Our Setting

HISTORIC CAMP PATHFINDER IN THE HEART OF ALGONQUIN

Lovingly maintained in rustic simplicity since 1914, Pathfinder Island's 17-acres shelter her campers in a beautiful arrangement of traditional cabins and tent lodges beneath mature pines and hardwoods. The forest canopy grows overhead, while pine needled paths lie underfoot.

 

The camp continues to limit the intrusion of modern technology to prevent environmental impact and to sustain the beauty of the Algonquin setting. Electric light and amenities are only present in the kitchen, office, workshop and trip outfitting spaces.


Modern technology is restricted at Pathfinder to the kitchen, workshops and outfitting lodge, preserving the authentic experience of simple living in this stunning north woods setting and warm community of friends. Cell phones are not in use at Pathfinder Island, offering a restful break from this contemporary distraction.

A PATHFINDER

LAND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Pathfinder’s home island at Source Lake lies in the headwaters of the Madawaska River, traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg,–  the original inhabitants and stewards of this land. Today, this land remains home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island.

 

To join with these First Peoples in calling this place our home, we resolve to treat the land, plants, animals, stories and first peoples with honor and respect. We are grateful for the opportunity to live and grow within this beautiful territory.

 

Pathfinder honors all Indigenous peoples, who have inhabited the lands we live in and travel since time immemorial. We recognize the contributions and importance of Indigenous peoples, and we are committed to make real the promise of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation in our Pathfinder community.

Learn more about Pathfinder Outreach

 

The Pathfinder Camper on a Canoe Trip

'His travels pass moose feeding in the channels of creeks and the backs of bays. He drowses and wakes with pine bough shadows swaying overhead his tent, and loon calls carrying across the water. He hikes and sweats across trails flanked by swaying stands of pine, balsam, cedar, maple and beech. He walks a forest floor carpeted in needles, ferns and bunchberry.

 

The lake is such a welcome sight beyond the last horizon of trees. Stars, an overhead carpet, defy belief as they emerge in the blackest of blue nightfall skies. His fire crackles and burns low. The tripper feels tired but satisfied, feels tuned to every sight, sound and smell, feels a belonging to the world, and feels that probably early man felt a similar belonging. He doesn’t want this world to disappear ...'

PRESERVING OUR ECOSYSTEM

Our simple vaulted washroom facilities and a lake-bathing culture both work toward a small human impact in our fragile ecosystem. We practice strictly biodegradeable soap use, complete waste removal and recovery of all kitchen and septic, and run ambitious garbage recycling and composting that diverts over 65% of the camp's waste stream from landfill.

OUR ISLAND FACILITIES

Along the shorelines, traditional cedar docks serve our many water sports. By shaded trails at the back of the island are sports courts and a modern ropes-challenge course blended into the forest. Simple council fire rings and a special place called The Chapel, areligious, are the scenes of weekly gatherings for the camp community, made alive with stories, games, trip reports, songs and reflection. 

The Dining Hall and Rec Lodge are two large pine buildings where daily meals and all-camp gatherings are happy traditions. Small simple cabin lodges and canvas-crowned wooden tent platforms accommodate 200 campers and staff members in rustic simplicity.

Over 90 canoes, kayaks, sailboats and other craft are the pride of the camp. Pathfinder's fleet of Hurley wood-canvas trip canoes, and our own staff- and camper-built trip canoes number over 56 craft. Rounding out the fleet are Royalex, TFormex and Kevlar specialty canoes, a fleet of touring and whitewater kayaks, Laser sailcraft and more.

Pathfinder staff and campers share in the stewardship of the camp facility, from canoe repair to trail maintenance, dock work, painting, firewood hauls, mulch spreading, and infamous 'rock runs' for walls and walkways.

PATHFINDER ISLAND MAP

Front of the Island

Back of the Island

The Forest on Pathfinder Island

Pathfinder and Source Lake lie in a Nature Reserve Zone in the recovering forests of Algonquin, protected from future logging but still maturing after generations of cutting and fire in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In October, former AFA forester Jack Mihell visited the Island with Algonquin Eco-Watch Director Mike Wilton. Jack's tour of the Island's forest resulted in this report. The good news: our forest is healthy and diverse. Jack recommends we continue to control foot traffic paths and set aside no-travel zones in Stalker Park. The next step will be to transplant some healthy young trees into these zones, so they can shade future generations. 

The Forester's Report - by Jack Mihell

On October 11, 2002 Algonquin Ecowatch members Mike Wilton, Jack Mihell and Liz Heale visited the large island within Source Lake, Algonquin Park, hosting Camp Pathfinder. My direction, as a 36-year experienced Forester, was to evaluate and discuss on-site the general health of the forest, how it's reacting to almost 90 consecutive years of camper use, regeneration possibilities, and a prediction of what the forest will look like in the long term with and without the camp's attempts at modification.

Owner Mike Sladden and staff indicated their commitment to maintain the forest condition compatible with the natural environment, and to make improvements wherever possible for the benefit of future generations.

