Paying it Forward : Yorkton to Melville

This morning dawned cool and overcast, which made for excellent hiking weather, and we decided go make the most of it.  In the end we surprised ourselves, covering the 56.5 km to Melville.  We headed out around 8:00 am, walking south out of town to York Lake and the York Lake Regional Park.  The park offers camping and includes a sandy beach, boat launches, a picnic area, public washrooms, and a concession stand, although it wasn't open when we walked past.  The Canoe and Kayak club is located nearby, as well as a small boat rental shop.

A few people were out and about as we made our way through the park and along a gravel road lined with lakefront cottages.  A huge highlight was watching a Western Tiger Salamander walk slowly across the road in front of us and then curl into a defensive position in the grass when we approached.  It must have been more than 6 inches long, and looked like a small dragon crossing the road from a distance!

Western Tiger Salamander Trans Canada Trail SK.

As we rounded the lake its smooth surface reflected the wavy grey clouds above, the elegant grasses standing along its shore, and the train trestle bridge crossing its smooth expanse.  A group of three Buffleheads left a trail of small ripples behind, and at the far end a Mallard slept, its beak tucked neatly under its wing.

When we got to the northern tip of the lake, opposite the York Lake Golf Course, we were in for a real treat.  The water level in the lake was low, leaving a large expanse of mud exposed, and it was absolutely full of shorebirds!  Large flocks of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs were foraging in the mud, joined by groups of Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Killdeers.  Red-winged Blackbirds moved about in the cattails, arguing with a pair of American Crows, and American Goldfinches bobbed around in the shrubs. The stars of the show for us though were the supremely elegant American Avocets!  We watched in fascination as they waded through the shallow water, swishing their long curved bills back and forth to catch invertebrate prey. With their reflections perfectly reflected in the mirror-like water they were a sight to see!

American Avocet Yorkton Saskatchewan.

American Avocet Trans Canada Trail Saskatchewan.

After rounding the edge of the lake we walked straight south on a gravel road for 29 km.  The landscape in this stretch was mostly a mixture of mowed hay, green grassy fields, golden yellow grain fields, and pastures filled with cows.  Trembling aspen stands were scattered across the landscape and lined the road in some places.  The edges of the gravel concession were bordered by tall grass and blooming wildflowers, their yellow and purple blossoms creating the feeling of an impressionist painting. 

Early on in our walk we looked towards the highway to our west and saw a truly enormous Ducks Unlimited sign on the horizon.  Apparently we were walking past Duck’s Unlimited’s Upper Rousay Lake Migratory Bird Sanctuary.  This was one of five wildlife sanctuaries established in Saskatchewan in 1948, and it is an important breeding and moulting site for waterfowl in the aspen parkland ecosystem of Saskatchewan.

The road we were following was a single lane wide, and it didn't have too much traffic.  The few vehicles that passed us all slowed down and gave us an enthusiastic and friendly wave.  When we reached a bend in the road we passed a farmer who was out mending his fences. He stopped to chat, asking if we were hiking the Trans Canada Trail, and how far we'd come.  As he made his way along the fence, standing in what should have been a cattail marsh but was now completely dry, the conversation turned to the weather and the drought.  He said he had never seen the land this dry in his lifetime, and was worried about the future. 

Empty River beds like we have seen across the prairies in 2021

As I write this blog, I've just seen the news from the IPCC, stating that the planet is now past the point of any return, and we will now experience the effects of climate change for the next century as least.  The signs have been evident for a while, which is why it is so desperately important to do all we can protect to our birds, wildlife, and natural areas as the planet changes. The farmers out here are regularly living the realities of drought, wildfires and crop destruction. 

Just before we came to the turn in our road we had a huge treat - a trail side visit from Daniel Baylis!  We'd had the pleasure of meeting this inspiring author, poet, and freelance photographer once before on the Trans Canada Trail, in Arnold's Cove, Newfoundland, just five days after we started our cross country hike in 2019.  Many of his images of us have been used by publications across the nation and in articles published by Ontario Nature and the CBC!

Come Walk With Us on the Trans Canada Trail.
Daniel Baylis and Sonya Richmond on Great Trail.
2019 at Arnold's Cove, NFLD

This year he was in the region again photographing the trail and was kind enough to join us, take a few amazing pictures and do mini-interview in the rain, and it was great to meet up and chat once again. (Especially since he was kind enough to bring treats!)  We are hoping to be able to convince the Trans Canada Trail to send him to the Northwest Territories in 2023 when we conclude our 24,000 km hike at our third ocean!

Filled with renewed energy we came to the turn in our route (yes, turning a corner was a big trail event for today), and began walking west for another 23 km to the outskirts of Melville.  This was another nice gravel road, which was narrow and generally had very little traffic.

As we made our way among the fields the clouds began to collect in a large bank, and the sky really began to darken.  This made for some dramatic scenes when the sun periodically peaked through gaps in the clouds behind us, and turned the grain fields a glowing golden yellow in front of the dark and menacing sky.

Storm over prairie field near Trans Canada Trail.

We walked and walked and walked.  As the light began to dim we briefly spotted a fox trotting through a field beside us, its tail a bright red with a fluffy white tip.  A little while later a herd of cows collected at the edge of their pasture to watch us pass.  A few of the younger ones had strayed through the fence to graze on greener grasses, but they hurried back to the rest of the herd as we passed.  A Red-tailed Hawk swooped low over the fields, and not too much farther along a Northern Harrier dove into a pasture and captured its dinner.

About 5 km west of Melville we could spot its tall blue water tower on the horizon, and we passed an impressive looking Emergency Services Training Site.   There was a tower for firefighters to practice putting out fires and effecting rescues, as well as a variety of other training equipment.

When we reached the edge of town another friendly driver stopped to chat, directed us to the trail through the park, and welcomed us to Melville.  Heartened by the kind words and warm welcome, we crossed the road and picked up a grassy footpath leading through the Melville Regional Park.  It was a lovely trail, weaving through a beautiful treed park and along a small waterway.  By this point we were moving fast because we could smell rain, and thunder from the rapidly approaching was shaking the ground around us (so much so we thought a transport was driving down the trail toward us).

Great Trail Melville SK sign.

We zoomed through a beautiful forested area and then came to a complex with baseball diamonds.  In the rapidly disappearing light there was a game finishing up at one of them, and it looked like Little League practice was just finishing up at another, so there was lots of activity as we approached the parking lot and found a picnic shelter to take refuge under.

As we checked our options for the night we discovered that a friend from Beeton Ontario, Carolyn, had left us a generous donation through our website.  We took this as a sign and decided to try our luck at a nearby motel instead of trying to pitch our no-longer-waterproof tent in the approaching storm and the darkness.  Just as the first huge drops of a truly impressive rainstorm fell we made it inside and were given the last available room at the motel.

Tonight we feel truly blessed. It was a beautiful day for hiking, we met a wonderful friend and supporter, and we received a very much appreciated donation which has given us a night of safety, rest, and comfort.  In light of the sobering news about the future of our planet, our thoughts turn to how we – like Caroline - can help pay these incredible kindnesses forward.
See you on the trail!

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