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Walking - The "Gentle" Sport
The first stretch of the Kiwanis Nature Trail was started about 35 years ago - and it has seen continuous use and improvement in the ensuing years.
Starting at the 'trail head' at the DJSS grounds, the trail winds along the bank of the river for a couple of kilometres - and, for parts of it, you can believe you are not in the heart of a busy, modern community. At no point in this first stretch are you more than a few metres off Riverview Drive, the opposite side of which is lined with some of the first residences built when Old Town moved to New Town. The groomed trail provides comfortable walking and is not a difficult
stretch for either youngsters or elders.
The special charm of the trail, apart from the sense of peace and the contact with nature to some extent quite undisturbed, is undoubtedly the presence of the river and the opportunity afforded by the trail to get down in one or two spots onto the bank of this broad stream. Look for fossils and shells, as well as different plant growth when you drop down to the water's edge; check the banks to see where each year, breaking ice gouges the sides, sometimes taking out trees and cutting the bank away.
Although the trail is very well-used all year by residents, this has not deterred a healthy segment of small wildlife and you may glimpse a fox, rabbits, squirrels, owls or any number of birds as you stroll along. The preservation of a large amount of the underbrush has meant that many small songbirds, warbler and sparrow species, nest in the area - and don't be surprised to be yelled at by a slightly irritated woodpecker if you come too close to his nest. Watch the water: you may see a bald eagle leisurely flying up-stream looking for his fishy supper; you will surely see duck, gulls, snipes, pipers - maybe even a loon. The trail is well signed, so you can learn about your immediate environment as you travel along.
The first segment of the Kiwanis Trail ends at the bridge over the West Channel of the Hay. If you're energetic and have the time, keep on, walking along the trail as it takes you right down to where the West Channel runs into Great Slave Lake and along this portion you'll find some different growth, more birds and perhaps some larger wildlife as this part of our community runs into semi-wilderness - don't worry, you won't get lost: the airport is just across the Channel, an easy landmark, and a well-used road runs to the left of the trail which you only have to follow to be back on the highway.
Signs along this section of the trail tell about bears, beaver, muskrat - all of which you may just see on your walk, though the bears are less likely to put in an appearance than the beaver.
When you get to the terminus of the trail, you'll find a wonderful view of the lake and the egress of the Hay at this part of its small delta.
If you are really into a good hike, you can move onto the lake shore, turn westwards and walk several kilometres down the shore to a point where you will see you can come up onto a road again and thus wend your way back into town. This is a long hike, though, so give yourself about half a day to really enjoy it.
Another trail is being developed on Vale Island which will take hikers into the side of the Oxbow which lies at the centre of the Island in a completely forested area, with much old growth still standing. This trail is not yet completed as more gravel is being laid and further clearing being done. It too, will be signed eventually, bringing walkers to another stretch of lake shore along which they can make their way back to the main beach area of Hay River Territorial Park.
The Hay River section of the Trans Canada Trail links the historic water route (Great Slave Lake) with the “Hub of the North”, or down town core. The Oxbow section starts at the fishing village of West Channel and runs south through the Boreal Forest of Vale Island, across a bridge and through our down town area via the Mackenzie Highway, or Kiwanis Nature Trail. It continues along the Mackenzie Highway and terminates at the south entrance to town, or Chamber of Commerce Park. While the majority of this trail is more natural (dirt, or gravel), there are several sections (approx. 2 km) of pavement which are excellent for running, roller blading, or strollers.
(Click for a larger image of the Trail that runs along the Mackenzie Highway)
If you're camping in the Hay River Park Campground, a number of walking options exist, around the grounds themselves, along the beach area of the Park, and on the immediate roads of the area which will give the visitor a view of where the original settlement on the east bank was and where the first establishments on the west side (Vale Island) were. You'll get a view of NTCL's extensive docking yards, and you can walk along the docks where the fishing boats come in to off-load their catch.
If you want to wander around in the downtown area, sidewalks provide decent walking space and you'll find a surprising number of small parks dotted through the residential areas, where you can rest or let the children play for a bit.
As mentioned in other articles in this publication, good hiking can be found in the Territorial Parks of our region. All are designed to be easily navigable and most are signed with pertinent information. There is a walking area at Polar Lake which is most enjoyable; but hikers contemplating this should remember that this is a wilderness area and that the walk is not signed or maintained and take appropriate precautions.