Friday, November 20, 2009

Outdoor Skating Marathon?

OK, I know the water is still good for paddling, and I have been walking around in shirts, with running shoes on my feet. I am getting ahead of myself with this post but there is a method to my madness! Bear with me!

Last January I wrote a post about a skating Marathon that the town of Portland ON, hosted. Basically what they did was drive a Zamboni out onto the ice of the lake next to their town to create a skating track, and for the past six years, have had marathon races on the ice. Skaters of all levels could enter and try their hands(legs?) at skating races of various distances. This might be the nearest to the canals of Holland that most of us Canadians ever get. I should tell you right now that I have not participated in this event. Life gets in the way sometimes!

I grew up in the days of outdoor rinks and pond hockey. There were occasions when the streams flooded and froze and we could skate for miles on what were, normally, foot wide creeks, in what is now suburbs of Niagara Falls, ON. OK, I am showing my age. The point is that there isn't anything more 'Canadian' than skating outdoors on the frozen ponds and lakes. These days most of the kids in Southern Ontario have not seen the winters consistently cold enough to merit a backyard rink let alone to make the ice on the local lake, or pond safe enough. What the people of Portland did was put a bit of fun back into the Canadian winter.

One of the points that I made in last January's post was that other towns should copy the idea of Portland. I still think that if every town with the resources and a nearby suitable, safe body of ice were to do this we might soon see a whole circuit of skating races. For sure we would see a lot of simple outdoor family fun. If I lived in Toronto, and took the kids to a lake like Scugog, for example, for a day of outdoor skating, chances are I would take them to lunch and visit a few of the shops in the town as well. That was the gist of my post last winter.

Well this week I looked up the website for the Portland skating marathon and was sad to read that the volunteers that ran this event have decided to take this year off. I have to say I understand their point of view as volunteers. Six years is a long time and Portland is not a big town with a vast pool of volunteers to draw from.
However this leaves the same challenge out there for the small lakeside towns in southern Ontario looking for a way to draw in some tourist dollars in the coldest months of the winter.
I live in Bowmanville and we don't have a suitable lake next to us. Lake Ontario doesn't count! The nearest lake that would fit the bill is Lake Scugog and that is why I picked on Port Perry last year. I still think Port Perry should really look into this idea, but there are other towns with a lake beside them that could also do this.
And now here is the method to my madness. Now is the time for organizing. Get your town council moving and warm up the Zambonis. String the lights around the ice surface and lets get some outdoor skating going in southern Ontario again. As to the races, they would be the icing on the cake. Or might that be the icing on the ice!!

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Proposing a Hiking Trail

In the last few months I have spent a bit of time in the Wilmot Creek area, from the Nature Area at the south end, to the Orono Crown Lands in the north, and this has me thinking. In this post I am proposing a hiking trail along the creek, from the Lake Ontario shore, north to link up with the Oak Ridges Trail in the Leskard area.

First I am going to give you a little ancient history. When I was a small child my father, Gus Yaki, was involved in the creation of the Bruce Trail. He was the first president of the Niagara section of the trail. What this meant to me was that as a kid I spent many an hour building trail, (or at least accompanying the adults who built the trail) along the Niagara escarpment from Queenston Heights to Grimsby. This involved painting blazes on the trees, building bridges where needed, cutting back limbs,etc. The real work, however went on in the kitchens of landowners, and involved the negotiation of the permissions to route the trail through private properties. The work done by the early Bruce Trail association has given us, 40 years later not only the 885 kilometre Bruce Trail, but paved the way for the Ganaraska Trail and the Oak Ridges Trail. Untold numbers of children and adults have been awakened to the beauty of the outdoors and nature through a walk along the Bruce Trail.

In the Clarington area the Waterfront Trail follows Lake Ontario's shoreline, and the Oak Ridges Trail follows, well, the Oak Ridges Moraine. At Port Hope, the Ganaraska Trail runs from the lake north, crossing the Oak Ridges Trail and carrying on for another 400 kilometres ending at Georgian Bay. I am proposing a much more modest venture, a trail running along Wilmot Creek, from the mouth at Lake Ontario to at least as far north as to meet with the Oak Ridges Trail. We would have an advantage in that a fair percentage of the land along the Wilmot Creek is already in the public domain.

