Under Siege: 5 Things Threatening Lake Winnipeg & the Red River Watershed

By David Janeson

Lake Winnipeg is beautiful. There’s nowhere we’d rather spend our days.

Unfortunately, Lake Winnipeg is under siege by a multitude of environmental threats. So is the entire Lake Winnipeg Basin, a vast catchment area that feeds Lake Winnipeg and waterways further north. All five of these acute threats are worsening as we speak.

1. Agricultural Runoff

The Red River and its tributaries drain a largely agricultural region covering parts of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota. Crop types practices vary throughout the area, with pastureland and wheat more common in its western extent and corn and canola prevalent in its eastern reaches.

Unfortunately, modern farming practices don’t vary as much. Exacerbated by aggressive tilling, and longer dry spells, topsoil loss is muddying tributary waterways, choking key water plants and upsetting biological balances. Agricultural pollution affects drinking water supplies, too.

2. Increasing Wastewater Volumes

Soil loss is bad enough; fertilizer pollution is worse still. Excessive fertilizer use affects waterways’ chemical composition, promoting harmful algae blooms that affect beneficial plant and microbe populations. This disruption works its way up the food chain, robbing anglers of prized catches.

3. Invasive Species

Aquatic invasive species are a growing menace in Lake Winnipeg. Ironically, invasive zebra and quagga mussels effectively filter lakewater, improving clarity and color. But they’re devastating for native marine species; they belong in the beautiful lakes and rivers of Eurasia, whence they came.

4. Shorter Winters & Longer Droughts

Climate change is the defining political, social, and economic issue of our time.

 

“Its importance can’t be overstated. And, unsurprisingly, its effects are being felt right here in the Lake Winnipeg watershed, right now.” — David Janeson

 

As winters grow shorter and summer droughts extend into fall, the entire regional ecosystem finds itself under strain. For instance, while it’s nice (for humans) to mothball the winter coat in March, many native plant and animal species require long winters to thrive. Others depend on regular summer rains to replenish their water supplies and ensure an uninterrupted reproductive cycle.

5. Growing Irrigation Demands

By any reasonable standard, the Lake Winnipeg Basin isn’t parched. Depending on where you stand in the southern portion of the basin, you’ll soak up at least 45 centimeters of rain per year (including snow water equivalent). That’s a far cry from the western edge of the Great Plains, in the rain shadow of the Rockies, where you’ll be lucky to see 30 centimeters in a typical year.

Still, modern agriculture requires lots of water, and irrigation demands are rising accordingly throughout the basin. This affects neighboring south-flowing watersheds as well, but it’s more acute in our neck of the woods, where the climate is drier. Again, it’s exacerbated by longer droughts and fleeting snowpack.

Do Your Part!

Are you worried about the long-term health of Lake Winnipeg? You’re in good company. And you don’t need a water management or environmental studies degree to make a difference.

If you live anywhere in the Lake Winnipeg watershed, on either side of the U.S.-Canada border, you can make a meaningful impact simply by resolving to think intentionally about the water you use, the waste you produce, and your lifestyle’s impact on the environment. Let’s roll up our sleeves and be the change we want to see in the world.

 

David Janeson owns Gull Harbour Marina, a seasonal lakeside resort on beautiful Hecla Island, Manitoba.

7 Musts for Your Lake Winnipeg Vacation

By David Janeson

Lake Winnipeg is an amazing body of water: the world’s 10th largest, by most counts. It should come as no surprise that its seemingly endless shores teem with fun recreational opportunities and cultural experiences for the whole family. Here’s a look at seven enduring favorites.

1. Visit Viking Park in Gimli

Viking Park is a must-see on your way up the shore of Lake Winnipeg. It’s relatively new, as this excellent CBC primer explains, but Viking Park has already earned a deserved reputation as one of Canada’s top Nordic-themed destinations. Don’t leave before snapping a selfie with the iconic Viking statue.

2. Stick Around for the Icelandic Festival

If Viking Park has you hooked, head back up to Gimli in early August for the world-famous Icelandic Festival, Canada’s largest celebration of Icelandic heritage. Tens of thousands of people descend on the lakefront village each year to remember the region’s original European settlers and revel in customs preserved across the generations. The best part is, no Icelandic heritage is required to partake.

3. Take a Dinner Cruise

Can’t decide whether to tuck in for dinner or take one last spin around the harbor? You can do both on a dinner cruise at Gull Harbour Marina. There’s nothing quite like viewing a late summer sunset from the deck on calm evening waters, cold beverage in hand. Later in the year, when night comes earlier, you’ll be treated to a breathtaking astronomical display. Constellations, ahoy!

