Huntsville has always been a part of my existence, and I am ashamed to say that it has taken me a lifetime to realize that Hunter’s Bay Trail is a fantastic trail! Though my pals often spoke of the virtues of this trail, I was just content to stay in the forest. The Muskoka Trails Council Blog Project brought me to walk this historical path, that meanders between Hunter’s Bay on Fairy Lake and the railway tracks, for the first time.
It was so interesting, I had a hard time focusing on any one area of the Abiotic, Biotic, and Cultural triangle of our ecosystem exploration here with any brevity. This is a waterfront and water-centric trail with impressive floating boardwalks, beautiful scenery, and again, great birding.
This trail was, and still is integral to the history of Huntsville, and it shows; being peppered with relics that represent an interesting history, and by sporting a promising new floating trail extension from East Airport Road – under Highway 11 – to Lakeshore Road. Huntsville is close to becoming the Boardwalk Empire of Muskoka!
Hunter’s Bay Trail is easily accessible. There are four locations where you can park close to the trail, which allows one to adapt a route in accordance with one’s hiking abilities and those of their companions. The investment into extending the trail from East Airport Road under Highway 11 to Lakeshore Road is absolutely brilliant, as Huntsville now has a safe pedestrian connection to the other side of this major trucking route. This is a game-changer for Huntsville, as well as for the Trans Canada Trail!
We hiked Hunter’s Bay Trail near the end of October and the weather was still superb. My hiking partner was reluctant to hike in Huntsville at all, as he is a Woodsie like me, so I decided to cut the hike in two with the ultimate hope that I could manage to manipulate him into exploring the trail in its entirety (between ‘town tasks and too many errands’) by the end of the day. We began at Avery Beach and were drawn right in when we saw the boardwalk extension under construction. My plan had worked! My buddy now had a destiny with curiosity.
Though we divided our hike in two, whereas we parked in two different locations to explore the trail in a dissected fashion, this blog will explore the trail from the east end, starting at KW Pipe, and run through it westward to the new extension at the west end.
While walking along the waterfront we noticed that the soils and terrain have been repeatedly altered and effectively reflect the cultural history of Huntsville. Since Captain Hunt decided to start a community along the shores of Fairy Lake in 1869*, there has been a bustle of human activity along what is now Hunter’s Bay trail. The town seems to have been built to avoid the bedrock of the Precambrian Shield, which forms the hills above the downtown core. If there were any bedrock outcrops along the trail we didn’t pay them any mind. The trail traverses the outwash sandy soils typical to land along shorelines in Muskoka, and pockets of clay that have either existed as a true mineral pocket, or have been dug up and redistributed throughout the town’s development. The soils here have been pushed and pulled for the construction and maintenance of the rail line, as well as both the construction and destruction of several waterfront commerce operations throughout the town’s history. There have been many a fire in Huntsville. Songs have been written about them.
The rich cultural history of the trail is evident in the plant life found here too. There are many species along the trail that are inherently connected with early small-town settlements across Ontario.
There are also examples of several invasive species that arrive with modern town life. The area around Hunter’s Bay Trail has been a historical tourism and industrial corridor. It still has an active rail line used for importing goods and livestock. Plants always take advantage of the open trail by spreading their roots and seeds through manure. They sit in wait, warm and moist in the digestive tracts of livestock or migrating birds; patiently waiting to put roots down in new destinations through pooh. Whether it rattles off a train, or walks, or flies off to a new home; pooh really does help plants succeed!
The European Buckthorn is often found next to Ontario’s rail lines and in railway towns. It is much more common south of The Shield but can be found along Hunter’s Bay Trail.
There are many beautiful examples of native early-succession forest from White Birch groves to Poplar and Cherry groves along Hunter’s Bay Trail. These tree species love the sun and establish quickly after a site is disturbed. There is also a cultural grove of trees in Orchard Park; a truly historical apple orchard along the trail.
The fact that the trail meanders through a significant length of the Riparian Zone of Fairy Lake allows us to wander about the richest biodiversity area in town. Pedestrians can mingle with the array of wildlife that uses this ribbon of life for food, shelter, breeding – and for water of course. The birding is excellent. We spotted several butterflies during our hike, and there were still Meadowhawk dragonflies present, which led us to believe that the Odenate observing in July could be spectacular.
We marvelled on how the grippy composite decking along Hunter’s Bay Trail’s original floating boardwalk made us feel safe and secure. Seriously, it was excellently grippy, and there was no danger of slipping when wet and are pleased that the Town of Huntsville and the District of Muskoka has invested in extending the trail 840 metres from East Airport Road to Lakeshore Road on the north side of Highway 11. It just so happened that the extended trail wasn’t open yet, but we spoke with the contractor and discovered that the extension was scheduled to open the following day.
With the trail extension there are now four parking and access points for Hunter’s Bay Trail:
North of Highway 11: The end of Lakeshore Road off of Aspdin Road and Lakewood Park
West Side: Orchard Park off of East Airport Road
Central: Avery Beach Parking off of Yonge Street
East end: K.W. Pipe (Hunter’s Bay side) immediately south of the Centre street bridge (note: this is practically a hidden entryway – it is hard to spot and is a hairpin turn).
The adaptability of the trail certainly worked for me on that October day. My hiking buddy got back into the car (both times) completely charmed by Hunter’s Bay Trail and stated that it will now be a hiking destination that he is exited to explore more often. As for me? I’m looking forward to walking along it again whenever I have time to spare between my tasks in town.
Hope you can enjoy the sights, sounds, and history along this trail as much as we did!
May the forest be with you.
* Historical dates and references researched from the book Huntsville: With Spirit and Resolve by Susan Pryke with Huntsville Heritage, 2000.
Written by Rebecca Krawczyk aka Botanigal. www.botanigal.com @botanigals