Existing trail in the Orono Crown lands.

Also, at the municipal government levels there is much more acceptance of the idea of trails as a plus for communities than there was 40 years ago.
What I am suggesting is a simple walking trail, not a multi-use trail as much of it will be on private land. Also the environmental impact of a hiking trail will be much less than a trail with mountain bikes, horses, etc. It will follow as close as is possible to the main branch of the Wilmot Creek with potential branch trails into Newcastle and Orono. For example in Orono one branch could follow the fork of the creek that goes into town and the other could follow into the Orono Crown lands with both branches joining up again north of Orono.
Since the area is rich in history a number of plaques could be erected at notable spots along the trail. The local historical society would be ideal participants in that aspect.
Similarily the local natural history clubs should be recruited to help with display boards explaining signifigant natural features such as are already present in the Samuel Wilmot Nature Area.
As the trail will pass through agricultural lands, and many of the trail users may be urbanites with little farm knowledge an opportunity for education exists there as well.

Below is a first draft, proposed route of


View Wilmot Creek Trail in a larger map

The red line is existing trails on public lands while the purple is on private land and does not yet exist. Obviously the exact route is subject to change and anyone who has done a map on Google will know that drawing lines that don't follow roads is inexact at best. However, that is the gist of my proposal. If you have any input on this idea or would like to help out in any way email me putting Wilmot Trail in the subject line, or comment using the option below this post. Future posts will update progress on this project. Stay tuned!!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fall's Splendour!

It seems that in any given year we get the same amount of great weather. We might have a lousy spring and a great summer or a lousy winter and a good fall. Rarely can we say that all four seasons have been great in a given year. Besides someone who skis might like a snowy winter while those that don't would prefer one day of snow on December 25th and green the rest of the year. I enjoy the outdoors and generally accept whatever weather we have. Having said that I like the spring and fall the most and if pressed will tell you that fall is my favourite season. I like that the air is cooler without being cold, and the lack of bugs, and the sound of the fallen leaves beneath my feet.
With that as my preamble I have to tell you that this past week has provided us with some glorious weather. I almost regretted hanging the canoe for the winter! However since the canoe was put away we have had the chance to do some biking and some hiking. I have been exploring the Wilmot Creek area this past while and have spent a few hours hiking at Samuel Wilmot Nature Area. This is a nice little area that is bordered by the Wilmot Creek retirement subdivision on the west and the Port of Newcastle subdivision on the east. I imagine in the spring that the migrants coming over the lake will flock down into this pocket of nature. As the years go by much of the area that is now open field will regenerate providing a larger target for those migrants and it may become a birding hotspot similar to Thickson's Woods.
Just to the north of the Nature area is an MNR Fishing Area. This protects the both sides of the creek from development pretty much from Lake Ontario to the 115 Highway.
The fishing area has limited trails as most of the fishermen are walking in the river with waders seeking out the Rainbows and Salmon that use Wilmot creek for spawning. A few miles north the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority's Thurne Park is a little used area along the Wilmot. The forest here is dominated by cedar but again the main attraction is the fish in the creek. In the fall the salmon are everywhere and with the creek being only ten feet or so wide the viewing is great. At this time of year the creeks are crystal clear unless there has been recent heavy rains. Just a mile or so north of Thurne Park is the Orono Crown Lands. This is the largest chunk of public land in the Wilmot creek watershed. I visited this area twice in the last week and enjoyed it immensely both times. On the first ocassion I was alone and followed the trail off the Station St parking area straight in to creek itself and then followed the creekside trail south to the fifth concession and back. The parking lot was full when I left and I saw a few groups in the first fifteen minutes but once I got onto the creek trail I saw only one other couple. Along the creek the forest is dominated by Cedars again and some of them are quite large by Southern Ontario standards. There were a few signs of Pileated woodpeckers with the rectangular holes in the side of the trees. Along the stream I would occasionally see the skeletal remains of a dead salmon. I am always amazed that wild animals aren't scavenging these fish more often. As I returned up to the parking area I watched a trout hiding under the edge of the old railway bridge structure. It looked like a rainbow to me and it was about 10 inches in length!
On sunday Lianna and I and the boys returned to Orono and hiked north through the pine plantings. The ground was covered with pine needles and the air was scented with that north woods piney smell. We were pushing Jake in his jogging stroller and he was loving the sights of the forest. Isaiah was making "walking sticks" with any dead branches that fit his specifications, and practicing his pole vaulting. The trail to the north is quite wide and makes me look forward to the x-country ski season as it would be a great little loop for skis or snowshoes.
Tuesday afternoon the weather was still holding and I went for a ride in Stephen's Gulch. Here the forest is more deciduous and the ground was thick with leaves. There is something about the crunch of fallen leaves underfoot or under your wheels that makes you wish it was autumn all year long!
I guess the whole point of this post is that you really don't need to travel far to find that outdoor activity. Chances are there is a conservation area or park nearby. Get out there and kick up some leaves!

