In an initiative reminiscent of Huntsville’s long ago ski trains that shuttled passengers to our town, Parkbus is providing a means for winter outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy the wonders of Arrowhead Provincial Park.
Launched as a pilot project in 2010, Parkbus has been delivering passengers from Ontario’s urban centres to provincial parks during the summer months. This year, they decided to try a winter pilot and Arrowhead was the logical choice.
“For the last five years we have had requests for winter service,” said Parkbus co-founder Boris Issaev. “Arrowhead made sense – it’s one of our favourite parks, it has a variety of activities, and it is far enough north that it is almost guaranteed that there will be enough snow available.”
He and co-founder Alex Berlyand weren’t sure what kind of response they’d get for the winter service, but they needn’t have worried. All 56 seats for the first daytrip on January 30 sold out with a long waiting list of people who wanted to go as well. The second Parkbus to Arrowhead is scheduled for February 27. “The response has been incredible. We are almost regretting that we only decided to do two dates for the pilot. We will probably be expanding for next winter.”
That’s music to the ears of park superintendent, Peter Briand. “I think it’s a great thing – it’s important that we try to make ourselves accessible to as wide a range of the population in the province as we can,” he said. “We have been attracting more people from the GTA in the last couple of years and Parkbus gives an option to people who may not have personal vehicles to come up here. This is one way to put people from urban centers more in touch with their provincial parks. We are looking forward to seeing it come more often in the future.”
Parkbus passengers pay a flat rate that includes bus fare, park admission and a pass for Arrowhead’s trails. They have also partnered with tour operator Overhang Adventures to offer a guided snowshoe trip for interested passengers.
Rohit Mehta and Adhelly Munoz live in Mississauga and made their first foray to Muskoka on this Parkbus trip. A friend had tickets for the guided snowshoe trip but couldn’t use them so they jumped at the chance.
“It’s my first winter in Canada,” explained Munoz. “I’m from Mexico and Rohit has been taking me out to explore how Canadians have fun in winter.”
“We thought it sounded great,” added Mehta who was born in Canada and has done many winter activities, but not showshoeing. The pair now plans to return in the summer to explore more of Muskoka.
The Burke family has been on summer Parkbus trips into Algonquin Park. “We heard a few years ago that they might do winter daytrips and we were watching for (an announcement),” said Geoff Burke. He, wife Marina, and daughters Vera and Victoria, decided to take in Arrowhead’s now-famous skating trail.
Although Arrowhead isn’t on Parkbus’s summer roster, Issaev hasn’t completely ruled out the idea. “Our summer operations are expanding at a very good rate. We are more than tripling the number of runs for daytrip destinations this year and are looking at expanding our service from Ottawa to Gatineau Park. We already stop at destinations similar to Arrowhead that are closer to the GTA but we may look at it again in the future.”