Day Trips – Down the QEW

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Living in the GTA presents many opportunities for hikes and exploration.  However, sometimes you just want to get away and plan a day trip.  We stop and explore wherever we find ourselves and so there are several posts that are outside of the geographical area we call the GTA.  Here is a pair of them that are close together and just about 100 kilometres from downtown Toronto.  Presented below is a mini review of Ball’s Falls and La Grande Hermine.  There is a link to each story where more details and pictures can be found.

Balls Hermine

Ball’s Falls

Balls Falls features two waterfalls and several historical buildings.  The old mill still survives as well as a lime kiln, the house and barn.  A historic church has been moved to the location for preservation.  Trails connect the upper and lower falls and provide opportunities for hiking.  The upper falls are pictured below.


Near the lower falls, George and John Ball built a house and barn and like any settlers along the escarpment, they also built a lime kiln.


The mill also is an interesting place to visit as there are not too many left in Southern Ontario.


Near the upper falls stand the remains of the woollen mill.


When you’re finished with your exploration of Ball’s Falls you can make a side excursion to see the abandoned ship in Jordan Harbour.

La Grande Hermine

This ship is visible from the QEW and somehow seems to have been here longer than it really has.  The ship was built in 1914 and used as a ferry and cargo ship for 77 years.


In 1991 it was outfitted with a wooden shell to make it look like La Grande Hermine the largest of the three ships Jacques Cartier used when he explored Canada.  It was brought to Jordan Harbour in 1997 but the owner died and has become a relic in the harbour for the past 20 years.  A fire burned most of the wood cladding off the ship.


You can’t actually reach the ship but you can get pretty close on 3 sides.  Enjoy your day away.

Google Maps Links:  Ball’s Falls  and  The Grande Hermine

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Mount Nemo

here Saturday, May 13, 2017

Nemo is a Latin word that means “no one”.  When a post office was opened at the corner of Base Line and Guelph Line no one could think of a name for the community and so Nemo was chosen.  The post office and community are gone but since 1971 there has been a conservation area called Mount Nemo that carries on the name.

In the 1877 county atlas Lot 3, concession 4 of Nelson Township belonged to three different people.  The front 100 acres belonged to Jos. T Blagdon while Benjamin Eager owned the portion of the east 100 acres that was on top of the escarpment.  Below the escarpment, Nathan Lamb has added the most arable part of the east half to his farm.  It is Benjamin’s lot that would become the quarry that produced the park.  There are park fees of $6.75 per adult to get into the conservation area to park.  We hiked the route marked in black on the map and made a visit to the abandoned Lowville Quarry marked in red.

Lowville Hike

The sides of the trail are brightly coloured with springtime flowers and the trees are well advanced with their leaves.  Large patches of trilliums are mixed with several species of yellow flowers including Large Flowered Bellworts and Yellow Violets.


Along the trail, we noticed a fallen tree and as is our habit we stopped to see what it had exposed.  The tree had grown through the limestone and when it fell it broke two large chunks away that remain attached to the bottom of the tree trunk.  Close examination reveals a wealth of fossils mainly crinoids and brachiopods.

818 (2)

Turkey Vultures were out in large numbers today.  They are considered a species of least concern because they are widespread and the population is stable.  When a turkey vulture is threatened it defends itself by vomiting powerful stomach acids at its attacker. It is unique among vultures because it finds carrion by both sight and smell.  When they are standing on the ground they are often confused with wild turkeys.  There are several places along the trails where you can look out and see them circling and riding on the wind currents.


A lookout along the trail is named after Joseph Walter Brock Harris who worked for the Halton Conservation Authority for 31 years.  The lookout is about 85 meters above Walker’s Line which can be seen running between the farms on the tableland below. From here you can see Milton, Brampton, Mississauga, and on a clear day, The CN Tower. As a reference, the lookout is about half the height of the CN Tower.  You can also see across to the Milton Outlier which is a section of the escarpment that is separated from the rest of the escarpment by the Nassagaweya Canyon which is hidden from view at this distance.  There is a series of trails that connect Crawford Lake and Rattlesnake Point by passing through the Nassagaweya Canyon.


