The North Bay area is where many people from southern Ontario love to visit to get a little nature time. But where do people living in North Bay go to get a quick wilderness fix without having to leave the city? They go to the Laurier Woods Conservation Area.
The junction of Highway 11 and Seymour Street is one of the busiest intersections in Northern Ontario. Yet, very few of the thousands of drivers who pass through this area every day realize that they are just a one-kilometer drive away from 242 acres of peace and serenity.
It started as a developer’s dilemma. In the 1950s, the marshy land on the south-western fringe of North Bay was quickly evolving into a large commercial zone full of factories, warehouses, parking lots and railroad sidings. But some of the remaining land remained undeveloped because it was just too swampy or rocky to easily convert over to commercial use.
In the early nineties, members of the Nipissing Naturalists Club (NNC) noticed an eight-acre parcel of wetland sitting undeveloped at the dead end of a street called Laurier Avenue. The owner had originally hoped to turn his site into a tractor trailer parking lot but his application had hit a dead end of its own because the land was situated on a natural flood plain and the local conservation authority opposed his plan to drain his property.
The Nipissing Naturalists Club bought the land instead to make a tiny nature reserve called the Laurier Woods Conservation Area (LWCA). But the LWCA did not remain tiny for long. Thanks to two decades of serious fund-raising, the Laurier Woods Conservation area has since been able to expand to its present 240 acres. In 2012, a new entrance and parking lot were opened on Brule Street which is now the main entry point for visitors. The reserve currently boasts almost 7 kilometres of nature trails that circle and criss-cross an extremely varied landscape. There are two major ponds, marsh lands, creeks, and well-wooded forests that often make visitors forget that they are actually still within North Bay’s city limits. In the winter, hikers share the trails with snow shoe and cross country ski enthusiasts, weather permitting.
All the trails are well marked and very easy walking by hiker standards. Where the ground gets mushy in the marshy areas, boardwalks have been built to allow visitors to pass through the wetlands without damaging the ecological stability of the habitat. Packed earth, gravel, or stone dust have also been added in places to keep the trail smooth. Hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians make the conservation area their home. Dozens of species of migrating birds also pass through annually on their way north and south.
This brings us to visitor etiquette. Laurier Woods feels so much like wilderness some visitors thoughtlessly allow their dogs to run free as if the park was crown land. Please remember that this is a nature reserve first, a people/pet trail second. Dogs are welcome but they must be leashed at all times. Free ranging canines can get lost, damage rare and ecologically sensitive vegetation or interfere with the local wildlife. Owners are also obliged to scoop their pet’s poop. Canine feces can introduce disease and foreign parasites into the local environment. And it is nice to keep the trails pristine because no one wants their Call of the Wild to be “Arrgh! I’ve just stepped in dog sh…!”
The LWCA is now jointly managed by a partnership between the Friends of Laurier Woods and the North Bay-Mattawa Conservation Authority. Scoop and poop bags and trail maps are usually available at the Brule Street entrance, but it is advisable to bring your own bags in case the cupboard is bare. Trail maps can also be downloaded from the Laurier Website listed below. Finally, there are no washroom facilities on site but there are several fast food franchises located near the Seymour and Highway 11 intersection, two minutes away.
Unless you know North Bay well, the best way to get there is from the North Bay Bypass which is part of Highway 11. Turn west on Seymour Street which is the southern-most set of traffic lights on the bypass. Once on Seymour, immediately turn right on Franklin Street which takes you down a commercial/light industrial zoned street. After driving about half a kilometre on Franklin, Brule Street will appear on the left. Turn on Brule and follow straight down to the end. It looks like you are about to drive into a Ministry of Highways parking lot but keep driving and look for the Laurier Woods sign on the right.
Laurier Woods makes a great half-day whole family hiking excursion if you happen to be staying in the North Bay area. Being so close to the highway, it is also a great short leg-stretcher for passing travellers. For more information, check out the Laurier Woods website here.