Another Tributary: The Speed River Trail

8.8 km hiking on Section 1 and 2 of the Speed River Trail

Click here for a map of trails along the Speed River

The Speed River is one of the main tributaries of the Grand River.  It flows from its source near Orton through Guelph, where it is joined by another major tributary, the Eramosa.  It enters the Grand River in Cambridge.  The Guelph Hiking Trail Club maintains the Speed River Trail, a hiking trail which runs from Guelph to Cambridge along the banks of the river.  The club publishes a guide book with instructions and maps of their trails, which is very helpful and can be purchased on their website.  The club also supports the Radial Line Trail, some sections of which follow the Eramosa River.  There are also a number of municipal trails associated with the rivers.

Today we decided to hike the first 2 of 3 sections of the Speed River Trail, which is marked by orange blazes on the main trail and blue blazes on side trails.  The trail starts at the Guelph Humane Society.  After passing behind the Guelph Water Treatment Plant, the trail wandered through a meadow.   Anemones, normally a spring flower, were still in bloom.

We crossed a rickety bridge and entered a mature woodlot.  Fortunately a gentle breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay.

The well-marked and well-used trail ends at a small parking lot at Niska Road.  It then re-enters the wood.  This section of the trail is less maintained and there were a lot of dead branches on the trail, making it difficult to find at times.  We had to clamber over a dead tree at one point.  The trail is supposed to  run through a hedgerow along the edge of the road but it was very overgrown, so at this point we walked along Niska Road to Whitelaw Road.

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Beware of mosquitoes, stinging nettles, swamps . . . and hunters!

The second section of the Speed River Trail takes a closed road allowance through an old gravel pit to a woodlot.  This section is closed from September 1 to January 20 during hunting season.  Initially the trail followed an old logging road but it soon headed into thick brush.  Fortunately someone had hiked the trail recently and we were able to follow the trampled vegetation when we lost sight of the orange blazes.  Spring was very wet this year and the marshy ground was still saturated.  In places makeshift bridges made of logs and old planks crossed tiny streams, but at times we sank into the mud.  The trail follows the edge of the river offering excellent views, but with the warm weather, the mosquitoes were out in full force so we didn’t linger.  At one point, we lost the trail amidst the thicket of fallen branches and had to retrace our steps.

Finally, the trail emerged along the edge of some fields and the wind swept the bugs away.  Milkweed plants were growing along the edge of the field and we spotted some monarch butterflies and some well-fed monarch caterpillars.

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According to the guidebook, the third and final section of the Speed River Trail is extremely swampy.  Perhaps we will leave this section until next spring, when we will wear our waterproof boots and hike it before the mosquitoes emerge!

Exploring the Watershed: The Conestogo River

6.8 km hike one way along the Health Valley Trail/Avon Trail and Great Trail

The Conestogo River is one of the four main tributaries of the Grand River.  From the source, west of Arthur, it flows through Drayton to Conestoga Lake, formed where the river has been dammed for flood control and recreation.  It then traverses the little villages of Glen Allen and Hawkesville, finally passing through St. Jacobs, before joining the Grand River just south of the village of Conestogo.

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A well-maintained hiking trail runs beside the Conestogo River from Bridge St in Waterloo to the old mill in St Jacobs.  From there another trail runs along the mill race which was built to supply water to power the mill.  The hike takes about 1 1/2 hours each way.  However, allow extra time as the day would not be complete without a stop in St Jacobs for a coffee, lunch or shopping.

The Health Valley Trail starts at Bridge St in Waterloo, running beside a farmer’s field directly to the river.  It follows an old trail which ran along the river between Conestogo and St. Jacobs.  (This is also the final section of the Avon Trail, which runs from St. Marys, through Stratford, to Conestogo).  Shortly after reaching the river, the trail passes a spectacular carving, made from the remaining trunk of a dead tree.

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Following the river, it crosses underneath Highway 85 and arrives in St Jacobs at the St Jacobs Mill.  We hiked the trail on a warm, sunny day, after weeks of cold rainy weather.  The trail was slightly muddy but passable, despite all the rain.  Turtles were sunning themselves in a little pond and the may apple was blooming.

At the back of the mill property,  the trail continues beside the old mill race, to Three Bridges Road.  This section is part of the Great Trail through Waterloo Region.

