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Forgotten flood haunts Spruce Woods

Tourism money down the drain; damage costs not yet tallied

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DELTA Beach. Twin Lakes Beach. Lake St. Martin. Hoop and Holler. But Spruce Woods?

Evacuees numbered in the hundreds, flood damage in the hundreds of thousands, yet a flooded provincial park fell off the public radar. Overlooked, but not forgotten.

Spruce Woods Provincial Park’s beach and campgrounds lay soaked under the swollen flood waters of the Assiniboine River all summer.

The road approach to the desert jewel, Spirit Sands, was washed out. Spruce Woods will need a major makeover but park officials are still tallying up the damage and can’t offer any estimates yet.

Two private businesses in the park lost the entire season, out tens of thousands of tourism dollars.

"We were hit significantly. Let’s put it that way. The western region’s parks were all impacted in the flood but certainly it’s among the worst," said Tim Moore, Manitoba Conservation district park supervisor of the damage at Spruce Woods.

Park officials took a Free Press reporter and photographer Friday on a tour of the devastated areas and showed off the glowing Spirit Sands, which were spared.

Highway 5 runs through the park and crosses the Assiniboine. That road was under nearly two metres of muddy water much of the summer.

The popular lower campground was under more than three metres. The park office? Its second-storey windows and roof were the only indications a building even stood on the site.

Boating was the only way in.

"It just stayed and stayed. And there was crest after crest. The same crests that hit Minot and Wawanesa hit us, too," Moore said.

When the river rolled back, it left behind a cobblestone pavement of clay, some of it eight inches thick.

"It looked like a moonscape to me. We are very much hoping our larger trees survive. We lost some of the smaller trees," he said.

It doesn’t take much to see that park buildings will be torn down. Mould is a problem.

"We haven’t done any repairs. But then we haven’t really had any access into this area until the 19th of August. That was our official opening," Moore said.

In among the tall cottonwoods, walking paths to the river are sticky with thick wet clay.

The litany of damage suggests it will be next summer before repairs start; that’s the dismal prediction of one private business.

Pine Fort IV, located half way up the ridge between the dry campground and the flooded one, was an island in a lake until a month or so ago.

Named for a palisade of wide pine staves that hold canoes for rent, a concession and a camp store, owners Henry Booy looks around, nearly frantic with worry. He and his wife, Cheryl, lost this season. They may lose next year. The future looks uncertain and the Booys feel forgotten.

"Farmers are getting financial assistance. The Hoop and Holler people are getting assistance. The people on Lake Manitoba are getting assistance. But what about the people who live on the river?"

That’s what Henry Booy wants to know.

He sat Friday, leafing through a pile of letters appealing for help to provincial ministers, including Premier Greg Selinger.

Each one referred him to EMO and Manitoba Water Stewardship.

The province has no financial program for park business operators.

Complicating the matter is Henry’s other job, as a seasonal fire ranger at Spruce Woods, which makes him a Conservation employee. "It’s tough," he said "It’d be nice to talk to somebody about it. What I want to know is, is there going to be any compensation assistance for us. We don’t fit any of the programs."

Spirit Sands was spared. Not even the mighty Assiniboine in full flood throttle scaled the 30plus metres to the plateau where the dunes soar another 30 metres up from the prairie and mixed spruce forest.

Its grasslands burst into bloom with a flush of wildflowers from the summer rain, but few saw the beauty, not with the dunes marooned as they were. Park staff fixed the trails as soon as the new access road was opened in mid-August.

"You can walk in the forest, you can go out on the Prairie grassland and then you see the ‘punch bowl’ and walk over there and see desert. That’s why it’s unique. It’s all in one place."

The punch bowl is a set of pools, in brilliant blue-green hues, fed from springs that seep out of the sand dunes. It’s an ecotourism attraction.

A big part of the park wasn’t flooded. The upper ridge offers camping through October and winter sports after that.

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