Members of the Lambton Outdoor Club are hoping to breathe life back into an historic wilderness hiking trail by taking locals on a tour of the little-known gem.
The Ausable Hiking Trail – located just east of Arkona, along the Ausable River – is one of the region’s only “challenging” hiking trails and is also a magnificent manifestation of the region’s rich natural history, said the club’s John Timar.
The group hopes to raise awareness about the trail’s natural attributes during an April 16 hike.
By getting more people interested in the the trail, the club hopes to help preserve the pathway before nature makes it more difficult to navigate, Timar said.
“The plan is to maintain it, and one factor in maintaining it is to use it,” he said. “Because if you don’t use a trail, it won’t remain a trail for very long. Nature is a very powerful force.”
Established back in the early 1970s by the now-defunct Sarnia Hikers’ Club and Lambton Wildlife Trust, the trail was originally 16 kilometres in length, beginning at Arkona’s Hungry Hollow, and meandering to Highway 7.
The trail, which includes steep ravines, a variety of beech and oak trees, gullies, as well as a modest waterfall, was kept semi-secret by some of its founders, Timar said.
“Some people in the Wildlife Trust wanted to keep it secret, to keep it for wildlife observation, but it was the Sarnia Hikers’ Club that put it together because they really loved hiking on it.”
As a result of the semi-secrecy, the trail received only sporadic use for several decades, which resulted in some decay.
“We (Lambton Outdoor Club) had hikes organized and the Thames Valley Trail Association have also had some hikes, but generally people didn’t know about it,” Timar said.
Added to that challenge was the fact some of the land originally donated to the trail has since been rescinded by new landowners, which means the trail has been whittled down to its present 11-kilometre length.
“The original agreement with the local landowners was very much the same as with the Bruce Trail – handshake agreements, nothing in writing, no lawyers and so on. After a while, some of the landowners had enough and began to take their land back,” Timar said. “So the first three or four kilometres of the trail were closed down – the landowner said ‘no go’ – as was the north end of the trail.”
In spite of these setbacks, efforts have been made to reinvigorate the trail by the Outdoor Club and others. Parts of the trail were salvaged, signs were put up along the pathways, and other features were added to make the trail more accessible for hikers, Timar said.
“We got help from the Lambton Shores Nature Trail Association.
“They built a staircase on the toughest part of the loop, which makes it much easier now.
“It’s a very hard, challenging trail,” Timar continued. “It’s 11 kilometres and normally a trail of that length should be done in two-and-a-half or three hours, but this is hard enough that it takes about four or five hours to hike it. So it’s challenging.”
Local nature enthusiasts will get a chance to see some of the natural beauty of the area during the Outdoor Club’s April 16 ‘warm-up hike’, which will take participants along an easier three-kilometre stretch of the trail known as Mystery Loop. The hike will showcase some of the trail’s panoramic views and sinewy side-trails, Timar said.
“It leads to an area called Mystery Falls,” the 81-year-old hiker said. “It’s not exactly Niagara Falls – it’s about five feet high – but it can be very loud when there’s a lot of water there.”
By introducing a new generation of hikers to the trail, Timar hopes the warm-up hike will go some way in preserving an important part of local, natural history.
“Look, I’m 81, so I won’t be able to work on it too much,” Timar said. “We have to publicize that it’s here so it gets used. We want more people to become aware of the Ausable Trail.”
For more information about the April 16 hike along Ausable Trail, contact John Timar at 519-869-6524 or visit the Lambton Outdoor Club website at www.lambtonoutdoorclub.org.