May 23, 2012

Escape to local forests and trails

As published in The Erin Advocate

Do you ever need to escape the well-trodden sidewalks, the din of cars and trucks and the straight lines of buildings? There are public tracts of forest in the Erin area set aside for just that purpose.

In addition to popular routes such as the Woollen Mills Trail (off Millwood Road in Erin village) and the Elora Cataract Trailway, there are trails on parcels of rural land maintained by Wellington County and the conservation authorities. No hunting, no dirt bikes, no snowmobiles, no bicycles – just walkers, and dogs.

The trails don't lead anywhere special, apart from the wilderness along the way. They are simple paths winding through land where the terrain is too irregular for farming.

The Robert Baker Forest Conservation Area is located at Winston Churchill Boulevard and Grange Sideroad, with 90 acres of woodlands and wetlands maintained by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC).

The access point is .4 km from the corner along Grange, and a small network of trails undulates past a series of ponds. Some are bright green and bursting with obvious life, while others are like black mirrors, reflecting the sky in shades of blue that are richer than the sky itself.

The trees are a mix of cedar and spruce, with stands of birch and maple. There are no direction signs, and if you want to walk a 30-minute loop, the trail is a bit easier to follow going clockwise. In the opposite direction, the turn-offs to the left are not always obvious. You may end up at a fence on Winston Churchill instead of back at Grange – not lost, just needing to retrace your steps.

The area is named for Bob Baker, a CVC forester from 1970 to 2000, who was involved in the planting of more than 5 million trees. He now operates a forestry service on the Ninth Line of Erin.

The Peacock Tract is a Wellington County Forest, near the communications tower on Trafalgar Road, 1.3 km north of County Road 50 (the former Peacock Sideroad). The trail goes past wetlands and mossy rock outcrops, as it cuts behind neighbouring properties.

Softwoods dominate at first, but further in there is a wide open maple bush. The whole loop takes about 40 minutes, or a bit longer if you are walking an unruly hound, with a tendency to dash off after scents and wrap her leash line around trees.

 The Ospringe Tract, managed by the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA), is located on the Fourth Line of Erin, .7 km south of County Road 124 (turn at Denny's).

On a sunny winter's day you can hear the water gurgling under the ice as it drains away from the cattails. You can hear the trees crackling in the cold and see the trails of deer and coyote tracks in the fields nearby, with sweeping views of undulating farmland and scrubland.

Most of it is natural growth forest, but a small section was reforested many years ago, with the conifers towering over 80 feet tall. This hike also takes about 40 minutes.

Another forest managed by the GRCA is the Johnson Tract, located on the Second Line of Erin, just south of the Garafraxa Town Line. For more details, see the Erin Insight column from May 4, 2011, at

Also worth a visit is Scotsdale Farm, a beautiful piece of land just south of Ballinafad, which has been open to the public since 1982. Stewart and Violet Bennett lived there for 40 years, raising Arabian horses and Shorthorn cattle. Stewart was President of the Beardmore Tannery in Acton, Vice-President at Canada Packers and President of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

The couple bequeathed their 219 hectare farm to the Ontario Heritage Foundation to ensure its protection. (They also donated $1.3 million to the Georgetown Hospital, which created the Bennett Centre for seniors.)

Archeological evidence of an Iroquoian village from the 1500s has been found on the land. The original farm homestead was built in 1836 and the barn is at least 130 years old. The farm has been used as the setting for several movies and The Campbells TV series, and as a conference centre. The Bruce Trail runs through the property, which features a moraine, escarpment outcrops, forests, wetlands and pastures.

The farm is suitable for picnics, exploring with children and hiking. The 3.9 km Bennett Heritage Side Trail branches off from the Bruce Trail just south of the entrance to Scotsdale, and goes between the farm buildings. It crosses a small dam on Snow's Creek, which flows south and east from Ballinafad. All streams in this area drain to the Credit River at Norval.

The Bennett trail meets the Eighth Line, where you could cut south, and use the Maureen Smith Side Trail join the main Bruce Trail, and loop back to Trafalgar. Or you could follow the Bennett trail farther east as it crosses Owl Creek, then runs beside Silver Creek, ending up at 27 Sideroad. This creates a much longer loop back to Trafalgar, so check the posted maps, or download one (Google "bruce trail bennett") before you set out.

There are hiking videos available on YouTube for Scotsdale, the Peacock Tract and the Johnson Tract, posted by