“It’s been crazy,” said Louis Prévost, planning and forestry director for the United Counties of Prescott-Russell (UCPR) during a phone interview January 11. “The parking lots are full all the time.”
For many Canadians January is when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as the “winter blues”, affects many people because of the short days and long nights. As the pandemic continues, worry about COVID-19 adds to the psychological effect of SAD, which may explain why more people are getting outdoors and heading out into the woods for winter recreation fun.
“Over the years we have always seen an increase in trail users,” said Prévost, regarding the number of people on the Larose Forest trails. “This year the amount of activity is just incredible.”
The UCPR has managed the community forest for several decades as both a public recreation area and a working forest for small-scale logging. Within the woodland area that straddles the boundary between Clarence-Rockland and The Nation there are between 60 to 70 kilometres of trails set aside for winter activities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, winter hiking when conditions are suitable, and “fat bike” riding. There are separate trails reserved for snowmobiling and winter ATV riding, and also a limited number of dedicated trails for the exclusive use of the Mush Larose dogsledding club.
The mild winter conditions for December have seen a few centimeters of snow fall, not enough to make it possible for UCPR staff to take the groomer out on the cross-country ski trails. But, Prévost noted, even the ungroomed trails with their thin cover of snow proved satisfactory for dozens of dedicated cross-country skiers.
“The Bourget (trailhead) parking lots alone are jampacked every weekend,” he said, adding that trail-grooming will begin after another 15 to 20 centimetres of snow falls during the coming weeks.
“We’ll have a good base for it then,” he said.
While the majority of trail users in the Larose Forest this winter are local, Prévost notes that a large number of people drive in from Ottawa to Limoges to take advantage of the ski and snowshoe trails in that part of the community forest. Visitor log entries at some of the Larose Forest trailheads indicate that some trail users come from as far south as Cornwall.
One winter activity growing in popularity in the Larose Forest is “fat bike” trail riding. One specific trail get a mechanical grooming to make it suitable for trail riders using the wide-tired bike, but Prévost noted that any of the mountain bike trails can serve as well. The problem, he observed, for some would-be first-time riders now may be finding a “fat bike” to ride thanks to increased demands for outdoor winter recreation equipment.
“If you’re looking to buy one,” he said, “you may be hardpressed.”
For anyone thinking of going to the Larose Forest for a day on trails, Prévost has one piece of advice. Check the information kiosks at the trailheads on which trails are posted for what type of use. Snowshoers and winter hikers should stay off the trails marked for cross-country skiing and no one should be on the snowmobile or ATV trails unless they are riding a snowmobile or an ATV.
“The majority of people do respect the signage,” said Prévost, adding that his staff will be doing more trail signage improvement work later in the spring in anticipation of the next winter season of visitors to the Larose Forest.