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Popular Manitoba destination to get picnic plaza, playground

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Grand Beach will get a major facelift in the coming years one reeve hopes will turn it into the "Banff of Manitoba."

It could also help pave the way for the completion of the twinning of Highway 59.

Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh said the province will spend $4 million on several projects, the largest of which is a new sewage lagoon, to make Grand Beach and its campsites more appealing.

The work is on top of the $2.7-million overhaul of the beach boardwalk, which was destroyed in an October 2010 storm.

Mackintosh said Thursday a derelict hotel and restaurant will be demolished this fall to make way for a lakefront picnic plaza and playground.

"We want to make sure we make strategic investments Manitobans can enjoy," Mackintosh said. "We want the best bang for our buck."

The plaza will reflect the historical connection to the railway, which at one time ferried passengers to the beach and its dance pavilion before Highway 59 and the automobile took over in the 1950s.

The goal of the project is to make the beach and its amenities fully accessible to people with disabilities and families with strollers, Mackintosh said: "It is really important that we be able to connect the parking lot area to the boardwalk and the beach."

Fifty-five more campsites will be outfitted with electrical outlets. It means 202 campsites out of 350 will have electric outlets.

"People are just not looking for the backcountry tenting experience," Mackintosh said.

The projects will be completed by 2020, he said.

He said Grand Beach is being spruced up because more people use it. There were more than 436,000 visits to Grand Beach Provincial Park last year, up 14 per cent during the last five years.

"This responds to that demand," Mackintosh said, adding the playground will use natural features such as cottonwood trees and boulders reclaimed from flood-hit St. Ambroise Provincial Park on Lake Manitoba. St. Ambroise Provincial Park opened this past weekend for day use, but requires more restorative work to facilitate overnight camping.

St. Clements Mayor Steve Strang said the improvements will help develop the Lake Winnipeg community.

"It's a canvas waiting to be painted," Strang said. "We are beginning to paint that canvas."

Strang said the projects to the Grand Beach and Grand Marais during the next few years, plus other projects such as a new medical centre and planned seniors residences, will attract even more long-term visitors and permanent residents, not just day trippers.

"We envision Grand Beach and Grand Marais like the Banff of Manitoba," he said. "It's more than white sands. We want people to come and enjoy not only the beach, but enjoy the whole area, the whole aspect of having a holiday and staying in Grand Beach for a while."

In turn, he said that will bolster the argument to complete the twinning of Highway 59 to Grand Beach. The project, which has been on the books for several years, requires a deal with Brokenhead Ojibway Nation before it can go ahead. The reserve straddles the highway.

Ron Thiessen, Manitoba executive director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said the development of Grand Beach and its focus on waste-water management is crucial.

But he said the government should not stop at Grand Beach. He called for wider protection of the new Fisher Bay Provincial Park on the west side of the lake, 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg, where Fisher Bay Cree Nation is establishing a cottage development.

The province should expand Fisher Bay's boundaries to protect the land and reduce the flow of harmful nutrients into Lake Winnipeg that contribute to toxic algae blooms, he said.

Fisher Bay Provincial Park, Manitoba's 86th provincial park, was established two years ago.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2013 A3


Updated on Friday, July 5, 2013 at 7:00 AM CDT: Replaces photo, changes headline

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