storing their equipment and moving some of their practices to Nine Mile Lake,” notes Smith. “It made sense to be able to take advantage of being part of the club as new events are being thought of. This year, instead of a swim, bike, run, we are contemplating adding a canoe/kayak component. Instead of a nonstop triathlon we’re looking at a number of different events making it a focus on families.”
“In the winter we do all the grooming for the cross country skiing and snowshoeing and in the summer we develop and repair the trails,” says Don Brisbane, whose role is to look after the trails all year round. “We are trying to make them wider and flatter. We are trying to enhance snowshoeing, fat and mountain biking and trail running. The five-to-12-year-olds will be able to come and go over rocks and logs to develop their skills to ride on the trails. We will have some advanced jumps and develop a pump track using natural granite and trees close to the burrow for all the riders.”
“We at Georgian Nordic Outdoor Activity Centre hope that our trails will be very unique so when people come up from Southern Ontario they will be amazed with the trails. So far, everyone I’ve talked to like how we have made them, how we are developing them using the Precambrian shield as a base,” says Brisbane.
“The Lynx Loop, is rideable by all riders, with trail running becoming more popular as they’ve seen with a couple of events last year. They were well attended, and very popular. I am out here a lot in the summer and have been talking to people from all over Canada and they are very impressed and often surprised at the level of our trail system. We are constantly applying for grants to build and enhance these trails. Volunteer labour is what makes it! The trails would not be built without volunteers. The mountain bikers have brought a lot of energy into Georgian Nordic and has helped out with the all-year-round work on the trails.”
As word-of-mouth continues to spread about the challenging and beautiful trails, the reputation of the Georgian Nordic Outdoor Activity Centre will continue to grow. The traction riding over the rock ridges, the tricky turns, quick descents and picturesque rest areas will surely encourage people to come back on a regular basis.