The Hunter’s Bay Trail: A Boardwalk Empire!
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.
A Common Loon is oblivious to the new change coming to Huntsville, as a contractor is one day away from finishing the new access boardwalk which will allow pedestrian traffic to travel along Hunter’s Bay Trail to and from the north side of Highway 11.
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’s first floating boardwalk with its grippy composite decking has been such a pleasure for pedestrians and cyclists that the Town of Huntsville and the District of Muskoka have invested in extending the trail 840 metres to the north side of Highway 11, which includes a new and very impressive floating trail.
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!
The Town of Huntsville’s Hunter’s Bay Trail is a connective section of 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.
This old relic sits between the trail and the river where the tannery once operated. It was located at the base of Centre Street* (because the bridge wasn’t built yet). The tannery used Hemlock bark as their key ingredient. Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) was as good as gold in those days!
The Grand Trunk Railway originally serviced the lumber industry and the tannery, along with other commerce of the day, and was key to the birth of Muskoka’s tourism industry.
My trekking companion warmed up to the idea of hiking in town after noticing that the chunks of Huntsville’s history got him off of the ground so he could display his fall plumage.
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.
These chiselled rocks are an example of the spirit and resolve that drove the early industrial years of the Town of Huntsville.
Evidence of one of the grand wharfs that accepted steamships back in the day.
This photo of the Muskoka Wood Manufacturing Plant at the mouth of the Muskoka River was taken in 1902. We couldn’t believe that anything could possibly grow back after this, but as you can see along the trail, it did!
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.
Highbush Cranberry is an old school fruit from a hardy shrub of the north. It was used to make jams and jellies. They are not a conventional fruit and taste best after a bit of frost has hit them. These fruit were ready for harvest when this photo was taken, as the first frost had already settled in.
Wild Grapes were planted by the area’s first travellers and settlers as well. Frost Grape and Riverbank Grape are our two native grape species here in Central Ontario. Aptly named, the Frost Grape is sweeter after frost and families would rejoice when it frosted because the wild grape treats were a free source of sweets for everyone.
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.
The location of this Wild Parsnip, right next to the tracks, suggests that it arrived at Huntsville by train.
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.
White Birch (Betula papyrifera) do best in deep soils that sit just above the water table and prefer to grow in groups like in this beautiful waterfront grove.
Orchard Park is just that, an orchard. It is full of fruit in late September and the Town of Huntsville and other partners have worked on planting new apple trees to keep the tradition alive.
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.
This American Lady butterfly was flittering about Orchard Park in search of Self-heal flowers.
The Common Loon is a regular sight on Hunter’s Bay. This photo was taken on October 18th and this Loon is displaying its winter plumage.
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 we were pleased that the Town of Huntsville and the District of Muskoka 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.
The new bridge for the Hunter’s Bay Trail is the gateway to the new Hunter’s Bay Trail extension, which runs another 840 meters under Highway 11 to Lakeshore Road.
The new floating boardwalk, made with composite decking, runs under Highway 11 to Lakeshore Road.
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).
Parking for access to Hunter’s Bay Trail can be found in four locations around Huntsville.
From west to east: Orchard Park off East Airport Road; Avery Beach off Yonge Street North; K.W. Pipe just off of Centre Street North at the south end of the bridge. Parking on the north side of Highway 11 is located at the end of Lakeshore Road by taking Lakewood Park Road right off Aspdin Road.
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 excited 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!
* Historical dates and references researched from the book Huntsville: With Spirit and Resolve by Susan Pryke with Huntsville Heritage, 2000.
Staff from the Pride Marine Group pose for a photo after competing the floating boardwalk extension.
Written by Rebecca Krawczyk aka Botanigal. www.botanigal.com @botanigals