On your return to St. Jacobs, stop at the mill to have a coffee at the EcoCafe.  Then visit the Conestoga River Pottery also situated in the old mill, where you can watch the potter at work.  Also, be sure to visit The Mennonite Story, which explains local Mennonite history and culture.  Then treat yourself to a home-style lunch at the Stone Crock Restaurant.  Finally, relax with a craft beer at Block 3 Brewing Company.

30039 Peter, Block 3 Brewing

On the Trails Again: Laurel Creek Loop

We laced up our hiking shoes today on behalf of “Loops and Lattes”.  They will soon be publishing a new hiking guide for Waterloo Wellington and Guelph, which is our own backyard.  One of the featured hikes is a 5 km loop around the trails at the Laurel Creek Conservation Area and our job was to make sure that the map and instructions are accurate.  After a long hard winter, this project was just what we needed to get us out on the trails again.

Laurel Creek is a tributary of the Grand River which flows through the centre of the city of Waterloo.  The Grand River Conservation Authority maintains a dam and reservoir and operates a campground, beach and trails in the park.  The park rents canoes in the summer and cross country skis in the winter.

As we followed the simple green, blue and red trail signs, we found the occasional patch of ice along the now abandoned cross country ski trails.  The skies threatened to rain, but apart from a few minutes of drizzle, we stayed dry and were able to navigate some swampy patches of trail without getting our feet wet.

A continuous shrill shrieking noise as we passed through the swamp indicated a healthy population of lovesick spring peepers eager to get an early start on the mating season.  We could hear some songbirds in the trees and saw a solitary vulture high above us patrolling the urban skies of Waterloo.

We are pleased to report that the hike documentation is accurate and look forward to trying out some of the other hikes featured in the book, once it is released.

This is a busy year, but we hope to explore more of the trails in the watershed, starting with the Speed River Trail from Guelph to Cambridge.

 

 

 

TCT to Lake Ontario: Downhill Both Ways!

64 km along the THB, Escarpment and Chippewa Rail Trails, over 2 days.

Click here for a map of the Trans Canada Trail from the Forks of the Credit to the Great Lakes

From Brantford, the Trans Canada Trail turns away from the Grand River, taking mainly rail trails through Hamilton, returning to the Grand River at Caledonia.  Both sections cross the Niagara Escarpment.  While it is possible to ride from Brantford to Caledonia via Hamilton in a day, this would be a long day and would necessitate cycling up the escarpment.  The alternative was to cycle from Caledonia to Hamilton one day and from Brantford to Hamilton another, enabling us to have the fun of cycling down the escarpment twice … an easy decision.

The Chippewa Rail Trail follows an old rail line from Caledonia to the outskirts of Hamilton.  The first section is currently closed for renovation, so we started where the trail crosses Highway 66, just outside Caledonia.  The trail is in good condition with excellent signage, including markers at each kilometer point and signs identifying each road crossing.

After passing through a quiet rural area, the trail ends on the outskirts of Hamilton, just before Highway 403.  After a short section on a busy road, there is a multi-use trail leading to a pedestrian bridge over Highway 403 (I have lost track of how many pedestrian overpasses we have crossed over this highway!)

From here it joins the Escarpment Rail Trail and the fun begins.  The railway blasted the track into the side of the escarpment, so there is a steep bank on one side and a very steep drop on the other.  The railroad company wanted to minimize fuel costs going uphill and risks going downhill, so the track descends gently and steadily. The trail is wide and the precipice is covered in trees, so it feels very safe to glide down at full tilt.  Every once in a while, the trees open up to a view over the city of Hamilton.  After a long summer of hiking and biking up and down steep hills, this felt like a fair reward.

The Escarpment Trail ends in the middle of the city of Hamilton, which is blessed with great bike infrastructure.  Most streets had bike lanes, some of which were protected by a parking lane.  The only exception came when we had to bike a couple of blocks of Aberdeen Ave which is a very busy 4 lane road with no bike lane.  Fortunately we soon turned off onto a quiet street and met up with the end of the Hamilton Brantford Rail Trail finishing up close to McMaster University at the conveniently located Fairweather Brewing Company.

The following week, we set off on the second section of this route, from Brantford back to Hamilton.  This time we were on the Hamilton Brantford Rail Trail (formerly the Toronto Hamilton Buffalo Railway) all the way back to the Brewing Company.  This route was more interesting, passing the Mohawk Chapel, the oldest existing church in Ontario.  We then passed an old canal and some rotting lock machinery and rode through a railway tunnel.

