At mile 6, we turn north mowing a mile on a grassy farmer’s field access road, past two old wooden granaries starting to fall down… a depiction of an era past, another farmyard gone. At the 1-mile road from the border, we turn east onto a municipal roadway. We mow the grass down the middle of the road and avoid hitting the many protruding stones. We are gaining elevation in these two miles going from pure gumbo to lots of stones in the second mile as we enter the escarpment. The first of many fences (electric and barb wire) enclose cattle grazing along the road. We start seeing many chokecherry trees heavy with still green berries, wild roses, many different varieties of weeds and grasses, and many different flowering plants in bloom.
After 2 miles we turn north for 1 mile, on a well-used gravel municipal road. We see the first occupied farm yards, and more black cattle coming to the fence line to watch us go by. We turn west back 1 mile on a good gravel road and then north again on another good gravel road. Here there is a narrowing bush line enclosing the road creating a canopy of cover to drive thru. As we pass a farm yard, the same two dogs run to the road to welcome us. They don’t chase us as we are going too slow, so they stand watching us with their tails wagging. Here we mow thru an undeveloped roadway. The first half is prairie grass with silver willows and our pathway is a tunnel to follow thru them. For the last half mile, we cut into a bush with electric wire fences on both sides. It is well grazed so only the centre we mow is treed. The pathway is not straight, and we zig and zag between the trees, sometimes having to back up to negotiate the tight turns with the tractor and mower. Our chain saw is needed in several spots as downed trees block our progression. We pass under a wire overhead with a bright yellow sign saying “Caution electric fence wire”. At the end of this wooded run, we basically drive into a farmer’s yard, only 50 feet from his house, and exit on his driveway.
We head west 1 mile on a well-maintained gravel road (4 mile road) and turn north and within a half mile we are in Ridgeville. We stop for lunch at the Ridgeville Club. Always a friendly spot to stop… not to mention great food! Not much left in Ridgeville, as you see the abandoned church and other empty buildings. One business is active though: the car dealership lot is full of vehicles across the road….
Ridgeville to North of Senkiw Suspension Bridge
We leave Ridgeville and mow north on the east side of the paved highway, along the field line, skirting the hydro poles with our blue signs. We turn east on the 5 mile good gravel road and in one mile we turn north. The first quarter mile is good gravel road but it ends as we reach the driveway to a farmer on the right. Again two dogs we are familiar with both run to greet us, with tails wagging. The next half mile is bad. There are standing water puddles, deep potholes and ruts filled with water. Rocks are protruding so we have to go really slow. Tractor’s back axle on the left wheel disappears into one of these deep puddles. This bad section is probably 500 yards long and a local business has offered to repair free of charge as a donation to the trail, but it’s too wet to do the work now. At the end of the wet section, there is a ford crossing where we want to move a 3’ x 20’ footbridge which we no longer need on another section.
We have 2 miles heading north now on a grassy sandy trail. It is an unmaintained municipal roadway that is not used. There is some grass, lots of stones protruding and lots of ruts and potholes. Electric fencing on both sides and the willows are pushing in from both sides.
We make two passes, cutting willows sometimes 1 ½ inch thick. (see picture). Eight miles from the Border now, we come up to Kirkpatrick swamp. This is a mile long endless view of cattails, and like Netley Marsh or Oak Hammock, there is an abundance of frogs croaking. A soft slow rain starts to fall as we head east to take cover under a canopy of tall stately cottonwoods on both sides of the road. When the rain stops, we go 1 mile east then 1 mile north on good gravel roads. We cross Hwy 201 and go 2 more miles north on good gravel roads.
We then turn west and half a mile only and start mowing north on what is known as the Hamilton section of trail. (Blair Hamilton is an ex-board member who first created this trail.) I walk this mile in front of the tractor, lopping low branches and protruding growth as we are between a tree line and a farmer’s crop. In a quarter mile, we leave the bush line and follow a narrow grassy field divider. We mow past soybeans as we approach the last half mile of thick aspen forest. The trees are thick and mixed with our first pleasant start of an abundance of Saskatoons. As we mow along an electric fence there are lots of small trees to lop and cut back. Also lots of deer jumping across our path, wild flowers, birds… and a billion mosquitoes! This is also the first sign of wood ticks. We are now out of the forest and back to following the field with barb wire fence. Jordan Creek is on the other side of the fence so there is a 3’ walking path culvert at the end of the trail which we have to go around as too narrow for tractor.
We now head east on a busy gravel road for one mile. We turn north into Roseau Rapids Reserve. It is a very peaceful tranquil location with its homemade rounded long house enclosures with no canvas top on. There are smaller willow enclosures that are very unique to those who haven’t seen them before. We turn east along the river, mowing in tall thick grass before following a field of corn. Farmer has left us an 8 foot pathway which sure makes it easier for mowing. This is a very tranquil winding trail, as we can see the river thru the trees at spots. The tall corn is the height of my truck cab already.
Once off the Reserve, we head east. For the first half mile there is gravel with long needled pine trees on both sides of the road, nestled in between the poplars. Pines are fair size and a pleasant change of species. When this road ends we are on an undeveloped municipal roadway. The trail is smooth and the farmer has left us trail access. Tall corn hugs our vehicle and as we drive our elbows are hitting the cobs. One mile east we make a hair pin and enter the beginning of the 2 mile Roseau River bush trail. This is probably the most scenic section of trail on the entire Crow Wing trail. I walk this 2 mile section, lopping as much as I can to stay ahead of the tractor. Two downed trees need a chain saw, poplars leaning into the trail and many overgrown hazelnut bushes need to be cut back. There are saskatoons a plenty on this entire stretch. The bushes are blue and it’s grab a mouthful as you go. For almost a mile we hug the Roseau River and view the steep banks below. We see the water cascading on rapids as it winds and at some spots we are cutting right next to the water. There is lots of lopping on this mow, up to the end of the trail, where we enter the cottage area known as Goddard’s Cabins. This is a gravel road which means no more mowing. The south end of the swinging bridge has been cut recently by RM of Franklin employees. So we load up the tractor and proceed back to Hwy 218. We go over New Bridge to get to the other side of the river for the north access to the swinging bridge.
The north access is known as Senkiw. The entrance has a big black gate, which we open to mow a double wide pathway thru the thick poplar forest. The size of these poplars is rare. I have grown up in southern Manitoba and seen lots of poplar trees, but this section has the biggest I have seen anywhere. The trees are tall and straight, with a darker coloration of bark. They are not as white as most… almost a brown. There is something in this very rich sandy soil of Senkiw that they like. The steel gates need painting and the mail box needs to be replaced as it is squashed flat. We moved all the way to the river and back. There is lots of traffic on this road next to the cairn. Everyone is waiving as they see our green vests and the tractor and mower. They know who we are and they welcome our efforts!