A short side trail leads to the former Lowville Quarry.  Seventy feet of Amabel Dolomite is exposed in the quarry face from aggregate extraction from 1958 to 1959.  An old access road still leads down into the quarry which is becoming overgrown with Paper Birch or White Birch trees.  When a forest is regenerating after a fire or clear-cutting the Paper Birch is one of the first trees to colonize.


Lowville Quarries was operated by a company called Bay Crushed Stone.   The quarry face had holes drilled in it and then dynamite was used to blast the rock chunks free. Along the north wall, there is still a large amount of stone that was blasted from the quarry face but never processed. Stone from this quarry was crushed and used for road construction and concrete aggregate.  The quarry only operated for a couple of years before the Twelve Mile Creek Conservation Authority purchased it and 88 acres of surrounding land to prevent the quarry from expanding.  Operations ceased immediately and the quarry still has freshly blown rock waiting to be scooped up and crushed.  The stone in the picture below has a blast hole for the dynamite.


The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail has two or three broods each year.  They hibernate during the winter months in the chrysalis state and emerge in the spring as butterflies to start the cycle of life.  The female has a full row of blue spots along the hind wings while the male has only four.  This male was sunning itself in a rare moment of sunshine on the floor of the old quarry.


At the top of the quarry access road stand two abandoned concrete structures that were most likely connected to the quarry, perhaps the rock crusher.  The concrete to build this place was likely made from stone quarried at the site.  The foundations that stand closest to the road are very unsymmetrical in shape and have a series of threaded bolts rising from the top of each section where the rest of the building has been removed.


Forty metres away a five-metre concrete wall is built into the side of the cliff face.  The cover photo shows the structure and another remnant of the industry that once stood here just in front of it. A close look will reveal a door which someone has painted on the wall.  The picture below shows the view from on top of the wall.  There is an irregular shaped pit that has been partially filled in and has a tree growing in the middle.


The Bruce Trail runs along the escarpment edge through Mount Nemo Conservation Area. There are also two loop trails to let you see more of the conservation area without wandering through areas where salamanders and other rare species could be harmed. The north loop trail is 2.6 kilometres while the south loop trail is 2.3 kilometres long. Along the escarpment face, you will notice many sections that are marked as no trespassing. This has been done to allow the cliff ecosystem to regenerate and to keep people from falling over the edge which has happened a few times.


Mount Nemo is a great place to visit any time of the year and offers great views of the fall colours.

Google Maps Link: Mount Nemo

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Waterfalls Of The Golden Horseshoe

Sunday, May 7, 2017

There are several natural waterfalls in the GTA and many more in the surrounding area known as the golden horseshoe.  Over the past three years Hiking the GTA has been able to visit over a dozen of them.  This post provides the links as well as brief stories for each of them.  Google maps links for each waterfall can be found at the end of the specific article.

The Devil’s Punch Bowl

This is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the area because every layer of the escarpment is exposed at this one site.


Albion Falls

This waterfall is easy to access with parking just beside it.  There is a trail that leads to the bottom of the falls that allows you to see both the top of the falls as well as the bottom.


Wahoosh Falls

This small set of waterfalls in Mississauga is a well-kept secret now that the little parking lot near the falls has been closed.


Balls Falls

Balls Falls is near St. Catherines and contains many of the original buildings from the early days of settlement at the falls including the old mill.


Devil’s Falls

This set of falls is near Cambridge and can only be viewed from above as the descent to the Grand River isn’t safe.


Terra Cotta Falls

The falls in Terra Cotta can be seen from the conservation area.


Hilton Falls

Hilton Falls has the unique feature of the old wheelhouse from the mill that used to stand at its base.


Websters and Tews Falls

Websters and Tews Falls are both located in the Spencer Gorge.  At one time Tews Falls was as grand as Niagara Falls.


Niagara Falls

This is the most famous of the waterfalls in the Golden Horseshoe.



Fallbrook on Silver Creek is a cascade waterfall where the creek steps down the escarpment.


Borer’s Falls

Borer’s Creek plunges 15 metres over the side of the escarpment in a 5-metre wide ribbon waterfall.  Borer’s Falls is also featured in the cover photo.


Great Falls

Grindstone Creek flows over the Great Falls in Smokey Hollow.


