Teen to paddle 100 km to raise money for wildlife rehab

Cailan paddling kayak Courtesy Debbie Punnewaert

Long before COVID-19 had as all coveting time spent outdoors, Cailan Punnewaert had set herself an ambitious task for this summer: taking a roughly 100 km long paddle through the heart of Muskoka in an effort to raise awareness and $20,000 for the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.

“I want people to know that wildlife sanctuaries are not government funded. They are mostly run by volunteers and are fully funded by donations,” says Cailan. 

“I’ve always loved animals,” she says. “Wildlife is more important than some people realize. If we lose a species it will cause a chain reaction and we humans will pay the price eventually. We need to co-exist with wildlife.” (Younger readers might recognize Cailan as Shelby from the Netflix series the Ponysitters Club, a role she reprises in a new Ponysitters Club movie, out later this summer.) 

The 13-year-old will paddle with her mother, Debbie, and the family Shih Tzu Tinkerbell, via canoe and kayak, spending the night wherever they can. “We’ve already had a few people offer to let us stay on their property,” says Cailan. 

Their route, which will include at least 20 portages, starts out in Huntsville, heading through Fairy Lake then Mary Lake, then down the North Branch of the Muskoka River to Bracebridge. Next, they’ll paddle across Lake Muskoka towards Bala where they’ll follow the Moon River, including down the Seven Sisters Rapids, on their way to the trip’s conclusion at Arnold’s Bay on the edge of Georgian Bay. 

Cailan admits to being most intimidated by the wide-open stretches crossing Lake Muskoka. “We’ve been training on rough windy days,” in anticipation of the choppy water, says her mother. 

The Punnewaerts are heading out on Sunday morning, August 16, and estimate that the journey will take a week to 10 days to complete. The trip is scheduled to start rain or shine. “We’re going no matter what,” says Debbie, to which Cailan adds, “We have ponchos.”  

For more information or to make a donation, visit the AVWS website

Read more: Tips for kayaking and canoeing with kids

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