Beech bark disease shuts down ski trail
By Olivia Robinson
Published Dec. 28, 2017
You’ll will have to cross off skiing at Moose Ski Trail from your list of winter activities this season. The Township of Algonquin Highlands announced on Dec. 16 that the trail will be closed for the entire 2017-2018 season because of beech bark disease.
Chris Card, parks, recreation and trails manager at the Township of Algonquin Highlands, said that the infected trees would pose a safety risk to skiers in the area, because of what’s known as “beech snap.” This phenomenon occurs when large, rotted branches suddenly break off.
“When there are numerous affected trees concentrated around the trail there is an increased risk of a user being injured by a falling tree or limb,” said Card. “We are also concerned that a tree could be down unexpectedly on a portion of ski trail and cause a crash hazard for skiers as they come down hills.”
According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, beech bark disease is native to Europe, an “insect-fungus complex caused by a beech scale insect and a canker fungus.” This cankering causes deformations which eventually kill the tree. The pervasiveness of beech bark disease in Ontario has been a concern for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for several years.
Although the Township of Algonquin Highlands maintains its own trail systems, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry oversees the management of beech bark disease because the forest is on Crown land.
It’s difficult to say for certain how many trees are afflicted by beech bark disease on Moose Ski Trail, but Card estimates that this number is in the hundreds.
Card notes that how beech bark disease will affect other flora and fauna near the Moose Ski Trail area remains to be seen.
“As the beech trees fall, it leaves gaps in the forest canopy. This allows the sun to reach the ground where new growth takes over. In the area of the Moose Trail that new growth typically starts with blackberry bushes,” he said.
“Trees falling are a natural part of the forest ecosystem and various species benefit from these events. It is possible that this could affect species who use beech nuts as a food source, such as black bears.”
The Township of Algonquin Highlands regularly inspects its trail systems as part of a maintenance routine. Any hazard that poses a risk is monitored on a case-by-case basis.
“Luckily, the same density of affected beech trees that we see around the Moose Trail does not exist on any of our other trails,” he said.
Despite the closure of expert-level Moose Ski Trail, Card said that the other trails are still operational to skiers and tourists.
The Frost Centre Ski Trail system is comprised of 26 kilometres, with the Township maintaining an additional 38 kilometres of hiking and snowshoeing trail. The Moose Ski Trail makes up just 4.8 kilometres of the Frost Centre Ski Trail system.
“Operations will continue as normal on the remaining 21 kilometres where there is fantastic skiing for all levels of ability,” said Card.
As for the closure of Moose Ski Trail, Card said it’s hard to say if the closure will affect tourism, but he predicts that the early onset of winter will bring fantastic early season skiing.
Visit the Algonquin Highlands ski and snowshoe trails website at http://www.algonquinhighlands.ca/trails/ski-snowshoe-trails.php for updates on current trail conditions.