Living the map: Memorial faculty and the 50 Pond Project

Michael Rayment started canoeing when he was 14 and bought his first canoe when he was just 18. Back then, he spent a lot of time in the ponds around Deer Park. “My friend and I used to pore over maps of the area and dream about exploring the incredible strings of ponds that lie to the west of Deer Park. Not until years later after rekindling my love of canoeing have I realized this dream thanks to my new paddling companions.”

They’ve called it the 50 Pond Summer project.

It was Rayment’s idea. He wanted to find out if a route would go from Middle Gull Pond to the Brother Brennan Environmental Education Centre. Then he heard that the canoe club used to have annual 50 pond and 100 pond challenges.

“This spring I was so looking forward to getting out in my canoe to explore this area. The problem was who would I be able to convince to join me in this crazy adventure? On the May 24 weekend despite the frigid temperatures and high winds, my first set of guinea pigs and I set off on the first leg of this adventure. It became a running joke that everything after the May 24 weekend was a piece of cake.”

But the 50 Pond Summer has turned into the 100 Pond Summer as they’ve got nearly 100 ponds under their belts, or more appropriately, their canoes already. They average eight to ten ponds per trip.

They are ‘living the map’, as Dr. Loeffler would say. They study the map and then paddle a route in that landscape and become part of both the map and the waterway. “I come to know each pond and portage intimately and never look at the map the same way again. I am connected to it in a way that never fades and can then try to nurture that same kind of connection with nature in my students,” she explained.

For Wissink, it’s all about the adventure. “It's the fun sense of exploration, being outside, and finding new routes, looking at maps and satellite photos and seeing the route and possibilities come to life while at the same time, not knowing if they will work out there in reality. It's so satisfying when it does and we get ourselves from point A to point B.”

“It's so magical out there away from the cabins. It's discovering unspoiled landscape and lots of solitude so close to St. John's,” added Wissink.

“It's been a summer of exploring and something I'm calling loca-venturing,” said Dr. Loeffler. “I am known for my climbs around the world on all seven continents but I love the geography and landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador. Some of my finest adventures have been here.”

Dr. Loeffler admits that she’s also scouting locations and routes for student camping experiences as she goes. “As the project unfolded, I realized it had several benefits. It got us out paddling every weekend. It made me tremendously strong. It introduced me to a whole new area to take MUN outdoor education students on camping and canoeing trips.”

Dr. Loeffler says it’s also given her a new perspective on her latest research. She’s interviewing people over the age of 50 who've managed to keep expeditions a part of their lives. Paddling each weekend, she reflects on what they've been told her and can better see connections to the experiences they’re having doing the 50 pond project.

Very soon into the project, they started to map all of the portages and potential campsites (red for passable and pink for those you’d never want to revisit). They plan to publish the map at some point this fall to for other canoeists. And there are no plans to stop at 100 ponds. The trio will ‘live the map’ until the ponds freeze over.