The owner of a property that features Instagram-worthy caves would like to see a plan put in place before tourists venture out to the community for photos.
“We just want to enjoy the land, that’s where our ancestors are from,” said KC Bruce.
Bruce and his family own two of the properties that are closest to the caves of Pine Dock, Manitoba, which is located just over 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
Online travel blogs have listed the site as a must-see destination in Manitoba, and post directions to the site which ask people to cut through Bruce’s property to access the natural caves, which are located on crown land.
Just this past weekend, he says they lost track after they counted 80 visitors walking through the property, and that there isn’t enough space for him to park his vehicle on his own property.
“We got signs up that say private property, and people just keep walking. They don’t even acknowledge us,” said Bruce, who is Anishinaabe-Cree and Metis.
He says that his grandmother, Bernice Scott, was born there and that his family has been there since the early 1900’s.
Bruce says that his grandma, who was a respected Métis Elder, had her ashes spread throughout the property after she passed in 2007.
The community of Pine Dock has a population of close to 50 people and Bruce says that the majority of its residents are Métis.
Over the past few years, the caves have seen an influx of visitors after becoming a popular destination thanks to social media and travel blogs.
Travel Manitoba recently posted on Instagram that due to concerns around people accessing the caves, they took down a blog post from 2016 “marvelling at their beauty” — though they didn’t include directions to the site.
Bruce, who lives in Winnipeg, travels out to his family’s cabin to de-stress and says that it’s tough to relax with tons of visitors cutting through to access the site.
“We don’t want to be seeing 100 people a day cut through our property,” said Bruce.
Making sure a plan is in place
He says that his family used to use the caves to store food and that they are home to bats. He says that people who show up sometimes come unprepared for the hike, and he also fears that visitors will bring COVID-19 to the small community.
While Bruce is not completely opposed to people visiting the site, he would like to see action taken by the province or crown lands manager — including a new path to the caves, as well as signage pointing out the dangers associated with visiting the caves.
“The very first approach when you get to the cave, you have to walk across a plank and it’s probably 80 feet down [to the bottom], and if you fall in there you’re dead,” said Bruce.
“People are coming in with flip flops and little toddlers and kids and they just don’t know what they’re getting into.”
Visitor learns valuable lesson
One of the people who showed up this weekend was Zach Friesen.
Friesen, who is from Winnipeg, likes to hike and has been visiting Manitoba destinations with his girlfriend. He made a social media post about the caves this weekend after he learned a valuable lesson.
“We had no idea that it was located on public or private land,” Friesen said.
After getting a tour with one of Bruce’s relatives, Friesen learned that he needs to do more research before visiting new places.
“In talking to the family, it put a dampening on the experience,” said Friesen. “I felt so bad for what the family was going through and the disrespect that was shown through the garbage.”
Bruce added that recent visitors have spray painted the cave and that people have been leaving their garbage throughout the property.
In an email to CBC, a provincial spokesperson wrote that “the province is aware of local concerns with increased tourist traffic in the Pine Dock caves area and is willing to work with the local community to address issues such as improved signage so visitors know where to go, and do not inadvertently trespass on private property.
“The province encourages people to visit natural spaces, but to ensure they practice ‘leave no trace’ visiting by taking all their garbage with them, and being careful to respect the local environment.”
Bruce said he has no plans on turning the site into a business venture and that he would like to use it for cultural purposes in the future.