By Fred Groves
With a distance of about 600 meters, the ‘River Runs Through It’, hike of this year’s Hike Haliburton Festival may have been one of the shortest, but it did not disappoint when it came to presenting memories for those who took part.
“I have been paddling here for about 20 years and have spent a lot of time on this river,” said guide Thom Lambert, who is the organizer of the festival.
The river he was referring to is the Gull River, and on Sunday the excursion was at the Harrington Park Minden Whitewater Preserve on Horseshoe Road. It is a connecting link between Horseshoe and Minden lakes and for decades, the site of international white-water races.
“This stretch of river is not just unique to Haliburton County but internationally. You can paddle it 365 days a year, it never freezes,” said Lambert.
The preserve was established in 1979 by the Ontario Slalom Kayak Community and led by Roger Parsons and Hinz Poenn. It is part of the Trent Canard System and therefore managed by the federal Oceans and Fisheries department
The beautiful stretch of the Gull River between the two lakes was formed by glacier movement over 3.5 million years ago and while it was famous in the past for competitive kayakers, including hosting the PanAm Games, now it is mostly used by recreational paddlers.
Pointing out onto the fast-moving water and raising his voice to be heard, Lambert said, “There are things happening here that are not happening anywhere else in the county.”
Prior to 1979, the river was much wider and reached past the high road banks that are now Horseshoe Road. A lot of work has gone in over several decades both in the trails and at the large damn which was replaced just a few years ago.
“Everything we are standing on and walk on up to the damn is fill.”
Working for the Haliburton tourism department and a former naturalist, Lambert is very knowledgeable about the Minden Whitewater Preserve. He noted that on Sunday the water level was particularly high.
“Typically, this time of the year we would be looking at 30 percent less water but it’s not been a typical year.”
And while the rushing water, bursting over rocks at a speed of 24 cubic metres per second was the highlight of the tour, Lambert also took time out to point a few other noticeable features along the trail, including a few hidden caves, beech trees that are slowly disappearing from the county due to parasites and one of the few remaining veins of marble rock in the area.
Haliburton Hike Festival began in 2004 and is considered the largest such event in North America. It is spread over four days and this year included stops at Eagle Lake for the E-bike tours adventure, High Falls Hike and Ride and South Algonquin Trails and Snowdown Park’s Nature and Nuggets. It was canceled last year due to Covid-19 and this year had restrictions on the number of participants per hike.
In all there were more than a dozen different hikes, all of them with various ratings from easy to challenging. And for the earlier risers, there was the Forest Bathing and Sunrise at Redstone River Valley.