Special to The Lake Report
After the wonderful discovery of the Winter Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls last weekend, I have again struck it rich right next door in our beautiful Niagara. Bring it on, global pandemic.
We need to hunker down and be safe, but we also need fresh air and exercise. Physically distance, but don’t live on the couch.
Sunday was a perfect late autumn day. Very cool, sunny and fresh. After a hearty, physically distanced and COVID-19 protocol-observing breakfast at Good Eats Diner by the Homer Bridge, son Scott suggested we take a hike at the nearby Woodend Conversation Area.
I had not been to Woodend since 1986, when Donald Ziraldo and I did a training run from then-new White Oaks up the hill and along a trail or two. Since then, I have driven past it on Taylor Road hundreds of times. Never really gave a thought to stopping in. I had been there, done that.
It was a short drive to the well-signed parking area and aleady about 40 cars were there at 9:30 a.m. The Niagara Peninsula Conversation Authority has closed the Woodend office and public washrooms and the Walker Living Campus. The many trails are easy to access and well-maintained. Hurray.
The conservation authority and the Bruce Trail Club have ensured the directional arrows and marks are clear and well-placed. Staff and volunteers keep the chainsaws busy when trees fall down across trails. This all makes for perfect hikes, along safe, rooty, gently up and down, twisting trails.
Instinctively I started to yodel, remembering long ago wanderwegs in Switzerland’s Jungfrau and Bavaria’s Schwarzwald. “I love to go a-wandering, along the mountain track.”
Son Scott suggested I contribute to the silence and stop yodelling.
The forest floors are blanketed with dead leaves and fallen trees, lying every which way. Squirrels, birds and other locals all busy, going about their late November business. The sun warmly peeping through.
As Robert Service rhymed, “The snows that are older than history, The woods where the weird shadows slant. The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery, I’ve bade 'em good’by, but I can’t.”
About 10 minutes into the forest, we came upon the magnificent Walker Living Campus. A working partnership that works for outdoor environmental education, with the conservation authority, the District School Board of Niagara, the Bruce Trail Club and other groups no doubt too numerous to list.
When my children were students at Parliament Oak Public School and Laura Secord Secondary School, every year they would excitedly tell us about their school trips to Woodend. I was always a bit ho hum, since my memories were of a pretty nice little nature area.
Who knew? The buildings are large, but fit in so well with the surrounding forests. Native rocks, rugged wood furniture, turf roofs. Easy to understand interpretive panel, and lists of all the Niagara schools involved in programming. This is definitely “feel good.”
We continue on the trails, walking past dramatic stratified limestone and shale cliffs. All this started some 450,000,000 (that’s 450 million!) years ago, as the bed of a tropical sea. The sediments have been compressed into rock, magnesium-rich limestone and shale. (To put it simply, a geologist I am not.)
Again, great directional signage. Only two traffic signs, both “No Parking – Fire Lane.” Huh?
At the height of land at the east end of Woodend, we look down at the Queen Elizabeth Way and the continuous hum of rushing vehicles, each driver hurling their car or truck toward some important destination.
A really good number of folks are out on the Woodend trails enjoying this day and such a variety of ages. Older hikers with their Nordic poles, young families with kids in backpack, or tagging along trying to keep up.
And a refreshing number of younger people, in pairs or small groups. Such a healthy amenity for nearby Niagara College and Brock University. A great alternative to pubs?
After a wonderful morning, back to reality. Many more cars in the parking lot. Bewdy, eh? We pause by a cool red Jeep to admire the new blue Ontario licence plate. I take a picture of the slogan, “A Place to Grow.”
The husky driver gets out and asks, “What’s up?”
We ask him about the Whistler and Banff decals on his window. They just got back from a long driving vacation out west. “B.C. people were cool. They were just happy to take our money. Some Alberta people were a bit weird about visitors from Ontario.”
O Canada, my Home and Native Land. Gotta love it.
Please, take a hike. Visit Woodend and the other jewels in our region. Even after it has snowed. The late Gordie Howe told us, “There is no such thing as cold weather. Just cold clothing.”
Use COVID-19 as a reason to get out and revel in Canada’s nature.