Walks in Nature: Robert Johnston Eco Forest
Location: 15-20 minutes outside of Peterborough
Naturality: 4 out of 5
Gear: Sensible shoes, and water on a hot day.
Watch out for: Roots, rocks.
Continuing my quest to find nature areas in and around Peterborough, a misadventure brought myself and my roommate to the Robert Johnston Eco Forest. Had we approached directly from Peterborough, and not taken a very long detour, we would have driven out Parkhill Road East for 15 minutes. It’s not on Google Maps, but there is some information on the trails online.
The area is surrounded by rolling farmland, which is scenic enough by itself. We initially drove past the parking lot, since it is pretty nondescript and not very well signed. The free entry made it worth it!
I have to say, it was a perfect day to go. The sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot, and the fall colours were just starting to make their appearance. The trails were very well-marked and all of them looped so it was impossible to get lost. The trails also sported very rustic, comfortable, and frequent benches.
The main trail was mulched, but it was very short. We then joined a boardwalk and wandered around the trails. Each was well-labeled with a certain plant or animal. A porta-potty stood just a few feet in from the entrance. I can’t attest to the cleanliness or lack thereof, but it was good to know it was there.
The trees transitioned between grouped pine, cedar, and birch. While they were obviously planted, which may ruin the natural aesthetic for some avid naturalists, it was incredibly enjoyable. For the most part the walking was flat and easy going. Only a few tree roots and rocks threatened our toes and ankles. One or two trees were down across the path, but they were easy to climb over. The deer trail, however, was a little more of an incline. It is best for those with injuries or canes to avoid this section, but for us young folk with sound bodies it was a small challenge. Bear in mind as winter comes that particular trail will get slippery, especially if we get as much freezing rain as last year!
Also on the deer trail, we encountered a shockingly well-constructed shelter. It didn’t look like anyone was living there, more like someone had fun building an emergency shelter. We also encountered a few large piles of rock. There is a similar pile in the Drumlin behind Lady Eaton College, which my T.A. said was from farmers trying to make the field suitable for plowing and planting. If that’s the case for the rock piles in Robert Johnston, it’s a cool piece of history to see.
There was a fair bit of garbage and abandoned appliances and farm equipment on the edge of the forest. The refuse was on the neighboring farmer’s land, which was easy to tell since the trails are surrounded by a wooden fence. It wasn’t completely immersion-breaking, but it did look like some critter was living in the old camper with the broken door. Beyond that, the trails were clean. A bonus was that there was no road noise!
There was a little wildlife. We heard and saw some very vocal Blue-Jays, which I regrettably did not capture a photo of before they flew away. Signs of other small animals like tracks and bent grass were present as well. Just off the main, mulched, path there is a little pond with dozens of frogs and toads. Be warned, it did get mucky by the pond. My hiking boots were quite muddy, and I banged them off before getting into the car. It’s worth the dirt to hear the frogs croaking and the wind rustling the dry reeds.
We encountered very few people, which may have been because we went before the height of the afternoon. On our way out we met two families, both with off-leash dogs. They were entirely friendly (both the canines and humans), but best to be aware if dogs aren’t your thing.
We did all the trails and it took us about 30-40 minutes. While not long enough to be an afternoon walk nor a run, it was a nice little escapade and welcomed break from studying. If the weather isn’t hot, you don’t really need water. And there is something to be said for walks that only require a pair of shoes. It is the perfect trail for new hikers and nature lovers, or for those who haven’t been hiking in a while.
Although not as unique as the Warsaw Caves (part one to this series) the Eco Forest offered a welcome taste of the bush and wilderness. Besides, it does not do to compare wilderness. I crave the outdoors and to feel like I have left civilization behind. The Eco Trails weren’t quite that, but it’s relative shortness, easy walking, and naturality makes it perfect for students. The only strike is that it is only accessible to those with access to a vehicle. I have a feeling I’ll be a frequent visitor in the months to come. Perhaps I’ll meet you on the trails!