A local group is hoping to restore Roche Percee Park to its past glory.
South East Tour and Trails Inc. has been at work for the past year trying to breathe some new life into the park which at one time was one of the most popular recreation sites in the area.
Mary Rose Boyer, the chairwoman of SETT, said since the park's closure well over 10 years ago a number of people have continued to use the area as a place to walk and have picnics.
However, rumours recently began swirling that the provincial government planned to allow grazing in the park area and might even sell the land. That possibility prompted Boyer and her group to spring into action.
"The park has been such a part of the lives of so many people around here over the decades and when we heard it might be fenced and used for grazing we became a little concerned because that cuts off access to the public," said Boyer who lives just two and a half miles east of the park's location.
"So many people have such good memories of the park that we couldn't not see it continue as a place where people could gather. So, as a group we just decided maybe should try and do something about it. If we can't do it, at least we tried to do something about it."
Before its closure, the park was very popular with residents of southeast Saskatchewan and a number of tourists who would use the area as a rest station after entering into the country through the Portal border crossing. Along with camping, the area was used for picnics, games and exploring. Maintenance was provided by a local resident and Sask Parks.
The site is also blessed with a rich history. First Nations people, specifically those from the Assiniboine tribe, spent a lot of time in the area as the nearby rock carvings attest. Many early Métis families lived along the Souris River and were also familiar with the area.
The park is also a short walk from the first mining communities of Taylorton, Western Dominion, M & S and Roche Percee.
Unfortunately, over the past couple decades the park and its facilities began falling into disrepair due to budget cuts, shifting government priorities, vandalism and Dutch elm disease which took a toll on trees in the area. The paved roadway into the campground area was also destroyed, something that many considered the final dismantling of the park site.
Despite all those obstacles, Boyer and her group felt there was still life in the old park. They began researching what could be done to save the park and eventually spoke with the Ministry of Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport who suggested that SETT might want to apply for a lease of the property.
"We just followed the process, wrote up a proposal and ended up being offered the lease," said Boyer. "Now we are at the stage where we have to get insurance. The final decision from Tours and Trails has still to be made and that will depend on how many people we can get to help us clean the park and take part in the governance of the park."
Should they decide to move ahead and take control of the park, Boyer and her group have some ambitious plans for the future. While they would like to see the area continue to operate as an informal green space for the general public, they are also looking to promote the First Nations as a site for such ceremonies as a sweat lodge or a cultural camp.
They are also exploring the possibility of creating an interpretive centre and museum near the park's south entrance.
"The interpretive centre would tell the story of the people of the valley from the First Nations onward," said Boyer. "That includes the story of the Boundary Commission, the North West Mounted Police and the history of the mining in the area."
Although they have yet to go public with their plans until now, Boyer said a number of local people and groups have been in touch with them and are excited about the possible restoration of the park.
Members of the Carry the Kettle First Nation, First Nations University and Métis Nations Region 3 have expressed an interest in partnering with SETT on the interpretive centre. The Métis group is also willing to chip in with financial support should the project move forward.
"The Métis Nations are really taken with the idea of the interpretive centre," said Boyer. "There are so many that are descendants of the early Métis families from around here. A lot of people don't know that."
If they are to move ahead, Boyer said getting support from the public will be critical. She said there are just 10 members in her organization, too few to do all the work that must be done if the park is to re-open.
"If it is just to be re-opened to the public to walk their dogs or go for a walkabout, then there is not much that has to be done except to clear the pathways and fix the road, fix the fence, paint the gate and decide what to do with all the Dutch elm debris that is all over the place inside the park.
"Those would be the basic things for this year. We'd be happy if we could get those things done."
Boyer said SETT's next meeting is scheduled for May 19 and they will likely make their decision then.
"We have one insurance quote and hopefully we will have enough names on a list to help us out. That will help make our decision too."
Anyone interested in being part of the park's restoration may call Boyer at 634-7540.