Healthy Hikes Magazine / Issue 3
- History, Beauty & Adventure: Explore the Conservation Areas of the North
- Testing the Waters: Education Programs at the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority
History, Beauty & Adventure: Explore the Conservation Areas of the North
Whether it is mountain biking in the Laurentian Escarpment, fishing for trout in Papineau Lake, or birdwatching in the Laurier Woods, the Conservation Areas of the North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority (NBMCA)have a variety of experiences for outdoor enthusiasts.
“The NBMCA jurisdiction covers over 2,800 square kilometers of land that is ecologically, historically, and geologically significant,” says Sue Buckle, NBMCA Manager of Communications and Outreach. “The north has a certain magical nature and we try to showcase that in our 16 free access Conservation Areas.”
Along with that magical nature, being in the north has some other benefits as well, as Troy Storms, Lands and Stewardship Manager explains: “Down in some of the southern Conservation Areas they keep recording increased attendance annually to some of the parks, which is great, but it can lead to issues, traffic lined up to get into the areas and problems like that. That’s not so much of an issue up here, people can come to our Conservation Areas and get in touch with nature without worrying about finding a parking spot.”
“Every Conservation Authority is different,” says Storms. “Each one has its own heritage and each one has its own treasures.”
Heritage is a central theme within the Conservation Areas of the NBMCA. For thousands of years the Mattawa River – Trout Lake – Lake Nipissing waterways have been used to move from the Ottawa River into the interior of the country. The local Indigenous peoples were using it since time immemorial. In the early 1600s they showed the portages and rivers to European explorers, including Etienne Brule and Samuel De Champlain. This history is memorialized in the La Vase Portages Conservation Area, where visitors can follow the exact portage route that those intrepid explorers used to travel from Trout Lake to Lake Nipissing. The NBMCA also hosts the annual Mattawa River Canoe Race from North Bay to Mattawa. Participants can follow the 64 kilometer route that the voyageurs would have taken to bring their beaver pelts out of the rugged interior of Canada and towards markets in Europe. Alternatively, take part in the shorter 13 kilometer race for families and youths.
Ancient geological history can be spotted throughout the Conservation Areas, including Corbeil Conservation Area, where the interpretive trail will guide visitors past an erratic. An erratic is a boulder that was picked up by a glacier during the last ice age some 10,000 years ago and was polished smooth by the grinding power of the massive sheet of ice. Eventually, the glacier retreated and the boulder was deposited, leaving it as reminder of ancient times.
Post-colonization history can also be explored, as in the Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area. In the 1800s, Red and White pine trees were cut from what would become the northern edge of Algonquin Park and floated down the Amable du Fond River towards the Mattawa River, Ottawa River, and eventually the St. Lawrence. However, the Amable du Fond flows through the Eau Claire Gorge, where logs would get stuck and jam up. To avoid this problem in the 1870s a 1,200 foot long log slide was built to bypass the gorge. When the logging finished in the 1930s, the lumbermen abandoned their cabins in the area, and one such cabin was subsequently occupied by a mysterious squatter. The story goes that this man was on the run from the law, accused of the murder of his own brother. Whatever the true story, he disappeared in the 1940s, but the recreated log cabin in the Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area continues to tell his tale.
Ecologically, the North Bay-Mattawa area is uniquely rich. Stretching along an escarpment forced up by glaciers, the region offers breathtaking vistas from the highlands of Powassan Mountain and Laurentian Escarpment Conservation Area, as well as vibrant wetlands filled with complex plant and animal ecosystems in the Shields-McLaren Conservation Area. In fact, the NBMCA encompasses large swathes of official Provincially Significant Wetlands, labelled as such due to their environmental diversity and their value in mitigating both floods and droughts, and in filtering pollutants.
The NBMCA region exists in a transitional ecological area, where the deciduous forests of the south begin to give way to the coniferous forests of the north. This diversity of flora ensures a diversity of fauna. The birds, bats and beasts that call the separate northern and southern ecosystems home can both be found here, making this region a prime area for animal spotting.
Within the city of North Bay, NBMCA maintains the Chippewa EcoPath that winds its way east to west through the heart of North Bay following the Chippewa Creek. The Kate Pace Way, which runs north to south along the Lake Nipissing waterfront, forms part of the Trans Canada Trail system, and is a partnership between the NBMCA and the City of North Bay.
