Question: How can you go portaging without using a car? If you live in a city far off from a provincial park the answer is that you can’t, not practically anyway. A new service has started that helps solve this problem. It’s called Parkbus, and since its pilot program started in 2010 it has offered a way for those without cars or who are looking for a more eco-friendly transportation to get to Algonquin.
When I was a kid I was absolutely obsessed with cars. I wanted one very, very badly. Other kids I knew with the same obsession started working on cars, taking auto class in school, working on fixing the family vehicle with their dads or just taking engines apart to see how they worked. Not me. I just wanted one. It wasn’t about gears or cubic inches or horsepower, it was about where I could go. The gasp you hear when a 16 year old gets handed a license isn’t the collective horror at yet another novice driver on the road, it’s the sound of the planet suddenly shrinking (okay, maybe it’s both). Oh, the places you’ll go!
Of course, once you actually have a car, the ideal quickly tarnishes – about as quickly as the car will rust if you’re not always throwing money at it. To get to those far off places cost money. Welcome to the conundrum of time and freedom versus economic means. The more you have of one the less you have of the other. Want to go canoeing in Algonquin? You’ll need a car and a good enough job to pay for it – a job that now takes up most of your time from which you’ll have to beg for the vacation time in order to be able to go canoeing at some point.
Car Free Canoe Trips
What if you don’t have a car? Outrageous, I know, but there are a lot of people out there that don’t. For a variety of reasons these people have chosen to spend money on other things. Often this reason is about the impact on the environment. It seems a little ironic that going to a more pristine place where you can appreciate nature, could cause it harm. What if there was a better way?
It was these thoughts that brewed in the heads of a few guys who came up with an idea. They wanted people who otherwise didn’t have the means to get to an Ontario park to still have the opportunity to experience the Canadian outdoors. What if there was a bus that ran from a major city – say Toronto – straight up to Algonquin?
This idea sounds like a lot of really great ones I’ve heard, and maybe even thought of over the years. But the difference between those and the Parkbus idea is that not only did they figure out what they had to do to achieve it, but also – and this is the most important part – they actually went and did it. There first task was to contact MEC and hope the Toronto store would allow them to conduct some market research to figure out whether there was enough people interested in and who would like to use this eco-friendly type of service. Once the surveys were completed, they approached Ontario Parks with their plan partnering with Hammond Transportation. Long story short, in 2010 a pilot project was under way.
What’s even more impressive is that Parkbus is run by a handful of people in their spare time away from their day jobs. They call themselves outdoor enthusiasts, whose ambition is to make the most popular parks in Ontario accessible by bus. After the success of the pilot program last year, they’ve extended the Toronto-Algonquin schedule and have included a trip to Killarney as well. They’re even going to be experimenting with an Ottawa to Algonquin trip if all goes well. Who knows, if this idea takes off, perhaps they’ll be buses from all the major cities taking people up to parks across the province.
How it works
Basically the buses start at 7:30 AM on Thursday mornings from three stops in and around Toronto. Then they drive up to the highway 60 corridor, stopping at six spots where riders can gain access to Algonquin and any required services: Wolf Den Bunkhouse/Hostel, campgrounds at Lake of Two Rivers and Pog Lake, The Portage Store on Canoe Lake and two Algonquin Outfitter locations (Oxtongue Lake and Opeongo). The idea is that you pack whatever gear you may have, get on the bus and be dropped off where you can start your Algonquin adventure. At each location you can rent all the gear you may need and be on your way (canoes are not allowed on the bus, so you’ll have to rent those at the very least). On the following Sunday, the bus will make all the same stops in reverse to pick you up. All of this completely car free. For longer stays, simply book the return trip on a later scheduled return trip (Sundays).
The cost: $34.95 each way – which is actually down from $42 last year. Considering you would spend the about the same on gas anyway, it’s worth a thought. You can buy your tickets directly from the website or by calling (416) 454-5215. I like the idea of sitting back and letting someone else do the driving, being fresh and rested ready to start off once I arrive. And perhaps I’ll be able to take a little nap on the drive home when I’d normally want one the most after a weekend of portaging.
I’m on board
I wound up convincing some friends to try out this service for ourselves – with surprisingly little effort by the way. In July we will be going on a completely car-free trip. We’ll be travelling to Toronto by bus, then up to the Parkbus’ first pickup location by subway. In essence, we’ll be portaging up the wild streets of the Big Smoke – on a weekday no less. It should be something to see, and will probably be where we’ll encounter the most dangerous wildlife of the trip. I’m hoping to have plenty of pictures of this for a write up of our journey shortly after we get back.
I think this is a great idea, and I really wish the Parkbus project a lot of success. As a fellow idealist, I love the idea of giving access to our beautiful northern wilderness to those that this would normally never be an option. If you’re planning on going to Algonquin (or even Killarney) please consider the Parkbus option. At the very least, spread the word.
Oh, and if you’ve still never been portaging, with a bus service available you’re running out of excuses not to go. See you on the bus.
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