Sherman Falls

Sherman Falls is one of 7 falls that can be reached in easy walking distance from Ancaster.


Cataract Falls

These falls are 21-metres high and carry the Credit River off the escarpment.  They used to power the Cataract Electric Company, whose ruins can be seen in this picture.

Cataract Falls

Darnley Cascade

Darnley cascade is 4-metres high and is just upstream from the Darnley Grist Mill.


This is just a small sample of the magnificent waterfalls that can be found in and around the GTA.

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Albion Falls

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Albion Falls is known as a classical, cascade, complex falls because of the stages in the falls.  The total height and width where Red Hill Creek flows over the escarpment are very similar with the height being 19 metres and the width being 18 metres and this makes it a classical waterfall.  It plunges to a terrace and then cascades down to the creek bed.  Having both a plunge and cascade makes it a complex waterfall.

There is free parking in the Albion Falls parking lot which is a short walk from the bridge on Mountain Brow Blvd.  The view from the crest of the falls gives you a perspective of height when you take into account the size of the people in the ravine below.


William Davis owned a plantation in North Carolina until the American Revolution.  He fought on the side of the British, sheltering their soldiers.  After the war, he fled the country and came to Upper Canada where he landed in 1792.  He was granted 2000 acres of land for his service in the war and it included 500 acres at Albion Falls.  William established a grist mill and named it Albion Mills. The settlement was soon growing and blacksmith shops and taverns were added. A church and general store joined the village and in 1880 it received a post office and a name change.  Mount Albion had a main street named Mud Street but by 1880 a stone road had been established to connect the village to Hamilton.  To pay for upkeep on the stone road a toll was implemented.  The road keeper collected 15 cents for a return trip with a one horse wagon or 20 cents for a two horse wagon.  The falls plunge half the distance to the ravine floor before landing on a ledge of hard dolostone.  A series of steps forms a cascade to the pool at the bottom of the falls.


In 1907 Robert Grassie owned and operated the mill but he fell in the wheel housing and was killed.  No one ran the mill after this accident and it was demolished in 1915.  The picture below shows the wheelhouse, which was excavated by hand in 1792, looking into it from the floor level of the mill.  There is a cut, or tail race, for the water to return to the river through which you can see the water far below.  Robert Grassie had no chance of survival if he fell through the tail race and down to the creek level.  A tree is getting well established in the wheelhouse as nature marches on.


Many people climb to the bottom of the ravine to view the falls from close up and get their pictures.


Several layers of the escarpment are exposed in the gorge below the falls. Just above the water level in the creek is a reddish layer known as the Grimsby formation.  Directly above it is a grey-green layer known as the Thorold formation.  The contact point between these two layers is the location that contains much of the natural gas in Ontario. Albion Mills is said to be the first place where natural gas was discovered in Ontario. This gas was used to light the mill for over 100 years.  There is an exposed natural gas leak in the creek bed which can be lit with a match when the water level is low.  It is said that the gas was kept alight with a two-foot flame which became a local tourist attraction.


The pathway to the bottom beside the falls is moderately challenging and most people should be able to navigate it safely.  There is a trail that leads back up the point opposite the falls but it doesn’t get a lot of use.  That is because the trail is complicated by a large outcropping of dolomite that you either have to climb over or inch your way around.  There are several stories of people who have slipped and fallen to their death in the gorge and this is one candidate location for that kind of accident.

Albion Falls

When you get to the top on the other side you are treated to this view of the falls.  Before it was removed, the mill stood on the left side of the falls.


Mud Street used to run on an alignment closer to the creek so that potential customers could bring their grain to the mill.  Since the new road has been in place the old one has become the Red Hill Trail and is a much safer way to get the view in the picture above.  It connects to the road near the parking lot.


An old set of stone stairs leads down the hill to old Mud Street and the back access to the mill.


Foundations and the water wheel housing remain on the site of the mill at Albion Falls. The grinding wheel was preserved and is on display near the viewing platform for the falls.  Grooves in the wheel caused the ground grain to move through the wheel to where it could be collected and bagged for sale.  Millers typically took a percentage of the flour in exchange for the service of grinding a farmer’s crop.


