Stories to Tell
Conservation Areas are full of adventure and are just waiting to be explored! There are so many great stories to tell about visits to these natural gems, and we have shared some of our experiences and the experiences of others with you on this page. We encourage you to browse through the stories below and then Step Into Nature with family and friends to create your own ‘story to tell’!
What A Rush
Have you ever heard the rumble of a waterfall before you’ve actually seen it? Do you remember how your adrenalin pumps faster as you get closer to the thundering sound? It’s almost as if your heart is trying to match the power pounding beyond the next bend in the path.
That’s what happened when we visited at the Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area just east of North Bay. As we walked along the banks of the Amable du Fond River, watching the water beside us gather speed, we also quickened our pace. But when we actually saw the rushing intensity of the water, my heart stopped completely and I reached out for my six-year-old to be sure he also stopped. I didn’t have to worry about my nine-year-old – she was standing well back from the 18-metre cliff (60 feet) and hugging a tree for safety. It was my husband who walked straight up and peered over the edge, then turned back with his eyebrows raised. The power of the water rushing through the Eau Claire Gorge as it drops 12 metres (40 feet) is sure to impress even the hard-to-impress and although I snapped several pictures, there was no way to accurately capture the experience.
Perhaps the most electrifying part of visiting the Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area, which is owned and operated by the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority, is that there were no fences, no gates and no barriers between us and the thundering water. We were surrounded by astounding natural features - the Amable du Fond River; the rocky Eau Claire Gorge itself; a gorgeous forest full of towering pine trees, blueberry bushes and a surprising variety of wild mushrooms - and we could reach out and touch all of it if we wanted.
The Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area, which is accessible from Hwy 17, is a little way off the beaten path, which makes it all the more attractive to families who want to picnic in private, then explore the forest without being overheard. Because of the privacy we felt, when we did see other families on the trail we were happy to exchange a few words and pass along bits of advice, such as “be sure to put on bug repellent when you get away from the river”.
The trail that stretches beside the river doubles as a portage route for canoe trippers. I was glad I didn’t have a canoe on my back as I climbed the steep slope toward the lookout. We followed the trail as it wound through the forest, up high over the falls, then along the bank of the tumbling river until the water finally sighed, relaxed and slowed its pace below the narrow rock cut. Because the trails are only a couple of kilometers in length and interconnect, it is easy to find a distance to suit your family. The trails are well-marked and maintained, although I recommend you take good footwear, especially if it has rained recently as parts of the trail can be wet.
The area around the Eau Claire Gorge has seen a lot of history – from several forest fires that swept through in the mid 1800s to Hurricane Hazel that left its mark in 1954. It also saw its share of logging, starting in the 1850s, when the Amable du Fond river provided an essential link to the lumber mills downriver in the Mattawa and Ottawa areas. Because of the dangerous gorge, a log slide was built in the 1870s to divert logs to the calmer water below. Evidence of the log slide still exists at the Eau Claire Conservation Area and looks like a narrow channel dug through the forest. At the height of logging, however, it measured up to 3.9 meters (13 feet) and was wide enough for four to five logs to pass through at one time.
When the area was logged, timber was cut during the winter and piled on the ice to await the spring melt when lumbermen would then guide the logs downstream. During this time the loggers established camps along the river and a shanty was built for the lumbermen close to the slide. Today a reconstructed logger’s shanty sits to the side of one of the trails to remind visitors of the area's rich history. More information about the history and geological formation of the Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area is available from the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Area and corresponds to numbered posts along the trails.
There are more than 250 conservation areas across Ontario offering a range of outdoor experiences. Many have interpretive signs or brochures to help enhance your experience. To find a conservation area near you with educational and interpretive opportunities, go to www.ontarioconservationareas.ca and type ‘education’ into the search box.
A logger's shanty has been reconstructed along one of the hiking trails