This is an excerpt from the soon to be released Day Hikes of Ontario Vol. II.
Terra Cotta Conservation Area is one of ten parks under the jurisdiction of Credit Valley Conservation or CVC. It includes, wetlands, ponds and some 15km of hiking trails within it’s nearly 200h.
From about 1947, this area was used as a full-blown, privately owned, recreation facility with paved parking lots, swimming pools, campsites and everything that goes with that, including concession buildings and pavilions. Then, about 1958 the CVC began to acquire acreage with the idea of creating conservation land. The concept of gaining land for recreational revenue was, at the time, an enticing idea, for the revenue would help pay for the conservation land being acquired.
By 1979, there was a shift in thinking about the CVC priorities. It went from recreation, followed by conservation, to conservation before recreation. About 1990 a new master plan (Hough, Stansbury, Woodland Limited, et al.) placed an “emphasis on the protection of the environmentally significant portions of the parkland and provision of passive recreational uses.” While recreational facilities were still being considered, there was a shift Since about 1990, the land has been slowly and carefully managed back to its original state. The paved parking lots have been revegetated, the pools removed and replaced with award winning wetlands and the campgrounds have been re-planted with native vegetation. Now, visitors can enjoy the conservation area in a more natural state, closer to what it was like prior to European settlement, an outstanding example of the Niagara Escarpment, a UNESCO designated World Biosphere Reserve.
Begin your visit at the Visitors Welcome Centre (A). Refreshment, maps and washrooms. In the winter you can rent XC skis and snowshoes. Call ahead for hours of operation 905-877-1120.
Terra Cotta Lane 3.2km loop
This is a good place to start, if you haven’t explored the area before. The loop takes you throughout the park, and touches on some of the highlights of the history and topography of the park. Starting and ending in the parking lot, there are other, one-way trails that will connect you to the Vaughan and McGregor Springs walks. It’s an easy trail, along an old access road. Most, if not of it, is wheelchair accessible, but as always, call ahead to confirm condition of trail. The trail circumnavigates Wolf Lake, named ofter original land owner, Leo Wolf. In the winter, Wolf Lake is a great spot for ice skating or hockey on it’s frozen surface.
McGregor Spring Pond Trail 1.2km loop
This trail leads north and west from the parking lot, along the northern edge of Spring Pond and up into the rolling hills above the water’s edge. It makes it’s way through mixed forest in a westerly direction to eventually connect with Terra Cotta Lane trail. When you get to Terra Cotta Lane, turn left and head back eastward to the parking lot and welcome centre. Of course, you can extend the walk by turning right onto Terra Cotta Lane and following it in a loop back to the parking lot.
Vaughan Trail 2.2km
The Vaughan Trail skirts the western edge of the park from it’s intersection with Spring Pond Trail in the north and then turns eastward to meet up with the western leg of the AF Coventry trail in the SE. This is a little more advanced trail with lots of ups and downs, not to mention that the footing is a little sketchy due to tree roots and rocks. Hiking boots are recommended.
AF Coventry Trail 1.2km
Like the Vaughan Trail, this trail is not groomed in any way. It’s a much rougher trail, than, say the Terra Cotta Lane route and hiking boots are recommended. The trail takes the hiker across and through at least three river ravines with quite a bit of climbing and ridge walking.
Wetlands Trail – 0.6km
This trail seems accessible for wheelchairs and other mobility devices, although after a rain things may be a little dicey. The trail takes you through the man-made wetlands that have replaced a concrete swimming pool of the 80s.
On My Last Trip – 8.3km. Aug. 18, 2017
I rated this hike “moderate” mainly due to the difficult footing on the AF Coventry section and the numerous ravines that one climbs into and out of along the way.
I pulled into the main parking lot and began my visit at the Visitors Welcome Centre (A) purchased a bottle of water (I forgot mine) and spent about 30 minutes exploring in and around the Wetlands Trail at (B). I took a figure-eight route through the Wetlands trail and discovered, ducks, frogs and a small turtle.
One of the invasive wetland plant species that has been causing trouble in Ontario’s waterways is Purple-Loosestrife. It was introduced by early European settlers, primarily as a decorative plant, but it “got out,” and by the early 80s was making a major nuisance of itself; choking out native species, clogging marginal waterways, depleting nutrients in the soil and generally reducing local biodiversity.
Controls, mainly physical removal, have proven ineffective on a large scale, but may work locally, say in a local park or garden. The difficulty is that it has a substantial and widespread root system, which, if not completely removed, will garner a new purple-loosestrife plant next spring. Simply spraying with a herbicide would certainly kill the plant, but the overspray would also affect birds, bees, insects of all sorts and of course other plants, not to mention the poison getting into the very waterways that were targeted for protection in the first place.
About thirty years ago, a major search for a biological control was underway and resulted in finding three European beetles that feed almost exclusively on purple-loosestrife. One beetle eats leaves (Galerucella), another eats the flower itself and the third attacks the root. The leaf-eating beetle was finally introduced in Ontario about 1992 and the results have been a major depletion of the plant and a general conclusion that the native species are no longer under threat in Ontario’s wetlands.
In the spirit of transparency, I have no idea whether or not the beetle pictured earlier is actually the Galerucella beetle. I just saw it munching away on a purple-loosestrife flower and got it on camera.
Below, I make note of the open-air picnic shelters at (G) and (K), for along this hike they are the only two spots where one can seek shelter in the event of a heavy rain. There is also an open-air picnic shelter on the north side of the Wetlands Trail.
After exploring the Wetland Trail, I made my way out to the McGregor Spring Pond trailhead at (C) and proceeded westward through the second growth, mixed forest on a wide, wood chip and compacted soil path. The trail runs through a gently rolling landscape, gently rising to the right of the path and sloping away to a river valley and pond system on the left.
Eventually the McGregor Spring Pond trail intersects with the Vaughan trail at (D). I turned right (northward) and made my way to the stile that takes one over a fence and out of the conservation area (E) into the Jack Smyth Field Centre. Do not climb the style or go over or around the fence. The Vaughan trail continues to the left and southward, along the edge of a river valley.
At (F) you'll come to a connector trail that takes you to the Terra Cotta Lane Trail. (Of course you can continue along the Vaughan trail and meet up at (J), although the going is not as easy as the Terra Cotta Lane.) Follow the connector trail to the Terra Cotta Lane, then make a right. Follow the Terra Cotta Lane past the Picnic Shelter at (G) to the access road at (H). Turn right (southward) at (H) and carry on to (I). You can, as I did, follow the road down to the picnic area beyond (J) at (K) or you can just make a left turn onto the Vaughan trail at (I).
Either way, you’ll want to come back the Vaughan trail at (I) and continue eastward over to the AF Coventry Trail at (L). The Vaughan trail at this point is rather rough, and as noted earlier, hiking boots would be most beneficial. This is definitely one of those occasions where walking and texting is going to be problematic.
At (L) you can cut the trip short and turn left and make your way up to the parking lot just beyond the Watershed Learning Centre at (O), or, for a longer trip, turn right and follow the AF Coventry, southward, then northward all the way back up to the Watershed Learning Centre. Either way this hike ends at the Watershed Centre.
Located near the Watershed Learning Centre is the amphitheatre at (N). Throughout the summer, talks, demonstrations and evening movies take place here.