The NBMCA Conservation Areas vary in location. There are three areas and two trail systems within the city limits of North Bay; including the 240 acre Laurier Woods Conservation Area which boasts guided hikes and birdwatching opportunities. The rest of the areas are spread generally along Highway 17 east of North Bay to Mattawa, and south along Highway 11, with a few scattered further afield into more remote and unspoiled areas. The number of Conservation Areas and the distance between them means that each area has its own character and story, as well as its own secrets to discover.
“I like to call it resetting your mind,” says Storms. “Our Conservation Areas allow you to be outside in nature where you can really gather your thoughts.”
“Photography, birdwatching, dog walking, swimming, boating, downhill skiing,” adds Buckle, “whatever outdoor activity someone is looking to do, they’ll be able to find a Conservation Area in the NBMCA region to do it in.”
– Cameron Ford, Communications Assistant, North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority.
Testing the Waters: Education Programs at the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority
For the first time in many years, Community Education staff at the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority (UTRCA) offered free, experiential educational programs at the authority’s three multi-use Conservation Areas during the summer months. All of the programs were family-friendly and open to the public. Our goal was to bring patrons, old and new, out to the parks to enjoy nature and learn something about the local environment. We also took the opportunity during each program to talk about the Conservation Authority and the programs and services it provides to the community. Providing free educational programs to the public is one way to implement the UTRCA’s environmental target of reaching 1 million people annually with conservation messages.
When planning for the summer programs, UTRCA education staff decided to not only offer typical parks programs such as Night Hikes and Learn to Canoe sessions, but also to “test the waters” and develop some more unconventional programs.
There was no need for hiking boots during the “Guided Canoe Hikes” at Fanshawe Conservation Area. For this program, participants were encouraged to bring their own canoe or kayak and join in a leisurely interpretive paddle on Fanshawe Lake. Conservation Area staff kindly made the park’s rental canoes and kayaks available for free for people who didn’t have their own boat. During the paddle, the group “rafted up” several times to learn about the history of flooding in the area, Fanshawe Dam and its role in protecting people and properties from flooding, and local natural history. Many paddlers who had participated in the “Learn to Canoe” program the day before came out to practice their new skills. Several experienced paddlers also joined in the fun.
At the “Groundhog Day in July” event, participants went on an interpretive hike around Fanshawe’s day use area to learn about the species commonly seen at the park. After hearing about the groundhog’s typical habitat, behaviour and diet, participants were then sent on the “Great Groundhog Adventure”. For this “Choose Your Own Adventure” course, everyone received orienteering tips along with a map marked with “Adventure Locations.” The challenge was to avoid the U-turns and make it to the end of the course where they were rewarded with a great groundhog appropriate snack. At the end of the program, the participants decided that since the groundhogs at the park didn’t notice their shadows that day, there would be at least six more weeks of summer.
The idea for a Turtle Talk/Stream Safari program came from an observation that many visitors to Pittock Conservation Area didn’t seem to understand or, in some instances, respect the turtles and other wildlife that live there. In response, the UTRCA education team invited our in-house Species-at-Risk Biologist and turtle expert, Scott Gillingwater, to Pittock to speak about native turtle species. Participants saw photos, shells and skulls, and learned about the unique adaptations of our eight native turtle species. After Scott’s entertaining talk, participants moved to the Stream Safari portion of the program. They learned about the local watershed and various factors that affect water quality and the habitat of turtles, fish and other aquatic animals. The park’s bioswale (a low impact development feature) was also highlighted as a way of helping improve local water quality. Then participants went on the safari to investigate a benthic sample from a local stream and learn about the interesting invertebrate species that live in and rely on our local water bodies.
Our summer educational programs also attracted the attention of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which is researching ways get people involved in conservation activities. The WWF approached the UTRCA to partner with them and use the UTRCA summer programs as a way to research the types of conservation activities people are interested in participating in.
UTRCA education staff also used the summer programs to promote the UTRCA’s upcoming fall stewardship events. All the participants were invited to attend the Burgess Park Naturalization Day in Woodstock where they could get involved in a variety of conservation activities (bird box construction, snake hibernaculum creation, turtle nest construction) and tree planting.
Overall, there was great interest and participation in the educational summer programs, drawing overnight and seasonal campers as well as attracting local patrons into the Conservation Areas. The education team will evaluate and revise the programs to make them even better for next season. We hope to see you at the UTRCA’s Conservation Areas next summer!
Watch Conservation Ontario’s new Outdoor Education video!
– Karlee Flear, Community Education Supervisor, Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.