You’re walking on a path through the forest.
It’s no ordinary path. You’re in the shade of a massive outcropping of Niagara Escarpment dolostone, like the great wall of some long-ruined civilization now colonized by cedar roots, ferns and moss.
You continue walking through a series of canyons and if you look closely at the surfaces, you’ll find countless fossils telling a story of 450 millions years of life. You could spend days trying to spot and identify all the fossils: Honeycomb, syringopora, halysite and horn corals, as well as specimens of ancient marine animals.
The trail is well marked with white blazes, and you have a mapbook to show you the way.
A half-hour, or a few hours later – it’s up to you – and you’re back at your car. This is what the Bruce Trail offers: quick access to the natural beauty of the Niagara Escarpment. The trail is maintained by volunteers organized into nine clubs, or sections, from Niagara to Tobermory. The Sydenham Club, which stretches for 168 kilometres through Grey County, was one of the first to incorporate, 50 years ago this summer. The trail described above is the Frank Holley Loop Trail, which takes hikers into a primordial hinterland just a 15-minute drive from downtown Owen Sound. This loop is an ideal place for a Bruce Trail beginner since it takes you into the heart of the Niagara Escarpment and reveals a cross-section of its treasures in deep but easily walkable crevice-canyons.
In 2007 the club added 69 kilometres of trail known as the Bayview Extension, which heads deep into the wild Bayview Escarpment Nature Reserve west of Meaford. From the parking area on the St. Vincent-Sydenham Townline a loop trail takes you into the heart of this mini-wilderness of ancient cedar-topped Escarpment cliffs honeycombed with crevices, and maple forests paved with wildflowers. The Bayview Escarpment Side Trail joins the main trail to complete a 4.5-kilometre loop that takes you past high lookouts from the clifftop, but also boasts easy-walking sections along an old cart-track. Be careful where the trail nears the cliff, due to the long drop and to the presence of ancient white cedars, first identified here in the late 1980s by the Cliff Ecology Research Group based at the University of Guelph. Researchers found several fantastically gnarled cedars in excess of 500 years old growing on the cliff face.
After its beginnings 50 years ago, such recent additions of trail represent an ongoing success story for the Sydenham Club of the Bruce Trail, and thus for conservation and outdoor recreation in Ontario. This year the work continues with the opening of the Ron Savage Loop trail, accessible from County Road 17 north of Owen Sound. This 5.4-kilometre loop is an easy way to explore the large conservation area known as The Glen, the site of intense logging from the 1860s to the 1920s (a few stumps of the original old-growth remain), and later an agricultural area now overgrown by pine plantations and mixed forest, with stone fences of early settlers still in evidence. This loop skirts ponds and wetlands brimming with waterfowl and is a birders’ and naturalists’ paradise.
The Sydenham Club is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2012 with commemorative hikes all year, plus the official opening of the Ron Savage Side Trail followed by a gala at Cobble Beach Inn on July 15th. Club President Frank Schoenhoeffer is proud of Sydenham’s achievement and is still astounded at how quickly the trail got built back in 1962 by a force of collective will. “When you look at the pace stuff goes at now, sometimes you think it’s going pretty quickly,” he says. “But when you go back to the early days, you realize that they started with nothing. They had to approach landowners for permission, build stiles over fences, get it all going – and they built about 60 miles of trail in a year and a half.”
Check here for Bruce Trail travel experiences in Grey County.