July 13, 2011

Silver Creek crevices will keep you on your toes

As published in The Erin Advocate

Just read about some doctors who like to prescribe walks in the woods to counteract "nature-deficit disorder", a term coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods. It is certainly a logical way to boost mental and physical health, but the medical angle is a reminder that we are in a crisis of stress and inactivity that is doing real harm.

Active Healthy Kids Canada reports that many young people are spending 6-7 hours a day in "screen-based sedentary activities" and urges parents to assign manual chores and insist on outdoor play. Only seven per cent of kids meet the minimum levels in the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.

One screen that would probably lead to more activity is that of a digital camera, if kids were out looking for interesting things to photograph. I recently picked up information about a Guelph-based non-profit group called Focus on Nature. Inspired partly by Richard Louv, the group offers photography workshops in schools that enable kids to develop their creative observation skills and to "get outside and explore and connect with the natural world".

I was out with my camera last week, getting an overdue dose of stress relief and cardiovascular stimulation with a hike along the Bruce Trail, in the Silver Creek Conservation Area. It is just a few minutes from Erin, straight down the Ninth Line and Fallbrook Trail, now paved all the way to the trail entrance at 27 Sideroad, Halton Hills.

A huge wilderness reserve, it is 388 hectares (958 acres) of prime Niagara Escarpment land managed by Credit Valley Conservation, stretching from the 10th Line to Trafalgar Road. There are no buildings, just babbling brooks, lush forests, stunning views, an orchestra of birds, and some unique rock formations that make for a rewarding hike.

The origins of Silver Creek are mainly in south Erin, including Snow's Creek that flows south from Ballinafad through Scotsdale Farm, and the network of creeks that arise in the Paris Moraine between Winston Churchill Blvd. and the Eighth Line.

The northern limit of the Silver Creek Sub-Watershed is the rise of land just south of 10 Sideroad, the edge of the moraine. It was formed in the late stages of the most recent ice age. The Laurentide Ice Sheet covered most of Canada and the northern US for about 75,000 years.

As the ice melted and retreated, it would sometimes expand again during colder periods and rework the landscape, but not always in a north-south pattern. Geologists believe that the Paris Moraine was formed about 12,000 years ago by a huge lobe of ice in the Lake Ontario basin, over a kilometer thick, which flowed northwest, up and over the Escarpment.

The rock, sand and gravel it left behind, with the action of melting water, created both moraines, which are irregular and hummocky, and drumlins like the one next to Erin village, which are long smooth hills pointed in the direction of the ice flow. Neither make for good farmland.

Streams on the Paris Moraine flow south-east and amalgamate into Silver Creek as it tumbles down the Escarpment. It joins another branch in Silver Creek Valley, a deep gouge parallel to the Escarpment, well-known to drivers taking the Ninth Line "scenic route" to Glen Williams. The water flows through Georgetown and does not join the Credit River until Norval.

My hike took me east from Fallbrook Trail, past a look-out over the panorama of Silver Creek Valley where you can watch turkey vultures cruising on the updrafts. The forest trail alternates between dirt and fields of smoothly-pitted rock, with many crevices that could cause a nasty fall or twisted ankle. So watch your step, be sure to keep pets and kids on a short leash and don't set out too close to dusk.

The Bruce Trail carries on towards Caledon, on its way to Tobermory, but you can cut back to the road on the Roberts Side Trail, making a 2.6 km loop that will take an hour and a half at a casual pace. The side trail is not as dramatic, but there is a huge variety of plant life, including trilliums, the provincial flower which seems to be less plentiful in recent years. There is also a large wetland pond with a boardwalk used by school field trips.

If you are thinking of taking up the hiking habit, don't wait for the doctor to tell you. Consider joining the Bruce Trail Association. Go to www.brucetrail.org for an interactive map, download local maps for $3, or get their reference guidebook. There are 800 km of main trails 200 km of side trails to explore.