Exercise, the thrill of fast-moving action, and the beauty of nature come together at the Mana Centre in the Larose Forest. 

Emmanuelle and Jean-Sébastien Larocque own and operate the Mana Centre at the forest’s welcome centre near Limoges, under an agreement with the United Counties of Prescott and Russell. They provide the rental of and maintenance service for fat bikes that visitors can enjoy on the forest’s many kilometres of trails. The duo also uses their professional training as social workers to offer their clients a nature-based experience in psychotherapy. 

Emmanuelle is originally from Orléans and Jean-Sébastien‘s hometown is Crysler. After living in New Zealand, the couple returned to Canada and began their psychotherapy practice 10 years ago at their home in Limoges. They chose the Mana Centre as the name, because to the Maori Indigenous people of New Zealand, Mana means the essence of a person and community leadership.

Jean-Sébastien is an avid mountain biker, and especially enjoys the fat bikes with large tires that make it easy to travel over snow, ice, and the sandy terrain of the Larose Forest. In June 2021, the Mana Centre began offering fat bike rentals, supplies, and repairs at the Larose Forest Welcome Centre. 

Fat biking in all seasons has become an extremely popular recreational activity in recent years.  

“It hasn’t been until the fat bikes came along that you could ride in winter,” says Eric Bourbonniere, who regularly uses the trails in the Larose Forest and is a trail craftsman and consultant with the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA). 

Two days after a significant ice storm hit Eastern Ontario, Bourbonniere was riding over the Larose Forest trails – which were solid ice – on a bicycle with large, studded tires. He said the trail would have been impassable without them, and that without non-studded tires, mountain bikers could only ride in winter 10 to 15 per cent of the time. 

“The studded tires are almost becoming necessary,” says Bourbonniere. 

A good, entry-level fat bike costs about $1,500 to $1,600, according to Bourbonniere. Options like studded tires are extra. As for the trail systems, he said among the 20 locations in Eastern Ontario, 12 to 15 of them offer machine-groomed trails, and the Larose Forest is among them. Bourbonniere said the best time for fat biking on the Larose trails in the non-winter seasons is the day after a rainfall, because the sandy ground in the forest is packed down. 

Certain trails in the Larose Forest are exclusively for OMBA members. Memberships may be purchased on the OMBA website https://www.ottawamba.org . 

Due to the upcoming spring thaw season, all trails in the Larose Forest are closed from March 15 to May 15.  

The outdoor therapy offered by Emmanuelle and Jean-Sebastien Larocque is for individuals or groups. They also focus on youth interventions. 

“We have different pillars to therapy,” says Jean-Sébastien. 

He explained those pillars as eco-education, sport, and therapeutic. 

“We just see the benefits of being in nature,” Emmanuelle explains. 

She added that using nature in therapy allows for a different approach to mental health. In addition to her work with the Mana Centre, Emmanuelle is a PhD candidate at the School of Social Work at the University of Ottawa. Her research focuses on sports and environmental components. 

At the Mana Centre, it costs $40 to rent a fat bike for two hours. The centre is located adjacent to P-1, on Indian Creek Road in the Larose Forest. However, that section of road is only accessible by using Limoges Road (Prescott and Russell County Road 5) or Saumure Road (Ottawa Road 37).

Complete Mana Centre information is available at https://en.themanacentre.com and Larose Forest information is available at https://www.en.prescott-russell.on.ca/discover/larose_forest . 

Eric Bourbonniere speeding along a Larose Forest fat bike trail. Photo: James Morgan

Families, children, and groups enjoy the fat bike trails in the Larose Forest. Submitted photo