“We pledge to get outdoors and active in nature at least once each week.”
The above pledge is part of a new Walking Into Nature initiative by the Royal Botanical Gardens that encourages families to increase their weekly dose of Vitamin N – Nature! RBG hopes to have 1000 local families take this pledge in 2013.
The “Families WIN” program is focused on the trails of Hendrie Valley near RBG Centre. It includes a number of special activities for anyone who wants to go Walking Into Nature (including an iPhone treasure hunt app that you can use while hiking).
We signed the pledge form ourselves before heading out to the Cherry Hill Gate trailhead in the Rose Garden parking lot. Parking here is just $1/hour.
Cherry Hill Gate is a barrier-free route that leads to the Gardens’ signature boardwalk perched two metres above the floodplain of Grindstone Creek.
We made sure to bring some bird seed with us because, having been on the RBG trails before, we knew that’s the thing to do if you want to have the abundant chickadees feed from your hand.
Right at the start of our hike, we were greeted by this gorgeous red cardinal feeding on seed that another hiker had left for the birds.
Jr Burlington brought along the Ontario Nature Guide he received from his grandparents for Christmas! It came in handy for identifying all the birds and trees along our hike.
Before leaving home, we downloaded the Hendrie Valley Treasure Hunt app for our iPad. All along the trail, special blue Tagz are posted and can be scanned with the app to collect virtual coins that are awarded for being observant and answering questions.
For example, “Which tree has bark that looks like burnt potato chips?” or “There are many plants in the forest, which ones stick to your clothes?”
If you don’t have an iPhone or iPad, no worries. The RBG also offers a downloadable seasonal activity sheet; just print one out at home and bring it along on the hike, or pick one up at RBG Centre.
Some of the most interesting stops on the Treasure Hunt allow for taking photos with special overlay graphics. These funny photos can then be emailed on-the-spot to friends and family.
“Oh no! A giant red-tailed hawk is attacking!”
Like many families these days, we’re continually tempted by our many sedentary screen-based indoor entertainment options. But whenever we get outside for a hike, we all come alive!
“Spending an hour or two on the trails gives families time to be active and connect with each other and nature. Everyone will experience stimulative and restorative benefits, from burning calories and building muscle, to reducing stress and fueling brain development.”
Our RBG hiking adventure this time was self-guided. But one of Burlington’s best kept secrets, I think, is the free weekly Get Back to Nature Walks led by RBG volunteers. These guided tours depart every Sunday (including holiday weekends) at 2pm (September through May) and 10am (June through August). The hike location rotates every week so that every walk is a different adventure!
- 1st Sunday of every month: Hendrie Valley; meet at Cherry Hill Gate parking lot
- 2nd: Princess Point; meet at the parking lot
- 3rd: Cootes North Shore; meet at the Nature Centre
- 4th: Cootes South Shore; meet at the Aviary parking lot on Oak Knoll Drive, Hamilton
- 5th: Rock Chapel; meet at the parking lot
These walks are typically 1.5 to 2 hours in length. RBG cautions that their trails are not suitable for most standard strollers, except those meant for off-sidewalk use. In the event of inclement weather, visitors should call their Program Update Line at 905-527-1158 ext. 404.
Throughout our hike, we stopped over and over again to feed the chickadees. Having birds land on you to feed is as easy as putting some seeds in your hand and holding your palm flat — you won’t have to wait long!
Sunflower seeds are the favourite food of
chickadees. As you hike, listen for “chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” their distinguishing call. It’s one of the most complex vocalizations in the animal kingdom. Depending on slight variations in the phrases, the call can act as a contact call or as an alarm call. I think there’s even a variation that means, “here comes a hiker – chows on!”
Jr Burlington was happy to share his sunflower seeds with other kids along the path so that they could have the thrill of birds feeding from their hands too!
In Grindstone Marsh, we came across a pair of Mute Swans and stopped to admire them. Another hiker told us about the difference between these swans and Trumpeter Swans (with black beaks).
Apparently Trumpeter Swans were once native to the area, but were hunted to the brink of extinction almost 100 years ago. Mute Swans (with orange beaks) are attractive, but aggressive and not native. Through a Trumpeter Swan Restoration Program, it is hoped that Trumpeter Swans will eventually displace Mute Swans from the area.
Along one Marsh overlook, we came across a listening post setup to demonstrate various bird calls. The Ontario Nature Guide we brought along tries to describe the bird calls but this is much more helpful!
Hendrie Valley is well known for its beautiful boardwalks. There are benches placed along the way that offer a chance to sit and soak up the beauty of the surroundings.
At the end of our hike, we popped into the gift shop at RBG Centre to show
the staff how many virtual Coins we had collected by scanning Tagz with the Snappz Treasure Hunt app. A button was awarded to celebrate our success!
Did you know that you can preview the RBG trails and learn more about nature with a virtual hike before leaving home?
The Get To Know Virtual Hikes website follows the same trail and boardwalk trek that we explored in person. The site challenges visitors to spot 25 different plants and animals and provides accompanying descriptions, photos, video and audio for many of them. The idea is that you will enjoy your outdoor experience more if you know a little about the plants and animals you see along the way. We found this to absolutely be true. Our son was able to rattle off names and information about many of the sights we saw based on information he learned by playing the RBG virtual hike game before leaving home!
As famous Burlingtonian Robert Bateman has said, “caring for our environment begins with getting to know the names of our neighbours of other species.”