Featured Story: Riding Mountain National Park

We are really fortunate in Manitoba to have a national park accessible to so many of us on the western side of the province. There is so much to explore and so many adventures to be had.

With all its beauty and vastness, the possibilities at Riding Mountain National Park (RMNP) during the summer are nearly endless. If you love nature photography, there’s no better place, plus there’s always the chance you’ll run into amazing wildlife in their natural habitat. RMNP is a haven for bird watchers and outdoor enthusiasts in general. There are 400 kilometres of hiking trails, there is an abundance of scenic and challenging biking trails and of course we mustn’t forget about canoeing, kayaking, boating and fishing. There are many options for camping or renting a cabin, yurt or hotel. Being able to stay in the area only opens the door for more activities and of course a whole lot of fun.

The park itself is comprised of 3000 kilometres of prairie parkland. The townsite, officially called Wasagaming, is also well known as Clear Lake. There are over 60 businesses and as a popular tourist destination literally thousands of visitors and cottage owners can be found in the townsite during the busy summer months.

There are many great places to shop, a fabulous variety of eateries and numerous places to relax and enjoy some downtime. Since the 1930’s, McTavish’s has been part of the rich history and character that the Wasagaming townsite was built upon.

As of February 17 of this year new owners took possession of this historic business. And while they’ve made extensive changes in the last four months, what hasn’t change is the importance of the past.

“We really wanted to honour the history of the place and the history of Riding Mountain National Park, so when we designed the front of the building we kept those things in mind and mirrored certain architectural aspects that characterize the original Riding Mountain National Park buildings, such as the use of cedar shingles and reclaimed cedar timbers. We wanted to do small things to make sure the building looked like it fit and had always been here,” said Karly McRae, managing partner.

Partners Mike and Julie Collyer of Collyer Construction, Jason Potter and Karly McRae had a clear vision on how to develop it, change it and bring new life into it as they transformed McTavish’s into the breathtaking Lake House Boutique Hotel and the Lake House Ice Cream Shop.

“We’re all business owners in the area, we live here, and our kids go to the school here. We really wanted to revitalize one of the original businesses in downtown Clear Lake and bring it back to what it was when we were kids. We hope to help start creating a new buzz around the Wasagaming Townsite (Clear Lake) as being the premiere tourist destination in Manitoba.” said Karly.

Renovations began on March 1 and Karly refers to the remodel of the building as being a bit like Extreme Make-over Hotel and Ice Cream Shop Edition. “If you had been to McTavish’s before, you’ll have a hard time believing you’re in the same place. The crew at Collyers did an absolutely fantastic job in a very short time frame.” Other companies like Roy Painting and Decorating and Gord’s Plumbing and Heating also had a hand in the transformation of this unique Wasagaming destination point.

The entire ice cream shop was gutted and completely redone with aspen wood ceilings, timber beams and live edge White Oak countertops, along with new lighting (from barn light electric), fixtures and furnishings. The new owners have also enhanced the business by adding a clean eating smoothie bar where all smoothies are made with fresh fruit and vegetables.

In terms of enjoying one of the most delicious treats of summer, that hasn’t changed at all. The Lake House Ice Cream Shop has 32 flavours of heavenly goodness.

“All of our ice cream is sourced from Manitoba based companies, we are carrying two local brands – Cornell Cream from Anola and Prairie West Ice Cream out of Winnipeg. We’re proud that all of our ice cream is made locally.” said Karly.

Another new component of the business is their signature, made-to-order ice cream sandwiches. You choose your cookie, provided by local bakers, and then pick your ice cream flavour. It’s then sandwiched all together to make a delicious treat.

In terms of the hotel, extensive work was also done to update all 16 rooms. The headboards and bed bases are custom made by the Collyer Construction team using reclaimed barn wood. The rooms also have all new lighting and fixtures, new furniture and linens. The design was purposeful in that the local entrepreneurs wanted to keep the look consistent throughout the property and maintain a modern, yet rustic flow throughout the space.

“It’s a boutique hotel because we feel you’ll find things in our rooms that you will not find in any other hotel. For example, we have hotel amenities made by a business located in Inglis, MB. All the soap and body butters for our rooms are handcrafted; those are the little things that set us apart.”

While the new Lake House owners are focusing on revitalizing downtown Wasagaming, they aren’t the only ones. Their neighbours to the north, Tyler and Julie Katkins, opened their second location of the The Foxtail Cafe. This former Scrase’s location was also completely remodeled by Collyer Construction.

“It is really, really nice and encouraging to have new investment in business right next door to us. That’s what we were really hoping for and we hope to see more of it down the road. Having more businesses certainly helps to beef up the destination aspect, and to provide more for visitors to do and see while visiting Riding Mountain National Park.”

Another iconic business in the area, just a half mile south of the gates for RMNP is Sportsman’s Park. As a summer destination for recreational vehicle (RV) travellers, the park offers campers and visitors an abundance of amenities including an outdoor pool, restaurant and lounge. They currently have 150 RV sites, the majority of which are seasonal. Managing partner, AJ Lewis, said seasonal camping has been a trend for a number of years.

“You just don’t see as many of them (RVs) fl ying down the highway like you used to. A lot of people are looking for seasonal lots; they want to park in one place. I would say that 40 per cent of the people here don’t even have trucks that will pull their RVs anymore. The added bonus is that they can store them here and leave them over the winter,” AJ said.

Sportsman’s Park is also expanding this year. They are developing 40-44 additional lots with 20 year leases. The lots will be for RV and Park Model vacation homes.

“Sunridge Homes has exclusivity here for Park Models. They are low maintenance and ready to move in to. They definitely offer an affordable option for those wanting to be at the lake without a huge investment. A lot of the other properties in this area can be quite dear, in terms of price,” AJ said.

With Sportsman’s Park having the reputation of being a meeting place, they offer events and activities to facilitate that. They have everything from a convenience store and car wash to mini-golf and bounce castles for the kids. Plus, starting just before the July long weekend the Flea Market opens every Saturday and Sunday.

When planning your trip to Riding Mountain National Park, you should plan a coffee at one of the many shops and cafes. Hike, bike, canoe or kayak on the many trails and lakes that are available. Have your fi ll with the wide selection of great restaurants and lounges. Cool off in the many lakes or swimming pools. . Enjoy a round of golf at the wide selection of courses available to you. Or just relax and rejuvenate at the Elkhorn Resort Spa and Conferences Centre. Don’t worry about forgetting something. There are local grocery stores, gas stations, and hardware stores nearby that can take care of you.

Whatever you decide to do around the Riding Mountain National Park, just remember it is a great place to relax, visit, or stay.