4. Rent a Boat for a Day (or Two)

Prefer to captain your own vessel? Whether you prefer the reassuring grip of a double paddle or the confident roar of a motorboat engine, you’re covered.

 

“Hecla Island is a DIY mariner’s playground. And once you’re out on the water, the sky (or bottom) is truly the limit.” — David Janeson

 

Don’t forget to ask locals to share their favorite fishing spots — if they’ll tell you, that is.

5. Hike Hecla Island

Hecla Island isn’t a world-renowned hiking destination, but don’t let that fool you. Dozens of kilometers of trails crisscross the island, from the leisurely interpretive walk through Hecla Village to the 10-kilometer West Quarry Trail, a great wildlife-viewing opportunity. Don’t forget your hiking boots or snowshoes. (Or both, depending on the season.)

6. Spend an Endless Summer Evening at Sunset Beach

They don’t call it Sunset Beach for nothing. Stretching along the northwestern shore of Hecla Island, on the far side of Gull Harbour, this strip of sand is one of the best places to watch the sun set in the entire province.

In June and July, you can enjoy a leisurely dinner and make it to the beach with plenty of time to spare before the show starts. Once the stars make their appearance, it’s a whole new world. If you can find an open camping site, you’ll surely be tempted to spend the whole night here.

7. Squeeze in a Round of Golf

Few first-time visitors realize that Hecla Island is home to one of Manitoba’s top golf courses: an 18-hole championship course at Lakeview Hecla Resort, not far from Gull Harbour. On long summer days, snagging a prime tee time is rarely a problem. Fore!

What’s your top destination or activity on Lake Winnipeg?

 

David Janeson owns Gull Harbour Marina, a seasonal lakeside resort on beautiful Hecla Island, Manitoba.

 

6 Family-Friendly Activities on Hecla Island: What to Do on Your Next Trip

By David Janeson

Some say Hecla Island is the crown jewel of Lake Winnipeg.

Of course, they’re careful about who they say this around. There’s a lot of competition for the title.

What’s not controversial: Hecla Island is one of the top tourist destinations on Lake Winnipeg. Thanks to the loving embrace of Hecla Grindstone Provincial Park, it’s also among the southern lobe’s most unspoiled stretches of wilderness. If you’re bringing the family up for a long weekend, you’ll want to make time for these six unforgettable activities.

1. A Walk Back in Time at Hecla Village

Did you know that Hecla Island was once the site of a thriving fishing village populated by hardy Icelandic-Canadians?

It’s true. And it wasn’t even that long ago: back in the first few decades of the 20th century.

Today, Hecla Village isn’t actually inhabited, but several buildings have been restored or rebuilt to historical specifications.

 

“Kids of all ages love the short interpretive walk through the village, and parents appreciate the eye to historical detail.” — David Janeson

 

Come at the right time and you’ll get to explore some of the buildings themselves on a guided tour.

2. A Wildlife Viewing Adventure at Grassy Narrows Marsh

The wildlife viewing tower at Grassy Narrows Marsh is arguably the best place on the island to spot moose, deer, birds of prey, and other exciting animals. Come early in the morning or later in the evening for best results. And don’t forget your camera!

3. A Day (or Evening) at Sunset Beach

True to its name, Sunset Beach is a great place to watch the sun descend over the lake. It’s also a fantastic place to hang out with a good book on warm, sunny summer afternoons. Bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it.

4. An Afternoon Out on the Water

Hecla Island is surrounded by water, you know. If you didn’t bring a boat up with you, no sweat: just rent a kayak or canoe from a local outfitter and spend the day paddling out on the lake. Or inquire at Gull Harbour Marina about dinner cruises. Nothing beats an al fresco meal on a glass-smooth lake.

5. A Hearty Meal at the Harbour Dock

Well, almost nothing beats an al fresco meal out on the lake. The Harbour Dock Restaurant, Gull Harbour Marina’s full-service dining facility, has stunning water views and an always-changing menu that’s heavy on local fare. Yes, that means walleye and whitefish so fresh you’ll swear their gills were still moving.

6. A Cycle Around the Island

In case you haven’t noticed, Hecla Island is pretty flat. That’s great news for visiting cyclists, who can tool around the island’s roads without laboring up hills or nearly careening out of control on downslopes. Strap your road bike on the back of your car or rent one closer to the action — your choice. Or, if you’re really up for an adventure, consider cycling all the way up from Winnipeg. It’s only about 180 kilometers.

What’s your favorite thing to do on Hecla Island?

 

David Janeson owns Gull Harbour Marina, a seasonal lakeside resort on beautiful Hecla Island, Manitoba.