Hiking through a grove of birch trees in North Qu’Appelle, Marcy Johnson emerged to find herself in a field of purple crocuses — all just steps from another spectacular view.
“Out of nowhere, there’s Sacred Heart Church, a fieldstone church with a belfry tower from the early 1900s, and another red-roofed chapel with 14 stations of the cross,” says Marcy, the administrator for the rural municipality (RM) of North Qu’Appelle, just 70 kilometres northeast of Regina. “It’s a special moment, to come across it like that. You feel the history of the early settlers. You appreciate the architecture. It’s really quite contemplative.”
The Qu’Appelle Valley is nestled between four lakes. It’s home to four First Nations, 2000 residents, meandering waterways, open marshes, and rolling grasslands populated with Saskatoon berry bushes, foxes and coyotes.
There are also 30 kilometres of The Great Trail in the region, and work is underway on a new 10-km section to join the village of Lebret to Fort Qu’Appelle. Part of the new section of the Trail will include a waterway connecting Lebret to Sandy Beach.
Right now, a tractor is dragging a grader along the new land portion of the Trail, grooming it for year-round usage. The RM of North Qu’Appelle matched a donation from Trans Canada Trail, bringing the budget for this project to $22,000 to pay staff and the contractor.
“We’re grooming a hilly section along Mission Lake to encourage hiking, cycling, running and walking—no quads allowed. That’s just our culture,” says Marcy.
The Trail makes its way into Qu’Appelle Valley south of Melville near Crooked Lake, after which it continues west along the historic Fort Ellis Trail, into Fort Qu’Appelle and onto the Qu’Appelle Valley Waterway.
While work advances on the new 10 kilometres, citizens and fitness buffs are making use of the other local Trail sections, including the 6.9-km path around the town of Fort Qu’Appelle, past the museum and the historic Treaty Four Governance Centre. Then there’s the Katepwa Lake Trail, a more secluded track further off the highway.
The Great Trail in Qu’Appelle Valley is an important addition to the region’s recreational infrastructure, and it makes for a great tourist attraction, all thanks to the collaboration of the rural municipalities of McLeod, Elcapo, Wolseley, Abernethy and North Qu’Appelle.
“Everyone knows the Trail,” says Marcy. “It’s popular with couples and families, as well as groups of retired teachers and ladies who walk every day.”
Having lived in the area for 22 years, Marcy is happy to see The Great Trail thriving in North Qu’Appelle.
“It’s about more than going somewhere to pick Saskatoon berries at the end of June, although that’s fun,” she notes. “It’s about building community year-round.”