I'll try herewith to summarize our on-site discussion by grouping the forest into two categories; A) the area around the camp buildings/tent locations proper, and B) the rest of the island.

A) It is here, of course, where the concentrated traffic occurs, having the highest potential negative impact on young vegetation establishment and growth. It is here, also obvious, where the contour of the shoreline dips down to the lake, having the highest potential negative impact for erosion by continuous travel patterns. Thirdly, it's here where the health of each individual tree must be evaluated from the standpoint of safety to campers and camp buildings.

This area was open until the 1940's when the camp owners planted red, jack and scotch pine trees, with excellent results. Later, travelways were established with logs traversing the contours to provide terracing and erosion control. Again, with excellent results. Later still, islands were formed in a random pattern with natural rock retaining edges at the low points. These are basically no-travel zones. A few of them have been planted with small native conifers. This practical approach to restricting travel, controlling erosion and setting-up islands for regeneration is exactly what we recommended for Camp Northway last month.

A great amount of sunlight filters through red, jack and scotch pines (especially the latter two) as compared to white pine, cedar and hemlock. This is evident at Pathfinder as hardwood shrub species, such as hazel and mountain ash, are flourishing, especially in openings created by removal of danger trees. White birch adds to the overstory component and balsam regeneration is prolific in localities.

In summary, this diverse forest is healthy, the overall appearance of the area is pleasing and the organization of travel and non-travel zones is working well.

There is little I can suggest for the long term benefit other that to continue what is now being done. Applying wood chips on trails appears to be controlling erosion quite well and I encourage its continuation. There is ample material in the many rotting windfalls inland. The annual requirement for maintenance should be met if campers collect a garbage bag each during his stay.

Planting conifers within the established islands will certainly maintain the long-term appearance and protection around the camp. Larger trees, around three feet tall, could be transplanted from a nearby location in dormant seasons, mid May to leaf-out and mid September to freeze-up. Care should be taken to get a good root mass. If a ball of soil can be transplanted with the roots, survival is better. A few grains of NKP-type fertilizer placed in the hole at time of planting aids survival as well. Ample water is the key element to survival - experience persons wait until a rainy day to plant larger trees, unless a pump is available with a long garden hose to reach the planting sites.

The choice of tree for each exact location should be tailored to the amount of sunlight reaching it during the growing season (mid May to end of August, 9AM to 6PM). Hemlock will survive at low light levels down to 20%, but do best at 50-70%. White pine can grow down to 30% and is best between 50-70%. Cedar and balsam are between hemlock and white pine. Spruce likes 70% or more. Red and jack pine need almost full sunlight, as does birch. Scotch pine isn't native to Algonquin and the thinking now in the naturalist community is not to replant and perpetuate non-native species.

To transplant a tree into 50% shade, pick one already growing in 50% shade, as it will be "acclimatized" to that condition.

Campers will not be able to participate in the planting process, but could water and care for "their" tree daily. (This was also suggested for Northway, only to learn a month later that Pathfinder had already implemented this idea!)

The opening in the forest canopy near the shoreline by the canoe dock could be planted by purchased bare-root, 3 year old (14-18 inch tall) red pines. There is little expected competition here by hardwood shrubs and the pine should survive well and grow quickly. Check weekly during the first three years to make certain grasses and blackberry bushes don't crowd the young trees.

B) The rest of the island is in a natural state, other than pathways, firepits, activity areas, and sporadic locations of red pine planted some 60 years ago. All other species are in an overmature state. There does not seem to have been a wildfire or logging disturbance for at least a century or more. The island's many mature balsam were killed by spruce budworm infestation around 35 years ago and are now in the "down woody debris" category of vegetation. Many other overmature conifers are succumbing to windfall. There is no shortage of chip material for travel areas around the camp and downed cedars could replace, as needed, aging balsam logs used in terracing. An excellent diversity of forest flora exists, typical of an overmature conifer forest. Mainly balsam, red maple and hardwood shrub regeneration is succeeding. Without a major disturbance, the long term situation will probably stay the same: individual death and natural replacement by shade tolerant species. This non-manicured condition is not adverse in the camp setting. It fits nicely in with the designated wilderness zone just north of Source Lake, and is representative of the forest condition campers encounter on canoe trips just a few feet off portage trails. Compass orientation in such a forest better prepares a wildness camper than training in a manicured one.

Of top priority here is determining the health of each individual used in activities, and those along pathways and adjacent to activities. The camp staff are well aware of this. At Erik's suggestion we tested by an "increment borer" a large, healthy-looking (but center rotten) yellow birch. While it will probably remain solid for a decade or so more, Erik advised the thinking is to use man-made structures in the future replacement instead of mature/overmature trees.

In summary, I feel the forest around Camp Pathfinder is in good hands. The foresight 60 years ago is being continued now, and I have no doubt will carry on to benefit future generations of campers.

Jack Mihell, Forester

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