Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The reincarnation of "Maria's Walk"

A lovely New Year's Day, sunny, snow packed trails, lots of people out enjoying the sub-zero weather.

My day's self-appointed mission was to search through McMaster University parking lots M, N, O and P to try and find the lost trails of what was formerly Royal Botanical Gardens property known as Coldspring Valley Nature Sanctuary.
RBG Map of Coldspring Valley

Before setting out I took a 1960s hand-drawn RBG trails map and laid the map over a google earth satellite image of the area to try and get a handle on where the former trails were in relation to the current parking lots and driveways. The map was not drawn to scale, but it did have the streets above (or south of) the valley marked to help give an idea of where everything was more or less. The creek to the west and Cootes Drive to the east helped define the area.

The combined map looked like this:

My Hybrid map of Coldspring Valley/McMaster Parking
My original intention was to use the map to retrace the steps of RBG conservationist W.J. Lamoureux who detailed a textual description of a hike made in 1960, two years after the trails were formally established, and just three years before the property was purchased by McMaster to create a massive asphalt parking area. 

Knowing the area as it is now, it was clear to me that no trace of the Coldspring trail, the Transvalley Trail, or the Prospect Circuit likely remained. I intended to start where Lamoureux did, at the easy to find (former) trailhead at Lakelet Drive at the Binkley family cemetery. 

However, I altered my starting point, thinking that using the other easy to find trailhead, still in use as a path, at Thorndale Crescent, and trying to pinpoint the location of Maria's Walk would (if I could find it) give me a waypoint to aim for when I attempted to follow Lamoureaux's route (which took in a bit of Prospect Circuit, then easterly on Erigan and past the junction of Maria's Walk before hooking into Coldspring Valley and Transvalley Trails (see RBG Map above).)     
   
My search for Maria's Walk started at the southern trailhead at Thorndale Crescent, where nothing much has changed from the 1960s. Following the existing footpath northward I noticed how the university driveway-roads had cut through the hill in the late 1960s when the parking lots were built, stranding a giant tree on a small green island surrounded by parking. 

As the trail ended in pavement, I crossed directly to the north side of the main driveway between the main campus (to the east) and the west parking lots. I walked west down the driveway looking for a way down that approximated the hand-drawn trail route, and then climbed over a guardrail and followed the slope of the hill down. I ended up scrambling through trees and broken branches and skirting the rear of the Engineering Applied Dynamics Laboratory building, ending up in parking lot "O".

It didn't feel like quite the right location given the other landmarks I was using and looking at the angle of the trail on the 1960s map, but I thought it was close enough for now, and I headed back to start at the Lakelet Ave trailhead. Maybe I would have better luck there.  

Instead of going to Lakelet, though, I decided to go back and have one more look for Maria's Walk, from where the trailhead hit the pavement. Directly across from the point where the original trail ended, across the driveway and behind the McMaster University sign for Lot M, N, O and P parking, I found it!

The main portion of a very healthy remnant of Maria's Walk! This trail made perfect sense given the map I had, and it is the only way down the hill in a way that makes sense from a trail-making point of view, the other approaches being far too steep.
Looking down Maria's Walk
It seems that drivers parking in west campus lots were using this trail (and some may still be) but McMaster has blocked the lower entry point with branches to get people to use the sidewalks, though this is a nice shortcut through the remnant woods. Someone (maybe McMaster) has made quite large "speed bumps" on the trail, likely to discourage hikers.
Looking up Maria's Walk
I certainly did not set out this morning expecting to find an intact trail, but this one is clearly the trail shown on the map as Maria's Walk.

My goal for the new year is to find out why McMaster blocks the trail, and to see if we can get it reopened as a "use at your own risk" footpath between Main Campus and West Campus. Maria's Walk will live on!


View from behind parking sign, looking south toward Maria's
Walk Trailhead/Thorndale Crescent (houses in background)

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