ROCKWOOD CONSERVATION AREA
Not long after summer vacation started, my daughter asked if we’d be visiting more conservation areas this summer. After dragging her and her brother along on several outings last summer and making them pose for a gazillion pictures, I thought they’d be wary of any further attempts to take them exploring.
“Are you sure you want to do that again?” I asked, remembering the overnight road trip last summer when we managed to visit four different Conservation Areas in two days.
“It was fun,” she said eagerly. I could tell she meant it.
That’s what led us to Rockwood Conservation Area, owned and operated by the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) and located near Guelph. With her cousin and grandmother along for the ride, my daughter was ready for a day of adventure.
Luckily, Rockwood delivers.
For the adults, it is interesting to note that much of Rockwood Conservation Area is designated as Provincially Significant by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and as Core Greenland by the County of Wellington. In addition to its unique geology, Rockwood Conservation Area is home to over 300 plant and animal species, a variety of types of wetlands, and cedar trees that date 300 to 500 years. But for kids, the potholes, caves, stone ruins and beach mean the most.
The truth is Rockwood has something to entice everyone. There are gorgeous hiking trails, a beautiful mix of trees, over 200 glacially-carved potholes, a network of 12 solution caves, picturesque stone ruins, towering limestone cliffs, a sandy beach, and paddle boat and canoe rentals.
When we first arrived it was still early and a bit cold for swimming so we decided to hike along the Gilbert MacIntyre Memorial Trail, out to the stone ruins and beyond that, to the caves. As soon as we started, the kids skipped ahead, excited by the unusual limestone formations and the sense that there was something new to discover around every bend. The trail was well maintained and very picturesque and with the sun sifting through the branches of the gnarled white cedars and the Eramosa River flanking the route, there were lots of great opportunities for photos.
At the first sight of roofless rock walls stretching into the sky, the kids, with the enthusiasm of Indiana Jones, shot off again to do more exploring. The stone ruins, which have been the backdrop of both film productions and TV commercials, were part of a woolen mill, originally built of wood in 1867 and then rebuilt with stone in 1884. Those same stone walls are still standing and sometimes become a historical venue for weddings. The Rockwood Woolen Mills operated until 1933 and during the first world war supplied the Canadian Army with woolen blankets.
Not far beyond the ruins we found the caves. Although we hadn’t brought flashlights and couldn’t explore beyond the initial caverns, we saw other kids scrabbling through narrow openings and heard voices echoing from beyond the cool domes of limestone. Although the ruins and the caves were the highlight of our hike, there were many other sights along the way to appreciate, including a memorial forest, a man-made dam, canal and waterfall, and a wide variety of ferns, some of which are rare in Ontario.
After the caves, we headed back to the beach for lunch. We’d brought a picnic cooler, but couldn’t resist ordering fresh, hot French fries from the concession stand at the pavilion. With lunch digesting and the cooler back in the car, the kids played on the beach while their grandmother and I soaked up the sunny day and summer scenery. When the kids came back to the picnic table looking for something new to do, we rented a paddleboat and took turns exploring the small back bays created from the upper mill pond and its dam. While we pedaled our way along the base of limestone cliffs, other people canoed, others fished and others played in the water. Rockwood is one of nature’s best playgrounds.
“Wait!” my son said as we pulled out of the park late in the afternoon. “We haven’t gone mini-putting yet.”
“Maybe next time,” I said, disappointed we hadn’t brought our camping gear. It would have been nice to spend a couple of nights.
The Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) operates more than 2,500 campsites and 12 conservation areas in total, the earliest of which opened to the public in 1954. For more information on Rockwood Conservation Area or one of their other parks, go to www.grandriver.ca and look for Parks and Camping.
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.