Thank you to this week’s guest blogger, Stewart Hilts, for letting us share his story. This blog was originally published on his personal blog, Seasons in the Valley.
Petrel Point is an old nature reserve established in 1962 and owned by Ontario Nature. I had heard they had built a wheelchair accessible boardwalk here and was anxious to try it out.
There’s a large new welcoming sign which explains the uniqueness of this wetland, a ‘fen’. Common bordering Hudson Bay, these wetlands are very rare in southern Ontario, but there are small pockets of them along the Lake Huron shore of the Bruce Peninsula.
The new boardwalk, beckoning us into the cedar forest, looks great. It replaces an old narrow boardwalk that has been here for decades. There are very few wheelchair accessible trails through natural environments of any kind anywhere that I have found, so I was thrilled to see this one. It was well built with bumper edges and plenty wide enough for the safe operation of a wheelchair. A sign announced it’s construction and gave credit to several funders.
The dark cedar forest with it’s tilting trees is fascinating in it’s own right, but the orchids that grow here are finished for the year. The boardwalk widens out in several places, giving spots to rest or turn around and provide some information boards.
Two display boards explain the uniqueness and fragility of the orchids that grow in this unusual habitat. Photographers have been known to leave the boardwalk in the past just to get that ideal picture. On occasion, entire busloads of photographers would show up and some would even spread out groundsheets so they didn’t get their knees dirty or wet in the process of getting their prize-winning picture, trampling all the surrounding vegetation in the process. They added the second sign to emphasize this, along with some discreet fencing most people wouldn’t even notice.
This part of the boardwalk forms a loop, which was appreciated. This is one of the longer stretches leading out into the open fen.
And this is the fen, a marshy looking meadow interrupted with small cedars and cinquefoil shrubs on a base of wet sand. Except these aren’t marsh plants, they’re sedges, rushes, and in this picture carnivorous pitcher plants. There would be a few inches of water here in the spring, but in mid-August of a dry summer, it’s just sand.
Petrel Point Nature Reserve is a botanical hot spot where you can find three of Ontario’s four carnivorous plants. These are the pitcher plant’s (pictured above) enclosed leaves with downward pointing hairs that trap insects which get dissolved, providing the plant with it’s nutrients. You may be able to distinguish a side view of a flower on it’s curved stem at the upper left of the cluster of leaves. The colours range from dark purple to bright green or almost yellow.
A second carnivorous plant found in this unique habitat is the tiny yellow bladderwort. For most of the year it’s surface roots are under water ready to trap and digest any tiny insects drifting by.
And the third of the carnivorous plants found here is the slender-leaved sundew. It has reddish short leaves below taller green stems of rushes. Tiny hairs on the leaves wrap themselves around any passing insects and then the plant devours them. Learn more about Ontario’s carnivorous plants in ON Nature magazine.
At any rate, it`s a well done accessible boardwalk, and we really enjoyed it. We’ll definitely be back!
Stew Hilts was a volunteer chair of Ontario Nature's nature reserves committee in the early 80's. He has been visiting Petrel Point since 1962. Since retiring in 2010 he has volunteered for the Beaver Valley Bruce Trail Club and you can now hike the Stew Hilts side trail!