Backus Woods – Norfolk County

Although it’s literally – 25 degrees outside right now in Southern Ontario, fantasies of warm, balmy days out on the hiking trails are dancing through my head this evening. I have been particularly moved to a summery nostalgia while looking through pictures taken in Backus Woods – a significant natural ecosystem as well as a beautiful hiking spot.

In 2010, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) successfully conserved more than 4,300 acres in the Southern Norfolk Sand Plain Natural Area of which Backus Woods is a part (Nature Conservancy of Canada, 2014). The roughly 875-acre Backus property was previously owned by the Long Point Region Conservation Authority and financial support for this initiative came from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation (Nature Conservancy of Canada, 2014Promoting Pathways). Backus Woods is one of the oldest hardwood forests in Ontario; some of the Black Gum (aka. Black Tupelo) trees still standing “may have been seedlings when Jacques Cartier sailed into the Gulf of St Lawrence in 1534” (Promoting Pathways). Many unique trees exist in the area, including Tulip Trees, Flowering Dogwood, Sour Gum, Sassafras, and the American Sweet Chestnut (Ontario Trails Council, 2014).

The trails in this forest wander through “dry forested ridge, wet slough, buttonbush swamp and floodplain” (Promoting Pathways). Naturalists, particularly birders, are sure to find this location a treat, as it provides an excellent example of the Carolinian Life Zone (Promoting Pathways). The Carolinian Life Zone supports a “tremendous diversity of life, including over 70 species of trees, 27 different species of reptiles and more than 20 unique species of amphibians” (Parks Canada, 2009). Consequently, there are a high number of Species at Risk in the area and hikers are encouraged to walk through the area with this in mind (Parks Canada, 2009).

Trails within the forest include the Sugar Bush Trail, Wetlands Trail, and Floodplain Trail; outside of the forest, history buffs can partake in the Backus Heritage Conservation Area (Ontario Trails Council, 2014). This site features a “1798 Backhouse Grist Mill National Historic Site, one of the few mills in Norfolk not destroyed during the War of 1812”, as well as 15 historic buildings and scatterings of antique farm equipment (Conservation Ontario, 2014). Overall, a wonderful place to visit for hikers and a must-see for naturalists*!

*Important notice: Mosquitoes will literally pick you up and carry you off during any wet periods in Backus Woods. Plan to visit in the early spring or late fall and always wear longer clothing for hiking in this area.

Directions

Address: Concession Road 4, ON N0E 1X0
The height of the sassafras trees in Backus Woods is incredible. Photo courtesy of William Van Hemessen.
The height of the Sassafras trees in Backus Woods is incredible. Photo courtesy of William Van Hemessen.
The leaf of a sassafras tree has a distinctive 'mitten' shape. Photo courtesy of William Van Hemessen.
The leaf of a Sassafras tree has a distinctive ‘mitten’ shape. Photo courtesy of William Van Hemessen.
A tulip tree leaf is attractive, but the flower even more so. Photo courtesy of William Van Hemessen.
A Tulip tree leaf is attractive, but the flower even more so. Photo courtesy of William Van Hemessen.
The "American Sweet Chestnut" is the native tree; "American Horse Chestnut" is a cultivated, non-native variety.
The “American Sweet Chestnut” is the native tree; “Horse Chestnut” is a cultivated, non-native variety. Pictured here is the American Sweet Chestnut. Photo courtesy of William Van Hemessen.
A view looking up at the beautiful summer foliage. Sigh. Photo courtesy of William Van Hemessen.
A view looking up at the beautiful summer foliage. Photo courtesy of William Van Hemessen.
The author sizes up a tree. Photo courtesy of William Van Hemessen.
The author sizes up a tree. Photo courtesy of William Van Hemessen.
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