Thursday 3 May 2012

Exploring Saskatchewan: Our Natural Heritage

“You’d be surprised how much people don’t know about our province,” says Jonathan Potts, Director of Marketing for Tourism Saskatchewan. “We’re constantly challenging the perception that there’s nothing to see or do here.”

The majority of visitors to Saskatchewan are looking for a nature-based holiday. Visitors from the United States are primarily interested in fishing and hunting. Overseas visitors appreciate the open skies and the lack of humanity.

Eighty-five percent of Saskatchewan tourists are from Saskatchewan and Alberta. Many Alberta tourists and other Canadians base their perceptions of Saskatchewan on the Trans Canada Highway experience, which they perceive to be flat, boring, with nothing to see.

Saskatchewan tourists tend to have a very regional focus. “There’s a dividing line around Davidson,” Jonathan says. “If you live south of that line, you may have heard of Waskesiu, but you’ve never been there. If you live north of that line, you’ve heard of Cypress Hills, but you are unlikely to head south on vacation.”

Magical Moments
At its best, a nature-based holiday is a magical, memorable moment that will stay with you forever, combining all five senses and their emotional impact.

For Jonathan, one of those magical moments took place on a spring morning in Grasslands National Park. “I hiked into Grasslands early one morning,” Jonathan says. “It was still dark when I reached the top of a butte. The sun was rising in the east, and a golden eagle and hawks were soaring overhead. A prairie dog colony was scampering around, chattering and warning each other. Below were white-tailed deer, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and coyotes. It was like the Serengeti – so much diversity of wildlife in a single panorama.”

This rings true for me (Penny). One of my most memorable experiences was a high school canoe trip to Grey Owl’s Cabin. The combination of my first canoe portage, bears on the lake shore, and actually visiting Grey Owl’s home remains unforgettable.

Balancing Conservation and Tourism 
The national parks have been in the news lately for what many see as unwarranted development in natural areas. Jonathan says that Tourism Saskatchewan supports a sustainable view of tourism – cultural, natural, and historic. It can at times be a difficult balancing act. “There are times when you can lean too much to the development side and not enough to respect for nature,” Jonathan says. “You don’t want to destroy what is special – special because nature created it that way.”

There are a number of environmentally friendly tourism operators in the province. 

Bradley Muir, the owner-operator of Sundogs Sled Excursions, has over 25 years of experience as a nature interpreter in Prince Albert National Park. In the winter, he and his partner offer sled dog excursions on their property just outside the park. “You have tremendous unity with the team as you race through the forest. The dogs have a lot of power even though they’re smaller than you’d expect,” Jonathan says. “Whether you are there as a thrill seeker or a pastoral nature lover, you can’t help but be overtaken by the stillness and immensity of the forest in winter. It’s a tremendously enriching experience.”

Two operators near the West Block of Grasslands National Park have a green approach to business. The Crossing Resort offers both a campground and vacation suites. Bring your own horse and ride right into the park, or sleep in a tipi under the stars. The Rosefield Church Guesthouse also borders the park and is completely off the grid. They offer trail rides, and breakfast is served in the Rosefield Church.

Unexplored Diversity
Talking to Jonathan is a valuable reminder that we don’t need to travel very far home to enjoy an outdoor adventure. “There is tremendous diversity, even in small areas,” Jonathan says. “You could spend years exploring Saskatchewan and still be amazed by what you see.”

For example, the Cumberland Delta is the largest inland delta in the world and can best be viewed from a plane or boat. Streams and channels from the river run in all directions, and there is an abundant cottonwood forest. “There’s a tremendous variety of wildlife and a unique mix of birds,” Jonathan says. “It’s a great area for canoeists. Solomon Carriere, a four-time canoe marathon champion, comes from Cumberland House.”

Jonathan longs to visit Wildcat Hill Provincial Wilderness Park. “Nearly no one goes there,” he says. “It’s a wilderness park with a fast, raging river running through deep canyons. It’s a cougar outpost with unique flora and fauna.”

Further information is available on the Tourism Saskatchewan and Sask Parks websites.

Photo credit: Tourism Saskatchewan/Greg Huszar Photography (Grasslands National Park)

See also:
Come Out and Play: Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures
Canoe the Bagwa Loop