ROCK GLEN CONSERVATION AREA
Right from the beginning the kids were excited about going to look for fossils at Rock Glen Conservation Area near Arkona in southwestern Ontario. Although they aren’t keen about all of my ideas for fun family outings, their interest was piqued when I told them we'd be able to find and keep our very own fossils. I think my six-year-old was hoping to find dinosaur fossils, but he wasn’t at all disappointed when I told him we’d be looking for brachiopods, trilobites and fossilized horn coral instead. I mean – Brontosaurus, Brachiopod – they both sound impressive!
Rock Glen Conservation Area is owned and operated by the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority and includes 27 hectares of beautiful scenery, history and geologically significant formations. Paleontology wannabes will be interested to know Rock Glen features some of the best Devonian Era fossils in all of North America. Because the area was once the bottom of an ocean floor, the remains of fossilized marine life still exist in abundance today. All along the steam bed there are large and small limestone rocks. Embedded in some of the larger slabs of rock, fossils are visible, and, lying scattered on the ground, smaller fossils are easily found. My nine-year-old found an excellent sample of what we decided was horn coral before we even climbed down the steep wooden stairs toward the stream bed and it didn’t take long before my six-year-old was running back to me with his hand waving in the air.
“I found a fossil. I found a fossil. Look! What is it?”
We consulted the guide map we were given upon arrival (which also shows examples and names of the most commonly found fossils) to discover he was holding the day’s first brachiopod. Not to be outdone, my nine-year-old started searching in earnest.
Although each visitor is allowed to keep only one of each type of fossil and digging for fossils is strictly forbidden, there are plenty to find on the surface, which makes the entire outing something of a treasure hunt. After we’d collected several brachiopods and pieces of fossilized coral, we had a hard time choosing which to take home and which to leave behind. And that was part of the fun – picking the perfect souvenir.
We never did find a trilobite unfortunately, but that was fine because at the end of our hike we stopped at the Arkona Lions Museum and Information Centre which has plenty of excellent fossils on display, as well as Indian artifacts from the area, including arrowheads, stone tools and pieces of pottery.
But Rock Glen Conservation Area isn’t just about fossils. It also boasts a pretty 10 metre-high waterfall that was once part of a series of grist mills built by pioneers in the mid 1800s; a shaded picnic and playground area; and lovely hiking trails that wind through a breezy sun-dappled forest, along steep 100-feet ravines, and, at places, beside the Ausable River. Because Rock Glen Conservation Area is in a transition zone – an area between the Carolinian Forest Zone to the south and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Zone to the north, there are a wide variety of trees that belong to both zones: sycamore, sassafras, black walnut and tulip trees more commonly found in the south, as well as sugar maple, beech, white elm and basswood from further north. The end result is a rustling meadow-green forest and cool patches of shade that are welcome on hot days.
Rock Glen Conservation Area also offers a wide range of educational programs for grades one to eight. These kid-centred programs, which compliment classroom learning with hands-on outdoor experiences, include such topics as Bodacious Bugs & Awesome Arachnids for the younger grades, Fantastic Fossils for the older grades, and Wacky Weather & Climate Change for the middle grades. They also offer full-day nature programs and special walk-and-talk events for those who are long past school age.
Our Rock Glen fossils are now proudly displayed on our coffee table at home where visitors can pick them up and examine them and find out from my six-year-old that even though they aren’t from dinosaurs, they’re from the bottom of an ancient ocean, which apparently is just as good.
For more information on the Rock Glen Conservation Area go to www.abca.on.ca or contact the Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority at 519-235-2610.
Christina Kilbourne is an avid outdoor enthusiast and writer. She is the author of four novels, including Dear Jo, winner of the 2009 Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award , the 2010 Saskatchewan Snow Willow Award in 2010 and the 2010 British Columbia Red Cedar Award. She lives in Bracebridge with her family and various four-legged creatures.