The trail passes the Dundas Valley Conservation Authority Trail Centre, situated in a renovated old train station, with an historic train parked on the tracks in front of it.

After gliding down the escarpment one more time, we stopped at the Fairweather Brewing Company to pick up a few bottles of their craft beer to take home.  Shortly thereafter, my partner blew a tire.  So he headed back to the brewery to drown his sorrows while I rode on through Hamilton back to our vehicle at the Hamilton Botanical Gardens.  The Trans Canada Trail joins the Waterfront Trail and heads past Cootes Paradise where a couple of people and a number of cormorants were patiently fishing.  Then the trail joins York Boulevard.  Which was a shock because the street is far above the trail.  It was necessary to climb six double flights of stairs, hauling my bicycle (and the beer!) along a narrow gutter at the edge of the stairs.

There was one final historic moment–a plaque memorializing the War of 1812.

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York Road and Plains Road are busy roads with inconsistent bike lanes.  Fortunately on a Sunday, the traffic was fairly light and I made it back to Botanical Gardens.  There was no time to enjoy the greenhouses, as I had to rescue my partner from the Brewery!

It has been an amazing summer.  We have explored our own backyard and discovered the delights of our own area.  We have seen nature in abundance, experienced culture and history and enjoyed excellent meals–all within a 2 hour drive of home.  Now it is time to plan for next year.  Stay tuned for our next adventure–after spending a summer weaving a track across and beside the Grand River, I think it is time to get out our canoe and see what there is to see from between its banks.

 

Trans Canada Trail: Brantford to Lake Erie

From Cambridge to Brantford, the Grand Valley Trail and the Trans Canada Trail both take the Cambridge to Paris and SC Johnson Rail Trails.  However, after Brantford, the Grand Valley Trail continues along the Grand River, while the Trans Canada Trail splits into two.  One part of the TCT heads to Simcoe and the shores of Lake Erie, while the other goes to Hamilton, where it meets the Waterfront Trail on Lake Ontario.  Having finished the Grand Valley Trail, we had the rest of the TCT in the watershed in our sight.

On a beautiful early fall day, we decided it was the perfect day for a late summer trip to the beach, cycling from Brantford to Port Dover.  The Trans Canada Trail normally takes the TH&B (Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo) Rail Trail out of Brantford to Mount Pleasant where it meets the LE&N (Lake Erie and Norfolk), which runs all the way to Port Dover.  Because the TH&B was closed for reconstruction we rode the LE&N out of Brantford.  (The TCT turns off at Simcoe, eventually meeting the Waterfront Trail at Port Burwell).

The entire trail is a well-maintained and well-signed stone dust rail trail. The trail is shaded by the trees that have grown on either side, with farmer’s fields and market gardens visible through the foliage.  There are a few remaining tobacco fields, and many derelict tobacco tobacco drying sheds, a reminder of the days when tobacco was king in this region.

In Waterford, the trail crosses a magnificent old rail bridge over the Waterford Ponds.

Shortly thereafter we made a short detour to the Bonnieheath Estate Lavender Winery.  The winery also produces cider and various lavender-infused products, from soap to lemonade.  We cooled off as we sampled some cider and lavender lemonade and then hopped back on the bikes.

In Simcoe, the sight of the Indulge Ice Cream red double decker bus reminded us again that we were hot and tired.  An ice cream was the perfect fuel for the last stretch of the ride into Port Dover.Ice Cream Bus.

 

As the sun set over the palm trees on the Port Dover beach, we enjoyed fried lake pickerel and a view of the boats returning to the harbour past the lighthouse.

 

 

GVT Day 23: Across the Finish Line!

Muddied but Unbowed!

Map 1 Dunnville:  10.6 km mostly on our bicycles

Click here for a map of our journey along the Grand Valley Trail.

Most of the trail from Dunnville to Lake Erie is along the towpath beside the old Feeder Canal, built to take water from the Grand River to the Welland Canal system.  We assumed that this would be bike-able.  After leaving Dunnville along the busy main road, the GVT soon moved onto the towpath.  Part of the towpath consists of coarse gravel private lanes leading to houses.  The rest is a dirt track that has been badly chewed up by ATVs.  Some of the mud-holes were so deep that they had become little frog ponds and the trail was barely passable on foot.  However, we managed to ride parts of it and drag our bikes across the worst sections.

