Our area boasts some of the most well-maintained, safe, and accessible hiking trails around. While summertime may be on the muggy and buggy side, the cool temperatures, dry trails, and gorgeous colours make Fall the ideal time to enjoy what our local hiking scene offers.
The Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association has carved deep roots in the community while helping to preserve some of our most environmentally significant pieces of local landscape. According to Paul McCreath and Isobel Thorup, “The Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association was formed in 1967 to extend trail from Port Hope to the Bruce Trail near Glen Huron. The Association has grown over the years from a few dozen members to well over 500, with nine local clubs that are responsible for maintaining the trails in their own areas. Locally we have clubs in Barrie, Orillia and Oro-Medonte.”
McCreath and Thorup offered a glimpse into their favourite routes. “The most popular hiking areas are the county forests between Barrie and Orillia as well as the Copeland Forest. These are popular because they offer varied terrain and have many trails besides the Ganaraska that enable hikers to choose various loop hikes.”
Three different sections of the Ganaraska Trail intersect in the Copeland Forest, a 4,400 acre Resource Management Area in Hillsdale. David Kennedy, Board President for Copeland Forest Friends Association, says the first priority for the Association was mapping the forest and making the map available to hikers. “There are 25 km of trails in Copeland Forest, and we marked all the intersections, so they can look back to their map to find out where they are,” says Kennedy. “If they don’t have a map with them, we put up fifteen ‘You Are Here’ signs.” Ultimately, says Kennedy, “We’re trying to preserve the trails, preserve the ecology, and make sure the forest is there for future generations.”
If you’re interested in helping the Copeland Forest Friends Association, there are several exciting ways to get involved. Check out their Fall Fair Fundraiser (based out of the Horseshoe Resort Cross-Country Ski parking lot) on Saturday, September 30th from 10am-2pm for a barbeque, walks in the forest, and sports demonstrations. The Association is also looking for volunteers to test the water quality in the forest and remove pockets of invasive plant species.
Copeland Forest Friends was partially formed through another major local association: the Couchiching Conservancy. “The Conservancy was formed in 1993 by a small group of people in the Simcoe County area,” says Tanya Clark, Development Co-ordinator for the Conservancy. “They saw how some of the landscapes were changing and they were concerned about what was happening, so they all stepped up to make protecting land a priority.” Like Copeland Forest Friends, “The priority is always to hold land in trust for future generations.”
Since then, the Couchiching Conservancy has gained significant momentum. “There’s now 45 properties we help to protect, ten with established trails,” says Clark. Partnered with the Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association, the Couchiching Conservancy is raising $575,000 to purchase a 730 acre property near Washago, tentatively called “The Black River Wildlands.” “The Ganaraska Trail runs through a corner of the trail currently,” says Clark. “So, we’ve talked about extending the trail and creating more of a day loop.”
In the meantime, consider visiting Grant’s Woods just outside of Orillia, especially to see their temporary art exhibition, on display in partnership with the Orillia Museum of Art and History. Seven pieces of temporary art (check out the giant stethoscope!) will be set up on the trails until October.
by Emily Bednarz
Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association
The Couchiching Conservancy
Copeland Forest Friends Association