There are lots of places where you can get lost in the wilderness – sometimes literally. They are called conservation areas, managed yet still wild. It’s easy to walk through woods and along rivers and never see another person, even if you know from the parking lot that people are in there.
Some have only a parking lot and trails. Others have open areas perhaps with playground equipment and pavilions for sheltered picnics. Some are campgrounds in summer and some host special events throughout the year. Others simply are there year round for you to walk through with only a sign giving the name and the management group.
Then there are city parks. In St. Thomas the two largest ones combine groomed gardens with wilderness off to their sides. At Waterworks, you can see wedding parties being photographed beside the lily ponds, then walk five minutes and be in woods with deer running through. At Pinafore Park, there’s a bandshell for music performances and behind it are woods in which you hear nothing of the city beside you.
You can walk along Kettle Creek, from north of St. Thomas to Port Stanley. The Elgin Hiking Trail Club organizes group walks regularly, or you can just walk the trail for as short or long a distance as you want by yourself.
What you don’t see in the ravines and creeks of these areas are large dumped items. Whether people here just don’t take unwanted couches and stoves out to a nice picturesque area and push them over the edge, or whether staff clean them up regularly, I don’t know. You see coffee cups, water bottles and the like. You find remains of campfires, often with shards of glass bottles that were thrown into the fire for the fun of watching them explode. So a plastic bag is a good thing to have. It makes it easier to clean up that broken glass, saving someone a cut foot.
Elgin County Woods
I know most of the conservation areas around here after 13 years, but still not all. There’s Dan Patterson, north of St. Thomas on Highbury Ave, Dalewood Conservation area and campground on Dalewood Road just north of St. Thomas. Kettle Creek runs past Dalewood to Waterworks Park, then through town to the west edge of St. Thomas and along Sunset Drive to Port Stanley. West of St. Thomas is the Fingal Wildlife Management Area, an old airforce base.
Southeast of St. Thomas is Archie Coulter Conservation Area on Brouwers Road. Slightly southeast of it is Springwater Conservation Area, a camp ground in summer. Aylmer has a beautiful park system along Catfish Creek. Northeast of Aylmer is the Aylmer Wildlife Management Area where in spring thousands of tundra swans land during their migration. And north of there is my favourite of all – Lake Whittaker Conservation Area. It’s also a summer campground. It was the first I discovered, and it still takes my breath away.