Thousands of Canadian canoeists journey to Ontario’s legendary Algonquin Park every summer to paddle its pristine lakes, but few will see as much in one season as Ottawa’s Drew Czernik.
Czernik’s on his way to paddling 100 of the popular park’s lakes in 100 days. He formulated the goal after realizing how little of the park he has actually seen, despite spending time there for nearly two decades, first as a camp counsellor and then at a family cottage.
“I’m trying to make up for lost time,” he said. “I’ve see a lot more (this summer) than all those years combined.”
Algonquin Park is Ontario’s oldest provincial park, established in 1893. It is also one of its largest, spanning over 7,600 square kilometres, an expanse significantly larger than Prince Edward Island. The park sees 900,000 visits a year, nearly one-quarter of which are backcountry users.
Over 2,400 lakes are spread through the park, but most canoeists won’t make it further than a dozen lakes in a visit.
So far, Czernik has paddled over 90 lakes with hopes to hit the 100 mark before Labour Day weekend. He is tracking his progress on his blog.
While he’s given himself 100 calendar days to accomplish his goal, Czernik works full-time so he’s done most of his paddling on the weekends.
As an experienced paddler he’s done much of it solo, but he occasionally has company from his wife, other family members or friends. He’s even taken his four-year-old daughter along for a trip.
Traversing lakes with names like Canoe, Tepee, North Tea, Lost Dog, Thunder, Lemon and Whatnot, Czernik has made many memories over the past few months.
“You end up seeing a lot of things. And the funny thing is there’s so much left of the park that I haven’t really seen. I’ve only scratched the surface of it,” he said.
His favourite: a serene moment on Oak Lake.
“It’s a more rugged area. It’s hard to get there…it was completely deserted; there was no one there except for one loon in the middle of the lake who was just calling to itself. Its voice was echoing off the shore. It was very peaceful,” he said.
Another highlight for Czernik is how much he’s learned about Algonquin Park itself. He is reading about its history and encourages others to get out and experience it.
“There is still so much more that people can be doing and seeing. If I had anything I want to say (it’s that) people get out and make use of it because it is a fantastic resource.”
The park’s assistant superintendent thinks Czernik’s goal is an amazing challenge.
“For most people in Ontario, they’ll come to Algonquin Provincial Park as part of a day trip or … maybe spend a couple of days at a campground,” said Rick Stronks.
“The adventurous people will go on an interior backpacking or canoe trip and they might spend a couple days or a week travelling, but not many people get to spend 100 days in one summer in the park.”
Stronks estimates most visitors to Algonquin Park would see one or two per cent of the park, at best. And even some of the park’s longest-serving interior rangers still have lakes to knock of their lists, Stronks said.
“Algonquin is so large that you would have to do this challenge for over 20 years to actually visit all of the lakes,” he said.
As for whether the goal will become an annual event, Czernik isn’t sure.
“I’m going to keep doing as much as I can,” he said. “Perhaps not 100 lakes every summer, but I do want to get to every lake I can before the end.”