Many locals and visitors to Algoma alike are familiar with the iconic beauty of the landscape known as Robertson Cliff bluffs, its surrounding area and trail systems that we all enjoy, love to hike and photograph. But how much do we really know about them?
There is a roughly estimated 50 km of trails between the properties, the backbone of which is the Voyageur Trail which is maintained by the Voyageur Trail Association and carries you through King Mountain and beyond to Havilland Bay.
There are also trails on the King Mountain side that are maintained yearly by The Stokely Creek Lodge for the purposes of cross country skiing, snowshoeing, etc.
Both parties have signed trail use agreements with the Algoma Highlands Conservancy (AHC).
These trails serve as feeder trails to recently created loop trails by the AHC, which makes it easier for those with moderate to advanced skills to access the summits.
The AHC is a not-for-profit land ownership with a Board of Directors dedicated to pursuing its core values of; conservation, environmental education, ecological research and silent sport recreation.
It is the mission of this diverse group of individuals to conserve the unique beauty and ecological integrity of Robertson Cliffs, King Mountain and surrounding area.
"The AHC owns 1200 hectares of land including the King Mountain summit, Robertson Cliff bluffs, Norm’s Cabin and surrounding area. In fact, a lot of the Stokely Creek ski trails, although maintained by Stokely Creek, are on AHC land!" explains Derissa Vincentini, AHC's only employee.
In March of this year, Derissa became the part-time administrator of AHC. Her duties range from creating social media content and email correspondence to facilitating fundraisers and partnerships.
"The Conservancy’s first land purchase was a 0.4-hectare property on Bone Lake with a cabin from a local trapper, Norman Bourgeois, in 1996."
"In 1999, we purchased 123 hectares surrounding the Robertson Lake Cliffs, site of a six-year peregrine falcon reintroduction program."
"In 2009 we purchased an adjacent additional 1250 hectares encompassing most of King Mountain from Astina Inc., owner of neighbouring lands," explains Kees van Frankenhuyzen, current president of the board of directors for AHC.
"One of the main goals of AHC is to bring people of like minds together to enjoy the great outdoors right here in our backyard while also having a hand in conserving the phenomena that is the Algoma Highlands."
"Silent Sport Recreation usually refers to non-motorized sports such as running, hiking, biking, kayaking etc. We are hoping to provide more guided hikes, bike rides, snowshoe events and more in the future to facilitate creating that environment," Vincentini goes on to explain.
AHC has brought the classroom to life with outdoor learning opportunities. "We have been offering an Environmental Education Program with the Algoma District School Board at Stokely Creek Lodge since 2013. Each school year up to 2000 elementary students have profited from a day of outdoor education," said van Frankenhuyzen.
Balancing conservation with increasing recreational use is a tough line to walk.
"One of the biggest challenges we face as an organization is mending the disconnect we have with the hikers on our trails."
"Robertson Cliffs, as well as, King Mountain have been a go-to hiking spot for many Saultites and even visitors around the world, yet many people still do not know that it is owned and maintained by the Algoma Highlands Conservancy."
"Another challenge from this increased trail use of Robertson Cliffs is keeping up with the inevitable erosion that comes with it from all the foot traffic," said Vincentini.
In the fall of 2017 AHC entered into a fact-finding mission. Trail cameras were installed to monitor trail use. What they found was some 3,500 individuals were documented hiking their trails between early September and early November of that year.
Current car and foot traffic suggest an even greater use this year due to COVID-19.
This coming year the AHC board of directors will be working hard to develop a plan to somehow convert the trails' tremendous popularity into some cash revenue that can be put back into the trail system in order to sustain and maintain it.
One item being worked on this year is planning and development of an active membership program to generate revenues.
There are other options presently for making monetary donations. You can make a donation directly to AHC (online) or you might choose to Foster a Forest for yourself, family or in honour of someone special by visiting the Foster A Forest page.
"There are currently seven dedicated board members of diverse backgrounds on our team."
"Our excellent team is looking for new additions to help pursue our core values. Individuals with expertise specifically in legal perspectives, fundraising and ecological research are encouraged to apply, however other fields are welcomed as well," said van Frankenhuyzen
Currently, AHC does not maintain an active office and can be reached by email (email@example.com) or through social media.
Clearly a jewel in our midst, AHC is using responsible stewardship to protect Robertson Cliff bluffs and ensure it is available for generations to come.