As someone who grew up on the banks of the Ganaraska River, these coat hooks invoke a surprising amount of nostalgia for me. See the grating on the concrete floor? Many a winter, I stood crammed in with my fellow classmates, peeling off 200 layers of snow gear, trying (and failing) to avoid getting my socks thoroughly soaked. We would proceed to cover ourselves in hot glue as we made pinecone Christmas trees and wreaths. We would walk steadily around a long table, dipping strings into a vat of melted beeswax to make tapered candles.
Fellow Port Hopians know exactly what I am writing about. The Ganaraska Forest stands tall in our childhoods. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when my co-worker Katie Sandwell and I travelled down last weekend to check it out. Would it stand up to the test of time, or would the trip shatter my illusions?
I can honestly say that I was blown away. Located on the Oak Ridges Moraine and in Ontario's Greenbelt, the Ganaraska Forest is HUGE at 11,000 acres. And there is so much going on. In fact, it is the largest multi-use forest in all of Southern Ontario. What does multi-use mean? Well…
Do you love hiking? Hunting? Horseback riding? ATVing?
There is literally something for everyone. And the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority wants to keep it that way.
There is a real community around the Ganaraska Forest. It seems their whole operation is built on partnerships. The snowmobile club maintains their trails. The horseback riders built their own paddock. Treetop Trekking has leased a few acres to run their courses. As the Forest Centre is primarily an educational facility, school groups get first dibs on day trips and weekend sleepovers at discounted rates.
A gorgeous still of a milkweed pod adorns the teachers lounge/wedding suite.
Hand hewn bunks from Ganaraska Forest pine for the youngsters
This forest is also a working forest. Pine plantations make up 50% of the 11,000 acres. The first European settlers cleared the old growth to eek out a farm-living. Unfortunately for them, the soil proved too sandy for any sort of farming, and so they proceeded to plant pine trees which are well-suited to the sandy, gravelly soils of the Oak Ridges Moraine.
These trees became masts for tall ships, and to this day the forest is one of the largest sources of utility poles for Ontario. While maintaining a high-functioning forestry sector, the plantations are being converted back to natural forests through the process of selective thinning and harvesting. There is no replanting, as the GRCA allows new tree growth to occur naturally.
As an avid hunter, Shayne doesn’t have to go far to find his community.
Of course, when you have so many different people utilizing the forest in a hundred different ways, there is bound to be conflict (think a biker coming up a bit too fast on a horse.) But Shayne Pilgrim, our intrepid tour guide and Forest Centre Technician, said that this is what he loves most. He meets and works with people from so many backgrounds and perspectives, that there is never a boring day. These users have a stake in the forest – ATVer’s, hikers and hunters alike would do anything to keep it pristine.
The GRCA is proving that the Greenbelt is meant to be experienced, not just looked at, and it can be done in a sustainable way. You can have forestry, a very active mountain biking group (Paul’s Dirty Enduro is one of the biggest events of the year with proceeds going to CMHA), as well as white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and an aquifer that supports salmon and native brook trout.
Check out these photos of some of the GFC's stuffed animals used for children's education programs. They have one of almost every type of waterfowl in Ontario.
Do you recognize this plant? I remember walking along this same creek with those same classmates. Our guide, who seemed ten feet tall, leaned over, picked a few bright leaves of watercress and gave them to me. ‘Spicy,’ I thought. It was the first time I had eaten anything off the ground that wasn’t candy.
Katie likes it, too!
These memories are all very tactile, very sensory. The smells of pine and beeswax, the sound of crunching snow and stamping boots on grates, the taste of weird and wonderful things, the joy and challenge of doing something new. This is part of the magic they have created. If the Ganaraska Forest is so vivid in my imagination, how must it be for thousands of other kids?
As cliché as it may sound, I can't wait to get back to the Ganny to create new memories for myself and my family. I suggest you do, too.
- Emma "Moe" Berrigan, Communications Assistant