May 04, 2011

Reclaimed land provides enjoyable hiking route

As published in The Erin Advocate

Whether you are ambitious to try out every hiking trail that Erin has to offer, or just want an interesting place to walk your dog, check out a property on the Second Line owned by the Grand River Conservation Authority.

It is a managed forest called the Johnson Tract, with a small network of trails next to a creek, in the headwaters of the Speed River.

It might be best to postpone your visit until a bit later in the spring, when the road conditions are better. I had the misfortune of traveling on the Second Line in mid-April, during what the Town calls the Spring Breakup of Roads. The base soil beneath older gravel roads has a high moisture content, and when it is only partly thawed, the surface can turn to soupy mud ruts.

The nearby wetlands are one of the most attractive features of this hike, and the trail itself remains relatively dry. There is only parking for a couple of cars at the start, which is on the east side of the road, north of 27 Sideroad and south of the Garafraxa Town Line.

Looking at the bigger picture, water in the western half of Erin drains to Lake Erie through the Grand River watershed. The Grand starts up near Dundalk, and flows through Lake Belwood, Fergus, Elora, Kitchener, Cambridge, Brantford, Caledonia and Dunnville.

The Speed starts in northwest Erin, flows south through Guelph Lake and on to Cambridge to join the Grand. The Eramosa River starts in southwest Erin and flows through Rockwood to join the Speed in Guelph.

The Johnson Tract is by no means a pristine wilderness. It appears to have once been at least partially a farm, with cedar rail fencing. Now it is entirely covered in trees, though some areas have been thinned out with selective logging. There is a sign at the entrance with an aerial photo and map, but no other informative signs further in.

The initial trail goes through a tall grove of cedars. As it splits into three possible routes, it becomes a reforested environment, with spaced rows of spruce planted quite some time ago – many are over 100 feet tall.

The ground is covered in needles, mossy areas, small ponds, fallen trees and piles of rock from land-clearing. One area had an undergrowth of ferns. The south trail goes through a maple bush, and between some boggy wetland areas. I spotted a couple of deer, but of course they had spotted me first, so I only saw their tails.

I saw quite a few ducks, so when I heard what sounded like a bunch of them quacking up a racket in the reeds, I snuck up to get a good photo. It didn't happen though, since they were actually frogs. Not sure how they learned to make duck calls.

There's a modern farm on the east boundary, and a creek, flowing south from Orton, on the north boundary. With no dams to impede its flow, it takes a meandering path through grasslands and under the trees it has caused to tumble.

New life seems to be sprouting everywhere as last year's dead grass and leaves give way to spring growth, saplings emerge out of the fallen cedars and water seems to bubble up from the earth. If you are weary of the urban environment, it's a good place to be.