It will take years of restorative work to bring Woodlawn Regional Park back to a semblance of a pastoral getaway spot, but there is some major resurrection work underway.
Much of the park was totally washed away by last summer's raging river waters that overflowed the natural banks, swept through the tree line, gobbled up most of the Woodlawn Golf Course's back nine holes and left the park as a muddy, silt-ridden land mass with a major gorge where a small river used to flow.
The floods were devastating and Mother Nature took her toll, but now it's the people who have their turn, attempting to restore some of the park's grandeur, albeit on a now much smaller scale.
“We could have between 50 and 60 camp sites ready to go this year,” said David Hoffort, one of the volunteers who showed up for a restoration work bee last Wednesday and Thursday.
Nathan Puffalt, park manager, noted that the goal is to regain 100 camping spots in the two regional parks, if weather permits. In the meantime, the local corporate community and its personnel showed up to perform some minor miracles of restoration.
“We had the City of Estevan and RM of Estevan crews out here. Supreme, McGillicky and Allied Cathodic, who reburied some lines for us. They came with some unbelievable help with tandems and backhoes, skid steers ... all kinds of equipment. We got a lot cleared out,” said Hoffort.
The goal now is to make the park entrance more appealing for visitors.
A lot of restorative work happened in and around the Souris Valley Theatre/Frehlick Hall last week and now attention is turning toward clearing the debris out of the tree groves and removing the silt.
“We'll offer long term season camp sites here again this year. The Boundary Dam camp sites will mostly be for short term — some short term at Woodlawn too,” said Puffalt.
“We could have 50 sites ready at Woodlawn and another 50 ready to go at Boundary Dam,” he said, referring to the latest acquisition by the Woodlawn Regional Park Authority that is now turning the former Boundary Dam recreational site into a formal regional park with full-time security for the park and boat-launch area which is a favourite for local fishers and those who enjoy using the small beach along the Boundary Dam reservoir.
“Boundary Dam has power and there will be power restored at Woodlawn,” said Puffalt.
Hoffort added that Woodlawn Golf Club got their potable water supply restored just recently after the waterline that was destroyed in last year's floods was replaced and taken over to the golf course via a new route.
“We're trying to get the other amenities up and operating too,” said Puffalt.
“We have about one-third of the size we had before at Woodlawn, the whole river bank is gone, along with the camp sites. There are safety issues we have to address too. We'll be putting up a fence and securing the dangerous area,” Puffalt added.
The Boundary Dam camp sites will be open for business May 12 and the target date for the re-opening at Woodlawn is May 19, the start of the traditional camping season in Saskatchewan that heralds the first long-weekend of the spring and summer.
Puffalt said that some restoration funds from the provincial disaster assistance fund had been received, but he wasn't in a position to reveal just how much that was. He said the board is appealing for more, but right now, there was enough to begin some serious restorative work and that had begun in early April.
In the meantime, the board of directors has elected Greg Hoffort as their new chairman. Hoffort was very familiar with the park and its operations prior to the flood and all during last summer's flooding incidents since he had been the RM of Estevan's administrator. Both Woodlawn and Boundary Dam parks are located in the RM.
Puffalt said traditional campers at Woodlawn are being contacted to let them know the dates they believe the park will be available.
“We're still looking for help, of course. There's lots to do here. The RMs of Estevan and Benson have been great as has the City of Estevan and all these other corporate and individual volunteers. We've got some more clean-up bees arranged, trying to get this park ready is a challenge, but it'll get done,” Puffalt said, noting that he is sharing park managerial duties with Ewan McKenzie this year.
Staffing for the summer and other administrative chores are being taken care of while the clean-up work continues.