Hikers explore the High Falls Portage and learn about the historic preservation battle

Excursion a chance to discover native plants, survival tips

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About 40 hikers hiked the Grant’s Way Trail on the Wintergreen Fund Fall Hike Day.

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It was a chance for residents of the city to go beyond the beaten path of the most familiar paths.

“It’s nice that we’re able to do these destination hikes again,” said Crystal Percival of the Mattagami Region Conservation Authority (MRCA), noting that it’s been 2 and a half years since their last fall hike. “We did our last few hikes at Lake Hersey and it gets a bit repetitive.”

After a dusty 40 minute ride along the Musgrove access road, hikers exited the school bus at the Musgrove trailhead and headed to a clearing where the MRCA had erected a kiosk with educational signs explaining the history of the region.

Larry Robichaud and Paul Bisson shared how volunteers saved two old portage routes: Little Hawk Portage and High Falls.

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Little Hawk, about 80 kilometers south of High Falls, is an overland portage height. High above the land are plateaus that were important to the historic fur trade. They can serve as watersheds and determine routes and portages.

The group had been working for several years to open up these historic routes, used by First Nations and fur traders. They had received a work permit from the Ministry of Natural Resources and permission from the Mattagami and Matachewan First Nations to do the work, Bisson said.

“We had to walk the trail and look for old blazes on the trees,” said Bisson, who had traveled from St Thomas for the fall day hike. “A long time ago they used to blaze 12 inches long, four inches wide and four inches deep on either side of the tree so they could see their mark.”

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“Imagine fur traders carrying a 450-pound canoe and cast-iron frying pans. These guys worked so hard they died on the trail,” Bisson recounted, adding that they came across graveyards in Little Hawk.

When Interfor wanted to harvest the forest on either side of the trail a few years ago, the volunteers negotiated and reached a compromise: a 45-meter protected buffer zone on either side of Little Hawk Portage.

On Saturday, Interfor sponsored a school bus to take hikers to the Musgrove Trailhead.

Previously, in 2007, volunteers operating under the title “Friends of High Falls” prevented Wood Power from stemming the falls.

High Falls can now be enjoyed by the public in all its glory through “Grant’s Way”, a 1½ kilometer trail that includes the historic High Falls Portage. Robichaud of “Friends of High Falls” got the permit to build the trail in 2013, and it opened two years later.

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The trail is named after Grant Tunnicliffe, a key member of the Friends of High Falls who died in 2010.

Hack Walden with the MRCA taught a few lucky hikers about the balsam fir sap bubbles that appear as little bumps under the bark: you can pop them with a stick and use the sap as a firestarter or a bandage. He explained that the blueberries on yellow clintonia are inedible and that the roots of wild sarsaparilla, also known as wild ginseng, can be used for tea.

Robichaud believes he has achieved his goal of making the Upper Falls and the portage routes that connect them known to the public as natural gems.

“Now we have so many people who enjoyed High Falls,” Robichaud said. “If there were any problems with forestry, for example, or mining, or anything in that area, we would have no problem getting help today.”

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