Hard to believe it’s been four weeks since our last microadventure at Terra Cotta Conservation Area. Not that the break wasn’t fun. It included a glamping trip in Killarney and a day at the Outdoor Adventure Show, where we gathered information for our summer trips and bought a new tent (can’t wait to start using it). Plus there was our son’s birthday, which we spent bouldering at Boulderz (we had a blast and it only took three days to regain the use of my arms). So all in all the time was well spent.
Nonetheless, we were ready to go back to our Saturday microadventuring, and even a sudden return of winter couldn’t stop us. We did decide to sweeten that biting cold a bit by going to the Maple Syrup Festival at Mountsberg Conservation Area. It is the time of the year here in Ontario when maple syrup is on everybody’s lips, both literally and figuratively. Last year we got our share of maple sweetness at Kortright Centre. This year we thought we’d try a place we hadn’t visited before.
Mountsberg is one of the Conservation Halton parks located in Campbellville about 40 minutes away from Toronto. It is a perfect destination for families with kids. The park features 16 kilometres of nature trails meandering through woods, wetlands and along a water reservoir. There is a big play barn to climb, jump and roll around among straw bales, and an actual animal barn with goats, sheep, horses, chicken and bunnies. There is also a birds of prey centre with regular shows throughout the day. And don’t forget the Maple Town, where we began our visit.
The 1.5-kilometre Sugar Bush Trail starts on the other side of the railway tracks, less than five minutes away from the parking lot. But if you don’t want to walk or would like to arrive in style, you can catch a ride in a tractor-pulled wagon.
This short, dotted with blue pails trail is packed with activities featuring various maple syrup production methods: from wood troughs and hot stones to iron cauldrons and flat pans to modern day steel contraptions.
There is also a candy cabin where we were treated to maple sugar and some fascinating facts about the “sugar producing factories” we have so many of here in Canada. We then discussed tapping other trees. Back in Ukraine, for instance, birch “juice”, which is technically birch sap, is a very popular drink. Although I’ve never heard of it been made into syrup. That would an interesting experiment to try.
The most important part of the trail was the pancake pavilion, of course. Out of habit we ordered a family meal, even though our family has been reduced by a quarter now that the Student is back at school. Then again eight pancakes didn’t seem like a lot until we saw the size of them. My husband took on the challenge with remarkable resolve but even he was defeated. We packed leftovers and they tasted great the next morning. What I loved most about the experience was that every bit of utensils and dishes used were compostable. There was even a special composting station right outside. Wooden forks and knives were my favourite.
With pancakes in our stomachs, we were ready to explore other trails. We headed to the reservoir where we came across a viewing platform. The lake was a white smooth sheet with geese and swans barely visible but very clearly heard in the distance.
The biting wind chased us back onto the trail so we circled back to the trailhead. Along the way we passed Swallowville — rows and rows of neatly lined houses waiting for their tenants.
Once back at the start of the trail, we took the Pioneer Creek Trail, which promised a lime kiln along the way. After the kilns we saw at Limehouse Conservation Area, this one was a bit of a disappointment.
By the time we finished our hike, we were freezing so we got into an animal barn for some warmth and a lot of entertainment. The sheep were the most fun to watch and listen to.
Our final stop was the Raptor Centre. Sounds like Jurassic Park, which it is, in a way, considering birds are descendents of dinosaurs. The Raptor Centre houses injured or raised in captivity birds of prey who wouldn’t survive in the wild. Each pen has an information panel with the birds’ names, how they came to Mountsberg and some facts about the species. Through their work, the Raptor Centre not only helps the birds but also raises awareness about the dangers they face due to human activity.
We met a couple of bald eagles, a golden eagle, different types of hawks, but my favourite were the owls. Our son read all their stories, called them all by name and talked to them like he usually does to our cat. I think that was our favourite part of the visit, even better than the pancakes.