Students spend week in the wild to cultivate connection to colour-changing lake
Youth from Mosakahiken Cree Nation spent five days camping at Little Limestone Lake earlier this month
The colours are so intensely blue it's no wonder the province snagged the area around Little Limestone Lake as a provincial park.
It's protected land and 11 teens from from the Mosakahiken Cree Nation paddled their way through the bright blue waters earlier this month as part of a wilderness skills camp.
The lake, located about 450 kilometres north of Winnipeg along Highway 6, is known as the biggest and most dramatic colour-changing marl lake in the world.
The waters turn from a brilliant turquoise to a robin's egg blue, as calcite, or marl, in the water dissolves when the sun heats up the lake throughout the day.
Laronde was one the students from Frontier Mosakahiken School in Moose Lake who spent five days and four nights camping at Little Limestone.
An initiative of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) and the Frontier School Division, brought the students out to camp there as part of a wilderness skills camp.
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The kids took part in shelter building exercises, survival skills training, canoeing and they learned about the unique chemistry of the lake.
For Laronde, and many of the teens there, it was the first they'd heard of the place, despite it being located on their reserve land.
"I didn't even know this place existed, to be honest," said Laronde.
Connecting with the land by disconnecting from Wi-Fi
The community of Moose Lake is located about 60 kilometres west of Little Limestone Lake, but to travel there by road is more than 400 kilometres, making it just out of reach for many in the community.
"I never knew this lake existed until the school informed us about the field trip," said Chasity Sanderson, 17.
The teen said she applied to go on the trip to go canoeing and see the lake up close.
Sanderson said she enjoyed the trip despite not having power or any other amenities.
"I feel like a caveman without Wi-Fi, but other than that it's pretty cool. It was worth it," she said.
Merdina Nasikapow also enjoyed the backwoods experience, admitting that she wasn't really an outdoorsy person when she signed up for the trip.
"I didn't even know this was part of our land," said Nasikapow.
"I think it's nice. I'd come here often now that I know about it. I like the way it is, the wilderness," she said.
Becoming caretakers of the land
Along with learning to camp, the teens also did a site cleanup of the area. People are allowed to camp at the lake with permission from the band, but there are no amenities at the site, not even garbage cans.
"There's a lot of rubbish, people aren't really cleaning up their mess and that sort of thing, so we thought it would be good for the students to come down and develop a connection with the lake, also to do a cleanup of the lake while they're here," said Thiessen.
The students left a sign at the site asking people to clean up after themselves and establishing a stewardship for future youth.
"It's a really nice place, lots of people could come here, but when people come here, as I walk around in the bush there's lots of garbage in there and I don't like that, cause it will probably affect the animals somehow," said Laronde.
Area could become a national park
CPAWS has been advocating for the protection of the lake for over a decade. Working alongside the First Nation, the group pushed to establish boundaries to limit development in the area.
In 2011, it was made a provincial park but is considered a non-operational park "with no intentions for developments or investments in park related programming and infrastructure, such as roads, trails, campgrounds and support buildings," according to a provincial website.
But that could soon change.
In the spring of 2017, the federal budget included funds to advance discussions of the creation of a new national park at Little Limestone Lake, though few other details were provided.
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Parks Canada said if a national park were to proceed, all stakeholders in the area would be consulted, including Indigenous groups.
"At this point, there are no proposed boundaries for the national park. If there was agreement to proceed, the next step would be for Parks Canada and Manitoba, along with implicated Indigenous organizations, to determine if it would be feasible to proceed with a national park, and under what conditions," said a spokesperson for Parks Canada.
"We have to be very careful in how we are going to design this, keeping in mind not to destroy the lake and the environment," he said.
CPAWS says they will continue to work with the first nation throughout the process, whatever it may be, to make sure the interests of the lake and the community are protected.
"It is a special one-of-a-kind unique lake in the world and we want to make sure it stays healthy for future generations. So any kind of tourism development that is developed here, it's important that it will be designed in a way that takes care of the lake and maintains its health," said Thiessen.
Thiessen said he's unsure of what a national park designation could do for the area, but says more protections are still needed.
"The current boundaries of the provincial park are not adequate to fully secure the pristine and healthy state of the lake," he said.
Protecting the lake for the future
Tobacco met with the kids at the camp to talk to them about why they were there and what he sees for the future of the lake.
"My vision is to ensure that we protect it," he said,
Tobacco said that developing the area into a tourist attraction could come with other environmental challenges, but could also help the first nation protect it.
"Make sure that it's not being abused, making sure that we comply to environmental protection principles, and making sure that we do everything right culturally and that our people are the recipients of the economic pursuits that are going to happen," he said.
"I think that [without development] it's going to be destroyed, people are going to encroach on our reserve, right now it's not being monitored," he said.
The students were open to the idea of developing the area, so long as it wouldn't be spoiled by pollution.
"Just as long as people pick up their garbage and look after the place I'd be fine with it," said Laronde.
"I think it's like a good way to let other people come here, and to share what we have with the world," said Nasikapow.
As for one day having Wi-Fi at the site, Sanderson said it could make the lake even more appealing.