We were dogsitting the corgis this weekend. Saturday was so beautiful, sunny and just a bit cool, that we wanted to get in a hike. We had some shopping errands to run, and didn’t want to overchallenge the rather tubby Pookie, so decided to try out the Stonebridge Trail in Barrhaven. Barrhaven is a suburb of Ottawa, and like suburbia everywhere, features acres and acres of streets and houses and big box stores. However, a narrow buffer zone has been maintained along the little Jock River and the larger Rideau into which it flows.
The trailhead offers a large parking lot and the trail itself is gravelled, smooth and undemanding. However, even though you are rarely out of sight of housing, the trail is surprisingly pleasant, with views of the rivers as it meanders through forested strips. Near the parking lot are large playing fields. We were surprised to see a game in progress, not of the commonplace soccer, but of cricket! It’s not a common sport in Canada and I can’t recall seeing a game in progress before.
The Jock River has its beginnings in Goodwood Marsh near Franktown and meanders 72 kilometres (45 mi) until it empties into the Rideau River north of Manotick. Its watershed drains 551 square kilometres (213 sq mi) of land. The Jock is named after an early 19th-century drowning victim, but the river looked calm and serene on this day, with rafts of Canada geese dotting its surface here and there.
After circumventing the playing fields, the trail enters woods. Occasional apple trees are reminders of the area’s former use as farmland. The Barrhaven area was first inhabited by First Nations people, but by the early 19th century, had been settled by European farmers. In the 1960s, Mel Barr purchased a 200 acre farm and began the construction of the first of the suburban subdivisions in the region that bears his name.
The various subdivisions of Barrhaven include older homes from these early days of development and more recent builds. In the 1990s, a building boom in the region saw a huge expansion of housing here. The newer subdivisions include some of the latest in green construction technology. Stonefield Flats in Minto’s Chapman Mills development offers (according to the builder Minto’s website) the largest LEED for Homes community in Canada, with leading edge energy-efficient houses.
One of the landmarks along the trail is a home with a small observatory in the backyard.
The trail leads under the overpass for a busy road. When we stopped by the riverside, the water appeared to be clear and clean, but the dogs declined to have a drink there. Perhaps there noses were telling them something about the water quality. An EPA site says this about runoff into rivers that run through populated regions:
Runoff pollution is that associated with rainwater or melting snow that washes off roads, bridges, parking lots, rooftops, and other impermeable surfaces. As it flows over these surfaces, the water picks up dirt and dust, rubber and metal deposits from tire wear, antifreeze and engine oil that has dripped onto the pavement, pesticides and fertilizers, and discarded cups, plastic bags, cigarette butts, pet waste, and other litter. These contaminants are carried into our lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans.
In fact, the yearly road runoff from a city of 5 million could contain as much oil as one large tanker spill. There’s a really excellent article about unseen sources of pollution at SeetheSea.Org.
The trail is impressively long, running for a number of miles. We stopped for a rest at a bench offering a view of the Rideau River before heading back. The view was somewhat obstructed by an ugly fence, presumable intended to protect the foolish from themselves and the bank of the river from further erosion caused by people scrambling up and down.
In spite of the close proximity of a large community, the trail offers plenty to see. A number of really large, beautiful trees, including old maples and oaks, border the trail. I also noticed a large walnut tree, not a common species in this region.
In open areas there were asters and goldenrod and milkweed and grasses. The forest had interesting ferns and other flora. We could hear chickadees calling and excavations in the trees gave evidence of the presence of woodpeckers.
We passed quite a few bikers, including parents with young riders, and joggers and dogwalkers. However, there was a notable absence of children exploring on their own, playing, paddling, mucking about. Where were they? I was reminded of Richard Lou’s treatise, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
As we were reaching the trailhead, we encountered the only children we saw that were actually looking closely, interacting with nature. Two young girls with their parents were opening milkweed pods and watching the fluffy parachutes fly away.
The hike was a pleasant way to enjoy the day, and just right to tucker out Pookie, not to mention us.