A couple of weeks ago, RailGuy and I headed up to Arnprior, north and west of Ottawa, to hike the Macnamara Nature Trail. The trailhead is just outside downtown Arnprior, in an industrial area. The trail runs in part through the property of Nylene Canada Inc. At the trailhead, you can pick up a helpful guide. It highlights 19 stops along the trail with information about the natural and human history relevant to each location.
The four kilometre long trail (five if you include the optional sidetrail to the marsh lookout) is well-marked and nicely maintained, with benches thoughtfully placed at the top of a few modestly demanding climbs. Near the trailhead, there was quite a bit of traffic and commercial noise, but we weren’t far along the trail before the sounds of industry fell away and the quiet of the forest prevailed. Comprised mostly of deciduous trees, the woodland is open and pretty.
A section of the trail travels through the upper reaches of the wetland and features a sturdy boardwalk. At the edge of the boardwalk, we spotted the red berries of Jack-in-the-Pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum). You can readily see the source of its scientific name, three-leaves, triphyllum.
The remains of an old lime kiln provide evidence of early industrial activity in the forest. The kiln was built by the McLachlin Lumber Company in the mid-to-late 19th century. The rocky ground, part of the Canadian Shield, is mainly marble and limestone. The igloo-like kiln was stocked with firewood and used to heat broken chunks of rock. When water was added to the burnt rock, it produced slaked lime (Calcium hydroxide), a product used as mortar in brickwork or as paint (whitewash).
Not far from the lime kiln remains, a set of stairs allows hikers to get a close-up look at the rock face.
There are a few points of interest here. In the little den formed by the facets of rock, there are piles of oval droppings. They are evidence that the den has been popular with porcupines over many years.
But the main attraction is the colony of rare Walking Ferns (Asplenium rhizophyllum). Their name is derived from the manner in which they reproduce. Whenever the long, pointed tip of a leaf-like frond touches down, a new frond can sprout up. A parent plant can thus create several generations of fronds via vegetative reproduction as it ‘steps’ across the rock. Walking Ferns are calciphiles, lovers of calcium-rich soils. Walking Ferns can be found in shady spots on limestone ledges and in limey forest places.
The rock also features a foliose lichen, perhaps an Umbilicaria species, known as Rock Tripe.
Back on the main trail, I notice this burl, or burr, high up on a tree. It looked for all the world like a small animal with its limbs wrapped around the tree. Burls are tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner. They are the result of some sort of stress suffered by the tree, perhaps from an injury, virus or fungus.
We followed the sidetrail to the marsh lookout. To the east, the wetland is more marshy, while to the west, it is swampy, with trees growing into the wet area. Off in the distance, you can just make out Goodwin’s Bay and the Ottawa River. The marsh floods in the spring when the Ottawa River rises, carrying a flush of nutrients into the wetland.
There were splashes of bright yellow flowers sprinkled through the wetland, Nodding Bur-Marigolds (Bidens cernua).
There was quite a bit of diversity in the forest groundcover. Some areas of the forest floor were dressed in a variety of ferns, while other regions featured a groundcover of club moss. One section of the trail was bordered by the heart-shaped leaves of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense).
When we came to a stand of Eastern Hemlock trees, we looked for the work of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. We had a family of sapsuckers nest in a large, old maple tree this summer, and I often saw them flitting about the garden, where their preferred tree to tap was a little locust. I didn’t know that sapsuckers are partial to hemlock trees until I read it in the guide. Sure enough, the neat rows of sap wells that the sapsuckers drill were readily apparent.
After passing through the hemlock grove, we continued back to the parking lot. These are just some of the highlights of our hike. The Macnamara Nature Trail was named after Charles Macnamara (1870-1944), a naturalist and photographer who loved these woodlands. A gifted amateur, he identified six species of springtails (Collembolans), and one species is named after him. The trail is a wonderful memorial to Macnamara. The guide book, provided by the Macnamara Field Naturalists’ Club, really enhances visitor understanding and enlivens the hike. This was one of our favorite hiking trails, and it is well worth visiting.
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