Paranormal investigators love to visit the falls because there are stories of several deaths at the falls.  On Sept. 4th, 1915, it is said that Jane Reilly jumped over the falls to her death when told that she couldn’t marry her childhood sweetheart.  On certain nights they say you can still hear her sobbing in the gorge below the falls.  The gorge has also been used to dispose of several murder victims and on March 16, 1946, the dismembered body of John Dick was dumped there by his wife Evelyn.  John still roams the gorge, perhaps with Jane Reilly.  The spirit from a haunted house down the road has also been reported near the falls.


Swamp Darners are large dragonflies that have bright blue eyes and green thoracic stripes.  The females have flat appendages while the male appendages appear to be hairy.  They like to feed on flying insects and can be seen feeding high up in the air or in packs closer to the ground.  Their main prey is mosquitos, which we expect to make an appearance in the next week or two.  This female swamp darner appears to be a little bit too cold to fly and was sitting waiting for the day to warm up a few degrees.

swamp darner

Above the bridge, the creek is flanked by a flood control pond.  This pond is smaller than the original mill pond that supplied the grist mill.  The dam is gone and so the pond has drained and the floodplain has now grown back into a forest.


Albion Falls is just one in a string of 100 waterfalls that line the escarpment in and around Hamilton.

Google Maps Link: Albion Falls

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Beechwood Wetlands

Sunday, April 23, 2017

In 1826 The Taylor Family moved to the property that today we know as Crother’s Woods. Beechwood Drive is the road that led to the homestead they built and for decades was one of only a few places where you could travel across the Don Valley. Parshall Terry owned the property that became known as Terry’s Field and was the next property north of the Taylor property.  To check out this 11-hectare area I took advantage of free parking on Beechwood Drive just off of O’Connor Drive.

Around 1900 the Taylor family purchased Terry’s Field to make bricks from the clay that had been located there.  They already had an extensive industrial empire to which they kept adding.  The colony was offering a bounty for the first industrialist to open a paper mill and the mill at Todmorden had opened although it did not win the title.  That went to the paper mill in Crook’s Hollow.  The Taylor Paper Mills were a success and they eventually operated three of them.  The one at The Forks of The Don was the most northerly of the trio with Todmorden being at the south.  The Taylors opened Sun Valley Bricks which operated in the valley into the 1930’s.  This was in addition to the Don Valley Brick Works which they managed just south of Todmorden.  Later Domtar opened facilities here that left the land contaminated when it closed in the 1980’s.  After removing truckloads of soil and most of the buildings the land was deemed safe for use again.  Toronto Police Services is using the only remaining facility to train their canine units.


Near the site of the old Taylor house stands the crumbling remains of an old kiln.  This likely predates anything else remaining on the site.  The cover photo shows the kiln from a little different angle.  As can be seen from the picture below the kiln is crumbling on one corner and it is surprising that the city isn’t taking steps to keep people off of the kiln.  There is also a couple of trees growing on top of the structure.  I believe that it should be restored and given a proper interpretive sign as it may be the best example of an old kiln in the city.


The river shows many signs of its past usage including a narrow pond which is likely the remains of a 19th-century mill raceway.  Outfalls line the river including two that come directly from the North Toronto Sewage Treatment Plant which was opened on August 1, 1929.  There is also evidence in the river of a past dam, the crib can be seen below the water in this picture.


Beechwood Avenue is now closed to through traffic but formerly curved to meet the CNR tracks just before it reaches the river.  The Lower Don Recreational Trail runs parallel to this section of roadway.  Directly in front lies the Beechwood Wetlands and to the right, Cottonwood Flats where the city dumped snow until 2004.  Sun Valley, former home to Sun Brick Company and the Sun Valley Land Fill lies beyond in Crothers Woods.


Beechwood wetlands was built in 2002 and 2003 in a joint effort by the Task Force To Bring Back The Don, Toronto Region Conservation Authority, Toronto City Parks and several others.  The used heavy equipment to recreate the landscape and eliminate the damage done by years of use as an industrial site.  Volunteers planted 6500 native trees, shrubs and wetland plants and maintained them twice a week for the following year to ensure they got off to a good start.  The wetlands are now home to frogs, snapping turtles and various wetland birds and are considered one of Toronto’s most successful restoration projects.


