Walking in the Woods

When I moved back to southwestern Ontario, I thought woods walking would be over for woods at Archie Coulter Conservation Area, near Orwell Ontariome and my dog.  Groomed parks maybe, but no acres of forest or meadows.  I was absolutely wrong.

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.

City Parks

bridge over lily pond, Waterworks Park, St. Thomas, OntarioThen 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.

Heron on dam at Waterworks Park, St. Thomas, OntarioYou 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 Dalewood bridge over stream, autumn leavespicturesque 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 Fingal Wildlife area, path to pondarea 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. Steen Park with disc golf basket, Aylmer, OntarioAylmer 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.

Lake Whittaker photo Jim StewartPhotos of (from top to bottom) Archie Coulter, Waterworks, Dalewood, Fingal, Aylmer and Lake Whittaker were taken by Jim Stewart. 


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10 thoughts on “Walking in the Woods”

  1. Hi folks: Well, I certainly heard the stories about Lake Whittaker when I was growing up. My Mom (1913 – 2007) grew up in Springfield and was terrified of the “bottomless lake”. She had several older brothers and I suspect that my grandma told the boys that story in order to keep them away. Not sure that it worked with them but it certainly frightened my Mom. I took her there when she was in her mid 70’s and she was still terrified to get anywheres near the water. I wonder about the history of the lake – there must have be a case of drowning there to fuel these stories. If anyone knows more about this, please let me know. Thanks so much.

    1. Hi Crystal, thanks for telling us about your Mom’s family and Lake Whittaker. Wow! Yes, there must have been something to cause this name “bottomless lake”. I think it drops off quite sharply near the shore on the day beach side, but that’s just from me wading in it. I don’t know how quickly or far it drops. If anyone knows more, please let us know.

  2. The bridge I was at in about 1980 was the original bridge that cars would have drove across. I do remember also there was a floating walking bridge there maybe in the 90’s. You could walk out on it and see traces of the rotted original bridge under the water. What happened to the walking bridge?

    1. Hi Scott, thanks, you’ve clarified this for me. The bridge I’ve been on in recent years was a walking only bridge, but did float. And yes, if you looked carefully into the water, you could see something there. I didn’t think about that being the original bridge. The walking bridge started sinking maybe 7 or 8 years ago. By 2008 it was gone and the marsh around it was much more extensive. Well, had become a big boggy area instead of water with a bit of bog near the edges. I don’t know why KCCA hasn’t replaced it. Maybe letting it go back to natural waterways or marsh? Used to be, you could walk past the camping area up to the roadway coming in from I guess the east, cross the bridge and walk back the day beach side of the lake. Now you have to turn around or walk way up in the woods and come out the west? side near the Harrietsville Road. It’s a lovely walk in the woods, but sometimes you just want to walk around the lake.

  3. I remember when I was about 20 years old and 2 friends and I ended up at the floating bridge one night when out for a drive. That was about 1980 and you could still drive up to the bridge on the east side. We walked out on the bridge and it was really in bad shape. I was out there today at the west side but never walked down to the spot. Maybe another day I will.

    1. Hi Scott, I haven’t been there since last year and even then we didn’t go all the way to the bridge end. Next time I go, I’d like to go in the Harrietsville Road way, which is closes to where the bridge was, just to see if it’s passable at all. Wish they’d put a bridge in again. Used to be nice being able to walk right around the lake. Thanks for writing, makes me think about going there soon especially with nice weather here.

  4. We go also go to Spring Water Conservation Park. These places truly are the gems of southeastern Ontario. It’s interesting out here as it’s all farm land. In England you could get in the car, drive around the countryside, park up, get out and walk wherever. It’s all private-land here, so those Conservation Parks and little lake-side towns keep me going. Lovely photos, Dorothy.

    1. Hi Carrie, yes Springwater is lovely – at all times of the year. I passed your compliment about the photos on to Jim. He bought a new Nikon camera so he’s going mad with pictures. He likes the camera, and this time of year is so spectacular. I’ve been using my new phone’s camera because there’s so many pretty shots. Not quite the same quality though (hehe)

  5. Hi Did you know Lake Whittaker was known as the bottomless lake back in my day. It also had a floating bridge at one end. I can’t remember if it was water in or out. Dad used to park the milk truck on it and it would almost sink. this would be around 1948 or so. I’m sure aunt Erie or Verna could tell you more. Allan

    1. Hi – I think I’ve heard about the bottomless lake. I remember being on the floating bridge – it was great. There was a bridge when I came back. it sort of floated. But Dad looked at it with me and said no, it wasn’t a true floating bridge like the old one. The bridge is gone now, unfortunately. It’s a big swamp at that end, and I don’t know if it’s water in or out either. It’s water everywhere! Unless you go way up through the woods, you can’t circle the lake. Don’t know if it’s lack of money on the part of Kettle Creek Conservation Authority or some plan to let it be in a “natural” state. It’s too bad though. I used to time Jack and me going around it – 37 minutes was our best time ever. Why did Dad park the milk truck on the bridge? Just for something to do? Glad you wrote.

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