BAXTER CONSERVATION AREA
From the beach to the boardwalk to the nutgrove, and everywhere in between, Baxter Conservation Area is sure to entertain
It was a perfect summer afternoon. I’m sure you know the type: the kind of weather that makes you itch to throw on your running shoes and get outdoors. I hopped in the car and a short drive from Ottawa later, between Manotick and Kemptville, I reached the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority’s Baxter Conservation Area.
One of the first sights that greeted me as I left my car in the parking lot was a large solar panel. Intrigued, I wandered over to the display and followed the interpretive signs describing solar energy and its uses. I learned that the glinting structure in front of me provides power to the Baxter Centre and, when it produces a surplus, to the area’s power grid.
The gentle breeze and bright sun made me feel energized too, and I was anxious to try out some of the five kilometers of hiking trails offered at Baxter. I set off down the boardwalk of the Fiddlehead Trail, keeping my feet dry although it had rained earlier that day. The Fiddlehead Trail takes its name from the tightly curled leaves of the young ferns that edge the trail in springtime. Along the trail you’ll find a series of interpretive signs, complementing your recent lesson in solar energy with information on other topics like fossil fuels and life in the forest.
Frogs frolicked alongside the boardwalk, basking in sunny patches of the marshy area then making me jump also as they suddenly hopped and splashed about. I kept my eyes open for woodpeckers as I heard a tell-tale rapping overhead. If you look at the hemlock trees along the trail, you’ll probably notice hundreds of tiny holes dotting their trunks. Eastern Hemlocks thrive in Baxter’s cool moist soil, and, as you may guess by their name, yellow bellied sap suckers drink the sap. Several other species of woodpeckers also make their home in the forest.
The green canopy overhead disappeared as I left the forest and entered a wide, open wetland. Like a giant sponge, the marsh at Baxter soaks up water as the snow melts in spring and during rainfalls, which helps to prevent flooding. It’s also a habitat for beavers, muskrats, ducks, geese, turtles, great blue herons, osprey… the list goes on, but for the moment all I was thinking about was the soothing swish of the breeze through the marsh grasses. I paused for a moment, lulled by the serenity of my surroundings, bobbing gently above the water.
I reached the other side of the marsh and crossed into the Fillmore R. Park Nutgrove. This area, a cooperative project of the Eastern Chapter of the Society of Ontario Nut Growers and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, was first planted in 1979 and contains about thirty varieties of nut and bean bearing trees. Included among the species grown here are the Chinese Chestnut, Ginko, and Kentucky Coffee Tree. The trees weren’t weighed down with ripe nuts as they would be in the fall, but I walked around and checked out their progress so far. The distinctive long pods of the Kentucky Coffee Tree were easy enough to recognize, although they were still a pretty but unripe shade of sunset pink. The tree grows naturally in Essex and Lambton Counties, and takes its name from the early settlers in Kentucky who used the seeds as a substitute for coffee. Examining some of the other trees, I found some green hickory nuts growing steadily, as well as some teeny buds that would soon pop into acorns on an oak tree.
Looping around a total of 2.2 kilometers, The Fiddlehead Trail makes for a pleasant stroll of about 45 minutes. All connected to the Fiddlehead Trail, the Grouse, Hare, Alder, and Cattail trails allow more enthusiastic hikers to branch off on other adventures.
If you still have energy left, you can take a dip at the sandy beach, look for things that slither or swim at the pond, stroll through the community wildflower garden, or run around the playfield. With so many possibilities in a spectacular outdoor setting, you’re free to be as energetic or as leisurely as you like. You choose the activity, Baxter is sure to provide the fun.
Melissa Rodgers is a student at Carleton University. Her passions include history, cooking, reading, and the great outdoors.