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Grass River Provincial Park Park logo
Karst Spring Self-guiding Trail
Canadian Lynx Introduction

Trail Tips

Trail Rules

Boreal Forest




There is something fascinating about a stream of water surging out of solid rock. Unlike a waterfall, a spring's source is not apparent. Its mysterious origin and vitality can captivate the imagination.

The earliest historic reference to the site was in 1917; however, the river was a major travel route during the Fur Trade and for several thousand years before that. Its first discoverer and its significance remain a mystery behind the veil of time or the subject of stories told around campfires.

Karst Spring is located half-way around this trail. It gushes out of a sedimentary rock cliff of the Manitoba Lowlands and flows into the Precambrian Shield's Grass River. Three interpretive signs along the way provide additional information about these two vast geological regions and the spring that joins them.


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Trail Tips
  • Be prepared for a moderately strenuous 3.2-km hike. Allow 2 hours for walking and observation.

  • Bring sturdy footwear and expect several short, boggy crossings.

  • Mosquitoes and blackflies can be a distraction in the heat of summer, so be prepared.

  • Don't forget your camera and binoculars.

  • Benches are provided for rest and quiet contemplation.
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Trail Rules
  • Do not pick or disturb vegetation.

  • Stay on the trail and do not walk around or above the spring, so as to prevent damage to the forest floor's fragile moss communities.

  • Pack out what you packed in.

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Boreal Forest

As you enter the trail, you find several tall trembling aspen among the flourishing white spruce. They are remnants of aspens which once dominated this site, providing a "nursery" in which the young spruce trees thrived. This shaded environment is unsuitable for young aspens.

What kind of young trees can you find? Many of those that are less than 2 m in height have paired, opposite, flat needles and resin blisters on their gray bark. The balsam fir's fragrance is used in a common household product, shampoo. In time, if the site is not altered by fire, balsam fir will become the dominant tree species here.

Because the boreal forest is not homogenous or static, it provides constantly changing habitats or homes for different wildlife species from insects to woodland caribou. Wolves and moose prefer a mixture of habitats while others have very specific needs. For example, three-toed woodpeckers forage on insects in the bark of large, standing evergreens.

Spring and river meet   (J. Tallosi)

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Often hikers are single-minded in their activity. They may wish to hike just for the exercise, just to see a spectacular waterfall or a breathtaking view. In order to appreciate what this dynamic boreal forest has to offer, try to experience it with all of your senses.

  • Smell the conservatory of fragrances by taking several deep, slow breaths through your nose. Do you think that "wild pine" air fresheners can capture and recreate all the subtleties? Bend down to smell the tiny, pink twinflower. In wet places, smell the spicy scent of the low shrub, Labrador tea.

  • Listen to the wind in the tops of spruce trees. Listen to the distinct chatter of aspen leaves, even in the slightest breeze.

    In places along the lower trail, stop to hear water gurgling beneath the moss-covered rocks you are standing on.

    Listen to the raven's call and the sound of its feathers as it flies overhead.

  • Touch the trunks of different trees, compare their textures and colours. White and black spruce both have rough, scaled, gray bark. Aspen and birch generally have smooth, lightcoloured bark.

    Press your hand gently on the vivid green sphagnum moss on the forest floor, and on the light gray lichen, "caribou moss", found on rock outcrops. If moist, they yield to the pressure of your hand and bounce back when you lift your hand. If conditions are dry, both types of plants are brittle and break easily.

    Please stay on the path.

  • Taste a wild berry, but know what kind it is before you do. Edible berries on tall shrubs include saskatoon, highbush cranberry and mountain ash. Tall shrubs are rare as they prefer open, sunny places. Edible berries found close to the forest floor are bunchberry and wintergreen. Blueberries are scarce.

  • See the many individual plants that make up the forest; look up, down and around you. The tall, curving white spruce above the Karst Spring's stream and the fragile, rare calypso orchid are both members of this forest community.

  • Watch for wildlife and signs of their presence. Moose droppings are common. Along the river shore, you are in a blind for observing wildlife on the water.

    Near the spring, look for signs of black bear and river otter that fished there for white suckers during spawning time.

After such a hike, you will have many sensory impressions and memories that can help you formulate ideas about what the boreal forest is and what it means to you. Please share your comments, suggestions and experiences on this facility with park staff. We're always glad to listen.

Bunchberry (J. Tallosi)

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Boreal forest is predominant in most of Manitoba and there is a diversity of demands placed on its resources, particularly north of 53░. Industries and their workers rely on access to its timber and underlying mineral wealth. Lodge operators and outfitters market its wildlife and pristine beauty. Aboriginal communities regard it as their traditional homeland which provides spiritual and economic hope. Hydro developments to quench the "energy thirst" of urban areas, requires damming rivers and flooding forest areas.

The boreal forest is important for many reasons to many people, including you and your family. You have smelled, listened to, touched, tasted and seen some of the things that it has to offer. Now, some questions for you to consider: Can the forest be all things to all people? How can it sustain every desire and need?

Text by J. Tallosi
Canada Lynx by J. Carson

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