Rouge National Urban Park – Beare Hill Park

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The City of Toronto has begun the process of transforming the former 75-hectare Beare Road Landfill into Beare Hill Park.  The original plan for the landfill when it opened in 1967 called for rehabilitation as a park when the landfill was closed.  We wanted to see if there were any signs of activity at the site and to explore some trails we hadn’t been to in the adjacent Rouge National Urban Park.  We returned to the free parking on Twyn Rivers Drive from where we had previously explored The Mast Trail.

We crossed the road into Celebration Forest where there is a ring of benches and a sign that recognizes people who were instrumental in creating Canada’s first National Urban Park.  Mayapples were growing in a large colony that is quite easy to spot at this time of the year.  The plants grow from rhizomes and spread over a fairly large area.  Only some plants produce the single flower that turns into the “apple”.  Sterile plants have a single leaf and produce no flower while the plants that do flower will have two leaves.  The flower and fruit are produced between the two leaves.  The flowering plants were just opening their leaves while the sterile ones were well advanced.

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Black Morels are one of the first fungi to emerge in the spring.  They can be found in May in Ontario and are considered to be a choice edible.  True morels are hollow and are attached to the stalk at the base.  If you cut into the cap and find that it has the stalk attached at the top it could be a false morel and shouldn’t be eaten.  This was the only example we noticed and we would never suggest anyone harvest anything when there is just a single specimen.

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The eastern garter snake can be hard to distinguish from other similar looking snakes.  The butler’s garter snake, red-sided garter snake and northern ribbon snake all look similar.  The ribbon snake will have smooth lines to the stripes while the garter snake will have a checkered pattern.  The eastern garter snake has a yellow chin and belly but the rest of the colouring can be quite varied.  Garter snakes give live birth to between 4 and 80 babies in late July to early October.   They have a life expectancy of about ten years and can grow up to 1.5 metres long.

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Some of the trails were still a little muddy and a few of the side trails were almost impassable.

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The trillium is Ontario’s official flower and many people believe that it is illegal to pick them.  That actually isn’t true although a recent bill in the legislature would have made it punishable with a $500 fine.  It is probably a good thing that people think it is illegal because it is so damaging to the plant.  Trilliums grow slowly and can take between 7 and 11 years to produce their first flower.  After that they will flower every year until they reach the end of their lifespan of about 20 years.  If you pick the flower and three leaves around it the plant loses the ability to supply nutrient to the underground stem and the plant will die.

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The access road for the former Beare Road Landfill is now closed except for service vehicles and park users.  The road leads from this point back to the parking area near the park visitor centre.  The former Pearce House now serves as the visitor centre and is the starting point for our previous exploration of the Vista Trail.

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The Beare Road Landfill was allowed to expand their tonnage of garbage in 1971 following a proposal to turn the site into the Beare Road Ski Facility following closure.  The elevation and grade were modified to create a facility for up to 800 skiers at one time.  The picture below, taken from the Beare Road Park Master Plan,  shows the landfill in 1974 around the time the ski hill was proposed.  At this time the former gravel pit has been filled in and the hill is starting to rise.

Beare Landfill 1974

By September of 1982 when the site closed there was over 9 million tonnes of garbage placed in a 60 metre hill.  After the landfill had been allowed to settle a cap of clay around 1.5 metres thick was installed over the top to seal and vegetation has taken over since then.  The plan for skiing, hang gliding, an alpine slide and go carts was scrapped and replaced with a 2013 plan calling for mixed use trails.  These trails are expected to be completed and ready for public use by Fall of 2019.

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The former landfill continues to produce methane gas as the refuse rots below the surface.  In the 1990’s a private company installed a series of gas wells and pipes throughout the site to collect it.  They constructed a generating plant that converts the methane gas, and supplemental natural gas, into electricity that is sold back to the grid.  One of the challenges with developing a park will be keeping the public safe from this equipment, and vice-versa.

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Painted turtles can live up to 25 years and grow until their shells reach about 25 centimetres with the male being slightly smaller.  There are several varieties but the Midland is the one native to the GTA.  They can be hard to distinguish without looking at the underside and these ones weren’t willing to participate.  Looking at the abdomen can also give you a clue to the age of the turtle.  They develop growth rings similar to a tree and these can be counted to determine the age.  Turtles are born with the first ring in place so it must be counted as “0”.

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We had followed the trail north that was closest to the rail line and so the return hike called for the trail closest to The Little Rouge.  There are places along the creek that show signs of a much larger flow than the current level.

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Following the trail closest to Little Rouge Creek will bring you back to Twyn Rivers Road at the site of Maxwell’s Mill.  Parts of the mill remain and you will exit back onto the road by passing through the entrance gates for the mill.

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We went to Rouge Park to explore some more of this local resource with the idea that we would watch out for ticks during and after our hike.  We sprayed our boots and lower pant legs with “Off”  and stayed out of the grass and we never saw a tick.  That kind of ticked us off.  LOL.  It will be interesting to see what becomes of Beare Hill Park because I understand that there are the remains of an old stone well in the remnant of original forest on the property.

Check out our top 20 post from the first five years of Hiking the GTA here:

Back Tracks – The First 5 Years

Google Maps Link: Twyn Rivers Drive

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