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Last Paddle of the Year!

The Pigeon river

Ok so I haven't posted much this summer. In fact I haven't posted at all. I have been busy with a variety of projects and haven't done a lot of my usual summer outdoor activities to the level that my wife and I enjoy. No camping at all! A few reasons for that but mostly because Jake, our youngest has been getting us up every couple of hours at night. The burden for this has fallen mostly on my wife and I marvel at her ability to function on the broken sleep she gets. However it is one thing to have a baby awake in a multilevel house and quite another to deal with one in a tent or trailer. Next summer will be different.

Jake's first paddle!

Anyways to make a long story short we did day things when we could and did get Jake out for a kayak ride. He isn't impressed with wearing a life jacket! He'll learn to love it!
Yesterday the weather looked good and who knows how many more days we will get like that so I threw the canoe on the roof of the car and drove up to the Pigeon River. I had heard from a coworker that the section near Golf Course Rd. east of Highway 35 was a wild stretch of river. His words were that it felt like you were "way up north!"
I had never been to this place so I went to Google Maps and found the intersection of Golf Course Rd. and St. Mary's Rd. On Google Maps it shows a place called Mt. Horeb. Here the Pigeon River shows up on the map as it flows northeast toward Omemee. This is about a half hour drive from my place in Bowmanville, and when I got to the place there wasn't a single house, nor any mountains so I don't know what the Mt. Horeb refers to! There was a small wooden bridge over the Pigeon River and on the southeast side of this bridge was a place to launch a canoe. There is not much in the way of parking though. The road has deep ditches on either side and no real pulloff, so you have to be careful parking. On the plus side there is not much traffic in downtown Mt. Horeb.

The bridge on St. Mary's Rd.

The river is about twenty feet wide at the bridge and widens as you go downstream. As you can see on Google map or satellite it is a meandering stream with lots of curves.

The Pigeon River southwest of Omemee

The river runs through a swampy forest and there is no sign of humanity to be seen. As I rounded one of the myriad of bends I flushed a group of about ten or so Wood Ducks. Other than that though there was very little in the way of life to be seen. There were lots of small fish to be seen in the river, species unknown. It would be very different in the spring time though as swamps are generally very full of birdlife and wildlife in general. I did see a single frog(Leopard?) that was so cold he could barely move. He should have been in hibernation already, I think. After about a half hour of paddling downstream I decided that I didn't want to go to far and have to fight the current on the way back so I headed back toward the bridge. As I got nearer I was followed by a Great Blue Heron that passed over my head at about 20 feet and settled on the side of the river about forty feet ahead of me.

Great Blue Heron in flight

I think he was looking for that frog! Upstream from the bridge the river is smaller but still plenty navigable by canoe. I continued upstream for about twenty more minutes and the river is still twenty feet wide at least. The terrain is very similar and the only sign of man is the bridge on St. Mary's Rd. I will definitely be back to explore this area more in the coming year, but I will probably put in at one of the crossings farther downstream on Mt. Horeb Rd. and paddle back upstream until I get tired and then float back down to the put in with the current. Hopefully the parking may be better as well.
When I got home I hung the canoe back up in the rafters of the garage until next year. For now, the water is cold and there is lots to do on land and snow! I might even post a little more regularly!!

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