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Fall beach weekend

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Netley Creek Provincial Park
Winnipeg Beach Provincial Park
Camp Morton Provincial Park
Hnausa Beach Provincial Park

The beaches were empty and most cottages stood shuttered for the season. The leafless trees provided a stark landscape. The west side of Lake Winnipeg is a different place in the fall. There are very few cottagers remaining and the lakeside towns have mostly closed up shop for the season. Only the locals remain.

Due to the number of parks I had to visit this summer and the distances travelled, I had to leave a few parks that could have been classified as summer destinations until the fall. These included the parks on the west side of Lake Winnipeg.

My friend and I finally had time to head up to this area this past weekend. Our itinerary included visits to Netley Creek, Winnipeg Beach, Camp Morton and Hnausa Beach provincial parks. Even though it was late in the season, these parks are worth checking out.

Our first stop was Netley Creek Provincial Park -- or what is left of the park. The park itself sits at the confluence of Netley Creek with the Red River, just south of where the Red empties into Lake Winnipeg. It is at the very end of Breezy Point Road, 15 kilometres north of Selkirk.

The park, like the community of Breezy Point, is no more. Ice jams on the Red River during the spring of 2009 damaged the homes and cottages of Breezy Point to the extent that the province expropriated the land and demolished them all. Today the former community is a series of vacant lots adjacent to the river. The park was also heavily damaged and has not been repaired. All that remains now is a parking lot.

When we pulled in to the park, the lot was surprisingly full. Hundreds of people were out on boats or fishing from the shoreline of the vacant lots. The annual fall walleye run between the river and Lake Winnipeg is in full swing and the junction of Netley Creek and the Red River is a prime fishing hole. We took in the scene, but having forgotten our fishing rods, we cut over to Highway 9 and headed north towards Winnipeg Beach.

Winnipeg Beach is a town with considerable history. In 1903, the Canadian Pacific Railway line up the west shore of Lake Winnipeg was completed and cottages began to spring up at Winnipeg and surrounding beaches. By 1912, trains were shuttling up to 40,000 vacationers to the booming beach communities every weekend. A special train, the "Moonlight Special," ferried partygoers to Winnipeg Beach in the early evening and had them back in Winnipeg just after midnight. My grandparents still tell stories about trips on the "Moonlight Special". A boardwalk and amusement park spanned the length of the beach and was always crowded during the summer.

The boom didn't last long, though. As the automobile replaced the train in the 1940s and 50s, the crowds at Winnipeg Beach thinned and the town settled into its current state as a sleepy cottage community. Where the amusement park and original boardwalk once stood, Winnipeg Beach Provincial Park now spans the length of the town's beach. The park features a grass picnic area and a re-creation of the town's famous boardwalk. Even though it was well into October, it was still warm enough to relax on the beach for a while, albeit with more clothes than during the summer.

Our next stop was Camp Morton Provincial Park, eight kilometres north of Gimli on Provincial Road 222. Unfortunately, the historic section of the park has closed for the winter, but the remainder of the park is currently open for hiking and cross-country skiing during the winter. The historic part of the park preserves the remains of a Roman Catholic summer camp, built in 1920. Several stone cabins, a chapel, and a bell tower are among the buildings that remain. During the summer, this area would be a great place to explore before taking a walk down to the beach.

The final stop of the weekend was at Hnausa Beach Provincial Park, an additional 22 kilometres north on Provincial Road 222. The park is just outside the town of Hnausa, one of the original New Iceland settlements of the late 19th century. Just like Camp Morton, the park was closed for the season. We took a quick hike through the park and down to the beach. Hnausa Beach is small and is suffering from the erosion that threatens all of the west side of Lake Winnipeg. During the summer Hnausa Beach Provincial Park would make a good place to enjoy a beach day away from the crowds at Winnipeg Beach and Gimli.

Our fall beach weekend was relaxing and rewarding. It was unfortunate that we weren't able to make it to these parks during the peak summer season, but that is one of the difficulties with so many parks and so little time. In two weeks time, I'm going to take one of the shortest trips of the year, visiting the provincial parks in and around Winnipeg.

Parks visited in today's post:


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