The Red Admiral butterfly makes a migration north each spring to recolonize most of North America.  It will have two cycles per year, one in March which spends the summer in Ontario.  A second brood is hatched in October that flies south to spend the winter months in south Texas.  Red Admirals have a red/orange band that encircles both wings and prominent white spots on the front of each forewing.


The Lower Don River has cut through layers of shale that can be seen near the waterline and perhaps this is what was being burned down in the kiln.


After the buildings were demolished piles of construction rubble were dumped along the side of the river.  These piles in many places have become habitat for the various species of wildlife that inhabits the parkland.  Throughout the concrete slabs can be seen the wrought iron reinforcing bars that were used prior to tied rebar used today.


The Canadian National Railway line cuts through the property and the winding nature of the Don River required the railway to build two bridges.  The bridges are nearly identical in construction and the railway is still active.  The former Beechwood Road crossing has signals and caution should be exercised when making your way from the Cottonwood Flats into Crother’s Woods on the other side.


The other side of the Don River can be accessed via a footbridge just beyond the train bridge.  Therefore, there is no excuse for crossing the river on the rail bridge like I observed several people doing.  There’s a sign by the rail bridge that gives a number to call if you are feeling suicidal.  I wonder if they too saw someone taking their bike across?  A mountain bike park has been set up along the trail near the rail bridge. There’s even a small place where you can step out of the weather for a moment.


Sun Valley and Crothers Woods still have areas that I haven’t explored.  Perhaps one day…

Google Maps Link: Beechwood Drive

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Japanese Cherry Trees – High Park

Saturday, April 22, 2017

April 19, 2017, marked the first official day of the cherry tree blooms in High Park. Photographers converge on the park for a week to ten days each spring to see the blossoms.  Heavy rain can wash the petals away leaving a window of opportunity to see the flowers that can last for only a couple of days some years.  Since the climate in Toronto is close to the limit that the trees can endure, there are occasional years where the trees never blossom at all.  There are several large parking lots in High Park but unless you come early you won’t get a spot in any of them during this time.  To ensure that we had a place to park that was hassle free we parked in the free parking just east of Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion and walked north to the park.  Several cherry trees are in bloom near Grenadier Pond.


The Japanese Cherry Tree blossom is known as Sakura to the Japanese who have adopted it as their national flower, a position it shares with the chrysanthemum.  Many of the ornamental varieties of cherry trees do not produce fruit and are grown for the beauty of their blossoms.


The trees are related to almonds, peaches, plums and apricots as well as being distant cousins to apples, pears and roses.  Signs throughout the park remind people to stay off of the cherry trees when taking pictures so that no branches will be broken.


Somei-Yoshino cherry trees are the earliest to bloom and High Park has many of these that were donated in 1959 by citizens of the city of Tokyo.  Another 34 trees were donated in 2001.  There are over 2,000 ornamental cherry trees in several locations around the city.  Exhibition Place, York University and The University of Toronto all have cherry tree plantings.  The blossoms are host to countless insects who are busy pollinating the trees.  Two different species of bees are seen in the picture below.


The squirrels in the park have become quite used to people and behave as if they expect to get a peanut or some other treat.


The woodlands are blue with the flowers of scilla which are an early spring perennial.


Downey woodpeckers were especially common throughout the park but a bird watcher could collect many different species for their lists by sitting still for a few minutes.



The High Park website provides a map to show where the main cherry tree locations are.


If you want to avoid the crowds at High Park you may choose to look for the 30 Japanese Cherry Trees on Toronto Islands.

There are three previous stories that cover other aspects of High Park.  Colborne Lodge, High Park Zoo and the Eastern Ravine.

Google Maps Link: High Park

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Irwin Quarry – Silvercreek Conservation Area

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Niagara Escarpment stretches between Niagara Falls and Tobermory and is the most prominent geological feature in Southern Ontario.  Early settlers who received land grants along the escarpment found it difficult to farm and often looked to their natural resources as a source of income.  This was true for those who took possession of land in Esquesing Township along the edge of the escarpment.  Today the area is known as Silvercreek Conservation Area and we returned to carry on from last week’s exploration of Fallbrook Farm.  This time we made our way along the bumpy and curving road known as Fallbrook Trail to where there is free parking at the Bruce Trail crossing near 27 Sideroad.  One objective of today’s exploration was the Irwin Quarry which now is traced by a Bruce Trail Side Trail.  The trail is marked with blue slashes and in many places follows the old access road for the quarry.


