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Rural routes into urban: Day 7

Intersection at Carmel Koch and Notre Dame roads to Stamm Woodlot

I think I’m down to one more hike to finish off the Avon Trail. Day 7 took me and my friend, Jen, to kilometre 105. By my calculations, that leaves 16km left before I reach the end of the trail. The last leg will be one long hike or two shorter ones. I’m imagining finishing it in sunshine, sweaty but not too sweaty, face glowing from the effort, and a glorious sense of accomplishment. Worthy of a trip to the closest pub to raise a pint to achievement. Stay tuned.

The hike this past Sunday was half glorious and half boring roadwalking. The first part, from the intersection at Carmel Koch and Notre Dame outside St. Agatha, wound us through beautiful woodlots on rolling hills. The paths were dry, and sometimes wide enough to walk side by side. What is beautiful to me, as someone who has now walked most of this trail from St. Mary’s to Conestogo, is what a great job the Avon Trail Association has done in working out arrangements for hikers to use private land. In fact, much of the trail is on private land. Both woodlots that we went through on Sunday were private: Musselman Woods and Schneiders Bush. The trails are well-kept, and hikers are urged to keep the trail code at all times:

  1. Hike only along marked routes. Do not take shortcuts.

  2. Do not climb fences or open gates; use the stiles.

  3. Respect the privacy of the people living along the trail.

  4. Leave flowers and plants for others to enjoy. Protect trees and shrubs. Never strip off bark.

  5. Protect and do not disturb wildlife or farm animals. Do not feed them.

  6. Keep dogs on a leash at all times.

  7. Leave the trail cleaner than you found it. Carry out all litter.

  8. No camping or fires are permitted.

  9. Remember: You use the trail at your own risk.

  10. Leave only footprints, take only photographs.

In a way, the hiker’s code is really a code for life. But maybe I’ll write about that another time.

The woodlots were idyllic – shady, cool, full of birdsong and insect buzz. And they were bordered by meadows or farm fields, where the monarch butterflies hovered over wildflowers. Jen has an eagle eye for spotting the trail markers on trees, and she also spied a couple of hummingbirds drinking nectar in a patch of touch-me-nots. Up hills, through mature forest tracts, down hills we went.

We stopped in a couple places to enjoy the view – one where the woods ended to overlook rolling fields that fell away in front of us, and we could see tall condos and apartment buildings in Waterloo in the distance. The second place was looking over Sunfish Lake, which is more of a pond, really, but a large enough pond that there are cottages rimming it. It was in these two places that we saw most of the only other people on our hike. These woods are popular for walks in the summer, but only open to skiers in the winter.

This first part of this leg of the trail was truly lovely. And it was over too soon. We eventually got to Wilmot Line, where the trail begins to follow the roads until it gets close to Stamm Woodlot, where we planned to finish up for the day. We ate lunch at the side of Wilmot Line. For a Sunday, the number of trucks and SUVs driving at high rates of speed down the road was quite unpleasant, but thankfully, most of them turned while our trail continued down the line to Conservation Drive. On some less-used country roads, the plants in the ditches are quite interesting – wild grapes, wild raspberry bushes, bulrushes, and any number of wildflowers can all be seen in their glory on a summer’s day. On busy sideroads, all those beautiful plants are covered in dust, and so it was on these roads. The effect is something between looking at a ghostly gathering of differently shaped leaves and the ashen afters of a forest fire. The birds don’t like flitting through these plants, and neither do the insects. Even the trees were covered in dust. So, it’s a deathly walk of dust along a gravel road. Conservation Drive, however, is paved, with no gravel shoulder, and runs for a bit along some open fields marked with wellheads, possibly for further development.

The Region of Waterloo’s Official Plan (2010-2030) preserves fixed boundaries between urban and rural development, but the large rural properties along this road are being crowded by the large subdivisions on the edge of Waterloo. It may be hard for farmers to hold out against the promise of developers’ dollars.

Right on the edge of the city, as large cookie-cutter houses loom only metres away, the trail takes a left off Conservation Drive and heads down a dead-end road that turns into a community trail leading behind houses – we said hello to a few people enjoying their afternoon on their back decks – on the right, and with farm fields and a healthy and very large community garden on the left. We missed a turn – the trail wasn’t clearly marked here – but we found our way back to it on a trail that runs between two stormwater ponds and into Stamm Woodlot.

The woodlot is a sugar maple bush strung with a main pipeline for maple syrup. Some of the trees were marked with numbers, presumably to hook up the secondary lines from them to feed into the main line, which hung like a thick blue slackline among the trees. The trail through this bush was too short; walking in forests is one of my favourite kinds of trails, and I always feel a bit of disappointment as the trail ends. As we emerged onto Benjamin Road, we could see St. Jacobs market in the distance, another few kilometres away. It was tempting to go further, but we opted to save that for next time.

As we waited on the side of Benjamin Road for our ride home, many cyclists passed, and two buggies pulled by horses moving at a lazy clip passed by. The buggies were filled with Mennonite women in bonnets and flowered dresses; in each, one woman sat with her arm looped over the back of the seat, in the exact manner as the woman in the other one. A third woman in the front buggy raised her forefinger in the rural salute to say hello to us as they passed by, flashing a smile when we waved back.

However much the city encroaches on the countryside here in Waterloo Region, there will always be reminders that our settler history lies in the farm fields and forests around the city limits. And that rural life endures in the capable hands of farmers, market farmers, Mennonites and the Amish around the region. I think that’s one of the things I love most about living here.

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