Along the way we passed remnants of the old canal, including a rusting lock.

The trail finishes in Port Maitland, where the Feeder Canal enters the Grand River.  This was formerly a busy fishing port but is now a derelict industrial shipping terminal.  Here again are reminders of the area’s rich history.  The original massive lock is still in place, without the lock mechanism.  A cairn explains that this was the site of the first naval depot on Lake Erie, built in 1814 to protect from the risk of invasion from the United States.

The southern terminus of the Grand Valley Trail is an unimposing cairn in a small park beside the Grand River.  Unfortunately, access to the lake is blocked by a private cottage development.  We had to settle for a view of the lighthouses and Lake Erie in the distance.

Fortunately, there is a side trail of the GVT through nearby Rock Point Provincial Park, which is on the shores of Lake Erie.  We were able to complete our journey at the lake.

Lake Erie

Mission Accomplished!  We have hiked or biked the entire Grand Valley Trail from Alton to Lake Erie, all 279 km.  What is next?  There are many other trails in the Grand River watershed.  We are currently mapping the entire Trans Canada Trail as it passes through the watershed and connects us with the Waterfront Trail.  Next year we plan to start canoeing downstream from Elora.

We are a lot fitter than we were in April when we started our journey.  We have learned a lot about the history, geography and ecology of the area in which we live.  By moving at a human pace we have become more connected to the land under our feet.  We have developed an appreciation for well-maintained and well-marked hiking and biking trails and better understand the challenges of trail development.  We hope to bring many other people back to the Grand River in the coming years as we develop the Grand Watershed Trails Network.

GVT Day 22: A Canadian History Lesson

Map 3 Cayuga to Map 1 Dunnville (5.1 km hiking and 29.9 km biking)

After a good night’s sleep at Jay’s Motel (a basic but clean, quiet and comfortable motel in the middle of the countryside between Jarvis and Cayuga) we started hiking from Townline Rd to Ruthven.  The trail starts beside a field and then enters a woodlot.  In places the trail was blocked by fallen trees and at times it was obscured by meandering side trails.  However each time we thought we were lost, we spied a blaze in the distance and were back on track.  At one point the trail circumnavigated a field, which is often a challenge as there is nowhere to put blazes, but we spotted a little boardwalk over a wetland and found the blaze leading back into the woodlot.  After a very short walk along Highway 54, the trail enters Ruthven Park.

David Thompson was a prominent local businessman who became a politician when Upper and Lower Canada united into Canada in 1841.  The Thompson family lived in his mansion until the 1990’s, when it was deeded to the Lower Grand River Land Trust, who have opened the house to the public.  There are now walking trails through the wooded estate, which sits on the banks of the Grand River.  In the spring and fall, bird enthusiasts come here to band migrating birds.  We stopped at the old family cemetery and pondered the side-by-side gravestones for two young sons of the original owner, David Thompson, who died 4 days apart in 1836.  Not even great wealth could spare families tragic epidemics.

Leaving Ruthven Park, we returned to Caledonia for lunch and started out by bicycle towards Cayuga, along the Trans Canada Trail on the opposite side of the river.  At Cayuga, the TCT and the GVT cross the bridge over the Grand River in opposite directions.  We continued across the river and back up Highway 54 on the GVT to the start of our morning’s expedition at Townline Rd.   Back in Cayuga, we noticed an historic plaque to the Haldimand Tract, the land that the Crown granted to the Six Nations recognizing that they had fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution and had lost their land in the US.  Almost all of the land we have been traversing is part of that original land grant, which extended 10 km on either side of the length of the river.  Later we passed the Young Memorial Plaque, which recognizes the land grant given to the Young family, who were United Empire Loyalists who fought with the Six Nations.  John Young, the eldest son, married the daughter of Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader and settled in this area.  The consequences of this history are still reverberating today.

From Cayuga we again crossed the Grand River, returning to the west bank to follow the Grand River downstream along River Rd.  This is a very quiet back road that follows the edge of the river, past tidy old farms, such as the one below dating from the late 1700s.

We had a pleasant ride for almost 20 km, with frequent views across the flood plain to the river.  After River Rd there was a short ride on busier roads, before we crossed the river one last time and entered Dunnville, finishing the ride beside a tiny public garden with a statue of a goose sitting on a mooring post.