By the 1960’s there were 13 large quarries producing construction materials from the Niagara Escarpment.  Nearly 50 other, smaller quarries had come and gone.  There are three factors that determine the economic success of a quarry and these are 1) proximity to the market, 2) quality of the stone and 3) the ability to access the stone easily.  The escarpment around Hamilton and Toronto was found to meet all of these requirements in many places.  The cost of shipping stone products determines the competitiveness of a quarry.  If it costs 10 cents per kilometre to ship the stone, then a producer of a million tonnes annually spends $100,000 per year in transportation for every extra kilometre away from the job site he is located.  The quality of stone in many places along the escarpment is excellent. Finally, the soil that has to be removed to access the stone is known as the overburden. The limestone and dolomite are often very near to the surface along the escarpment leaving little digging to be done and in general no quarry will be started where there are more than 6 metres of overburden. The picture below shows a view of the exposed limestone in the former Irwin Quarry and the relatively little soil that is on top of it.


The site of the Irwin Quarry is formally known as lot 26, Concession 9 in Esquesing Township.  Samuel Irwin owned the property for a short time around 1877 and it may have been his lime kiln that still stands near the quarry.  At the time of the county atlas, the property belonged to George Ackert and it was located directly across the road from William McClure’s property with the two mills marked on it.  The quarry has been outlined in red and is a piece of the escarpment known as the Glen Williams Outlier.

Silver Creek (2)

Life can grow in the harshest conditions and trees have taken root in small pockets of soil between the layers of dolomite.  The white birch tree below has a precarious hold on the rocks on which it grows.


The Industrial Sand and Gravel Company Limited operated the quarry in the exposed Amabel dolomite formation.  This 30-foot formation exposed white to buff dolomite on the top with light grey to dark grey Reynales Dolomite below this.  The quarrying operation was conducted in the mid-1960’s and used for local road construction.  It is quite likely that the base of Fallbrook Trail is made of gravel extracted from Irwin Quarry.  The quarry has been closed for about 50 years and has a full forest cover in most areas.  The picture below shows the view from about halfway up the side of the ravine looking up at the metal railing of the lookout from last week.


Silver Creek flows in a deep ravine through the escarpment that is far in excess of the channel needed for the amount of water it carries today.  During the retreat of the last ice age, the deep ravine was cut exposing the rock face for the quarry.


Last week we featured the house at Fallbrook Farm and noted that the house had been added onto by extending it to the east end.  Here is another look at the house, this time looking at the additions from the rear of the building.  This must have been interesting for the kids who could come and go through their bedroom windows!


This time we ventured down the east side of the creek where the mills were located.  The saw mill was built where the stone has been placed to protect the embankment from erosion.


The grist mill was built on the flats about 130 metres downstream from the mill pond. This allowed for a drop of 11 metres from the pond to the waterwheel.  There isn’t very much left of the mill anymore except the foundations for the wheelhouse.  Based on the footprint of the housing the wheel is estimated to have been 1.3 metres wide by 4 metres tall.  When the water flow was good it would have produced 25 hp of power to operate the mill.  The two sides of the wheelhouse are indicated by arrows in the picture below.


Upstream from the bridge, the creek drops over several little steps creating multiple little waterfalls as it rises 11 metres to the old dam.  The dam was built where the ravine is narrow and a small floodplain was available to create a pond.  The early dam was made by filling a wood crib across the creek with rocks.  The portion of the dam that was built on land was created by scooping dirt into a mound.   In the picture below, the trail climbs over the mound of the old dam while a hollow behind the dam marks the site where the earth was extracted.


Garter snakes mate soon after waking from hibernation.  The female can produce up to 80 snakes in a single litter.  In the wild a garter snake will live for about 2 years but can survive up to 10 years in captivity.


Once again we left Silvercreek Conservation Area with large portions left unexplored.

Google Maps Link: Silvercreek Conservation Area

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