As President of the Friends of Frontenac Park, Simon Smith has had occasion to attend gatherings with other park officials from the larger region and the province as a whole. He learns about other parks at those meetings.
“I think Bon Echo Park draws 5 or 6 times as many people as Frontenac Park”, he said when interviewed this week, “and I remember someone telling me that Sandbanks draws as many people on a summer weekend as we draw all year.”
Unlike the other parks, all of the campsites in Frontenac Park are hike or boat in sites, and the park draws more of a nature loving and hiking crowd than some other provincial parks.
Unlike the other parks, however, Frontenac Park is open year round, and thanks to the Friends of Frontenac, the office is staffed on weekends throughout the winter.
The Friends of Frontenac held their AGM last weekend in Kingston, and are entering their 27th year. Not only do the Friends help in the park office, members help with trail maintenance as well, and that is a pretty big job since there are well over 100 km. of trails in the park to go over periodically. The Friends also help with boardwalk improvement, and other extras in the park. The Friends also raise money for information signs and kiosks.
“We had a Vision session a few years ago and came up with a number of initiatives to raise the profile of the park and we have been working through them since then. One of the ideas was to support a Christmas Bird Count in the Park, which has happened and has been growing each of the three years it has been held. We have been working on signs, and a multi-language brochure, and each year we move forward a bit,” he said.
The Friends also organise educational events in the park throughout the spring, summer and fall, such as “Introduction to Back Country Camping”, “Wilderness Navigation”, and “National Canoe Day”.
Frontenac Park is known for its rock outcroppings, lakes and spectacular vistas because of its location within the Frontenac Axis of the Canadian Shield. One of its more key features is that most of it was at one time settled land. There are 15 historic homesteads, the Tett mine and others mines which were all located within the park’s boundaries. Chris Barber spent ten years researching that past and produced a comprehensive book, The Enduring Spirit, which is for sale at the park office. The historical past of the park is kept alive through signage along the trails, and through other means.
More recently the park is beginning to play a bigger role as a centre for citizen science. The Christmas Bird Count is a good example of this, as are other programs. Because of the park’s location on the edge of the Canadian Shield, the mix of species is very rich, and since the land enjoys a number of protections against both development and major disturbance, it is a good place to conduct science.
The Friends of Frontenac Park have also developed working relationships with other groups in the region and beyond, promoting conservation, the enjoyment of the outdoors and developing an understanding of the value of nature. Later this spring they will be hosting a meeting of the Ontario Nature Federation at the Park Centre.
And they are integrally involved in two challenges that have made Frontenac Park a destination even in the so-called shoulder seasons, when tourism drops way off. The Frontenac Challenge is to hike all of the trails in the park between Labour Day and the end of October, and the winter camping challenge is just that.
“The amazing thing is that people come from far away to participate in these challenges. They somehow hear about them, and they come,” said Simon Smith.
For more information about the Friends of Frontenac Park, go to the website Frontenacpark.ca