Thursday, 5 February 2015

Before Valens Lake Conservation Area

Not many people realize that Valens Lake looked very different 50 years ago; to many, they only know it as it is today. This park didn’t exist back then and it was all farm land, which the Hamilton Conservation Authority bought to build a dam to help control flood waters. Where the lake is today was once only a small creek. Today all you will find are a few ruins, rock piles and old stone and cedar rail farm fences running through the trees where once there were fields. Below is a map of the area from 1875, the Valens Lake Conservation Area boundaries are in red. 

In the early 1800’s the area where the park is located was settled by a number of pioneer families, one of them was John Valens after whom the park and the village was named. This area was covered in old growth forest and they cleared most of the land for farming. In the mid sixties, the Hamilton Conservation Authority approached the landowners on which Valens Lake is now situated and bought the land to make a reservoir to control flood waters and provide water for the Beverly Swamp during dry spells. The dam was constructed and some of the land which would be flooded was cleared of trees. It took less than a week for the lake to fill up to its present level. A major tree planting program began and many of the farm fields were planted with scots pine, red pine and spruce. Site plans were developed for the day use area and campgrounds and the conservation area slowly took shape. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests stocked largemouth bass in the lake and was the only species of fish ever introduced, all the other fish just appeared over time.

There were only 150 campsites (17 sites had electric and water hookups) when the park first opened, today there are 226 sites. The campground looked much different back then; all the trees would have been small saplings no more than a couple feet tall when they were planted. To get an idea of what the area looked like take a walk through the 30 hectares of land which the HCA purchased about eight years ago, it is located to the west of the Cedars loop; follow the trail between sites 309 and 310. This area was planted shortly after the HCA purchased it, these fields will eventually be developed into campsites. We plan to start developing the first loop in 2016, which will add about 25 new serviced sites.

There are remnants of farm buildings across the property; you can find some by the Ruins Group Area and across the lake where the Rabbit Run and Boardwalk Trails join. There are also remnants of a lime kiln next to the fire pit in the Pinegrove Group Area. There are only two original homes remaining on the property, one is located at the front of the park as you drive in on the right. This was owned by the Ferguson Family, it is a beautiful large stone house. The other house is located across the lake next to the dam, John Valens built this house and it was purchased by the McNealy’s in the early 1900’s, from who the HCA bought the property. One room of this house was used as a post office in the early days.

Today as you walk the trails around Valens Lake, all you will see are the remnants of fields, fence rows and rock piles. It is hard to imagine corn or wheat growing throughout the campgrounds and horses pulling plows as the farmers tilled the fields. The lake was once a large field, today people swim, canoe and fish where once a farmer grew crops and cattle grazed. So the next time you are at Valens Lake Conservation Area and see a rock pile or fence line, stop and take a moment and imagine the pioneers clearing the land…if only they could see the place now.

Paul Karbusicky
Valens Lake Superintendent
Hamilton Conservation Authority


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Nature Crawl in the Dundas Valley

The Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision and Strategy joined forces with the Hamilton Conservation Foundation (HCF), the Hamilton-Halton Watershed Stewardship Program (HHWSP) and the Giants Rib Discovery Centre (GRDC) to recognize the year’s donors and volunteers and all the efforts to preserve and enhance the Dundas Valley Area through a special Nature Crawl, The Shades of Autumn.  Free to all donors, the crawl featured a BBQ and two guided hikes into the beauty of the Dundas Valley, in the height of its fall colours.

HCF and HHWSP were also highlighting their receipt of a donation by the RBC Blue Water Project Leadership Grant of $45,000 dollars for an upcoming pilot project entitled Made in Dundas Solutions to Managing Stormwater.  This grant will fund the  HHWSP’s work with landowners and volunteers in the built Community of Dundas to encourage, design, implement and demonstrate lot level retrofit projects to reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff into Spencer Creek, which flows into Cootes Paradise, Hamilton Harbour and Lake Ontario.  More about the HHWSP

One of the guided hikes was led by Giant’s Rib volunteer hike leader, Ron Plinte. Ron is one of a half dozen volunteers who leads weekend interpretive hikes for the GRDC. The “Giant’s Rib” was an early name for the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve.  The Giant’s Rib Discovery Centre is a small interpretive centre in the Dundas Valley’s Trail Centre building, which educates visitors about the Niagara Escarpment. Fossil displays, interpretive panels, an escarpment library, taxidermy and crafts for kids are a few features visitors can enjoy on weekends, thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers. As part of the Giant’s Rib Escarpment Education Network (GREEN), the Discovery Centre also features a monthly artist or photographer on display, monthly lectures, curriculum-based Rocks and Minerals teacher’s kits for grade 4, and an escarpment website. The Giant’s Rib is a partner in the Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision. GREEN holds volunteer appreciation days in the spring and fall and was excited to share this event with the Foundation and contribute to the excellent program enjoyed by all.   More about the Giant’s Rib Discovery Centre.
The Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision is a comprehensive community centric initiative which is focused on conservation efforts that are meant to preserve or enhance the Dundas Valley Community and Area. It was my pleasure as Project Manager for the Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision to recognize the efforts of many, and to share how they are helping the community and the Hamilton Conservation Authority realize several elements of the 50 Year Vision. 

After the key note address and the cheque presentation by RBC to the Hamilton Conservation Foundation, two guided hikes were offered into the Dundas Valley. As the Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision Project Manager I led a guided hike to the Hermitage and back along the Main Loop trail. The valley floor and tree canopy provided a spectacular variety of colours for those participating in the hike, and there was plenty of opportunity to highlight the unique natural features of the Dundas Valley Conservation Area including the Carolinian Forest, the Niagara Escarpment, and the history of Sulphur Springs, Sulphur Creek and the Hermitage.  The comprehensive 50 Year Vision recognizes the unique architectural and cultural heritage the history of the area provides; the promotion and preservation of this area is central to the 50 year vision, and sharing it with people is essential. 

The Nature Crawl event provided the opportunity for the Hamilton Conservation Foundation to recognize the donors and volunteers that make environmental, and conservation efforts possible throughout our watershed. In the future, this event will provide the opportunity for partnering organizations, and those fulfilling elements within the vision, to promote their work and reach out to like-minded people, be it organizations, or possible donors/volunteers. 

To donate to the restoration of the Hermitage, please visit the Hamilton Conservation Foundation’s website and select Hermitage Ruins Restoration in the “Fund to Support” drop down menu.  Or contact the Hamilton Conservation Foundation  at 905-525-2181 between 8:30am and 4:30pm, Monday to Friday.

John Williams
Project Manager; Dundas Valley 50 Year Vision and Strategy
Hamilton Conservation Authority