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A winter hike in the St. Clair National Wildlife Area

Snowman on trail in the St. Clair National Wildlife Area greets people. Photo Kim Broadbent

Snowman on trail in the St. Clair National Wildlife Area greets people. Photo Kim Broadbent

By Kim Broadbent

Remember that snow we were supposed to get? Well, we got it and we got it good. Between the temperature dropping to -40 C, the snow and the ice, going outside was not an option. By yesterday, the boys and myself, were starting to get a bit stir-crazy so we decided to ignore the slight drizzle outside, dress in some warm rain gear and go out for a hike anyways. The destination? The St. Clair National Wildlife Area.

Now this is a spot that I have only heard about recently, but it has been on my ‘must-do’ list ever since. It just amazed me that it was only a short drive away from us and that I have never been. It also sounded like it should be pretty decent.

As we drove up the dirt road to the entrance and towards the parking I realized that this was going to be a lot more better than just pretty decent. All along us on the left side was just water and marsh areas. You could just imagine how full they would be of geese and ducks in any other season except, the one we were visiting it in. I was already blown away by the size of this wildlife area and we didn’t even get out of the car yet.

When we got out of the car the almost 4-year-old basically jumped out before we got his seat belt taken off. I handed him his fire truck umbrella as promised, even after a discussion that the rain was gone for the day and he was ready to go.

The 2-year-old, not as much. He was fast asleep. Learning from our lesson from the last experience, we knew not to try to hike with a sleepy kid. We carefully put him in his winter coat and plopped him in the umbrella stroller, covered him with a blanket, then threw another blanket over top of the stroller to block him from the very cold wind.

Oh that wind! I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to even start the walk, it was so cold. Each gust of wind just burned your face and any other skin that was exposed. Even our oldest was saying he was ready to go home after only a few minutes. As I was telling the hubby that we could turn around as he was pushing the stroller on rather rough terrain of mud and snow we noticed a little landmark up ahead. Well, our little guy didn’t take long to forget about this chill in the air and ran to see what it was. Someone big and someone small (judging the footprints around the area) made a snowman. It was such an exciting trail find and it brought a smile to all of our faces. So to whoever made that snowman, thank you!

We asked the snowman which way we were to go and kept along the trail. Now, I know winter hiking isn’t the most popular type of outing, especially with young kids that you have to bundle up and try to keep warm and dry, but please, try to go out at least once! It is such a great lesson on how animals and plants change with the weather.  We saw a few different animal tracks, and some led to the ice, others from one side of the trail to another. There were also little burrow holes in so many places. We were able to talk about the many possibilities of what they could be from, the size of them, and what they were doing. It is just a great way to talk about wildlife around us even when we can’t physically see them anywhere.

Small bridge in the St. Clair National Wildlife Area. Photo Kim Broadbent

Small bridge in the St. Clair National Wildlife Area. Photo Kim Broadbent

As we kept going we came across a little bridge where we spent a few moments looking down at the ice below us and the bit of it that was melting. I was pretty surprised that our oldest did not even ask about throwing rocks or sticks into the water, but he seemed pretty preoccupied in wondering where the fish were.

The sun kept peeking in and out of the clouds throughout the hike which made it a very interesting hike in itself. One moment the sky would be gray and reflecting its dark colour back on us and our surroundings with that bitter cold breeze, and the next, the sun would warm us up a bit, shining all around us making the blue waterways such a bright blue, and highlight the reeds in a bright golden colour, it was just so beautiful.

There was an observation tower that we saw on the map about half way through the 5km trail. We made this tower our goal. As we walked down the trail we had the tall reeds blowing on both sides of us, and then the water on both sides of them. The trail itself is very well maintained. The fact that a little umbrella stroller could make it through (though not suggested) is proof of that. I also really liked the idea of having the reeds on both sides as it acted as a natural boundary from the water which made it more relaxing with two little guys that run around like crazy on most trails.

Now, I can’t forget to mention the soundtrack that came with this hike. The almost 4-year-old is in pure crazy Star Wars addiction right now. So our soundtrack was him singing the Star Wars theme in between doing Boba Fett things, sometimes he is Boba Fett, like protecting us from stormtroopers and hidden Sarlacc holes. Luckily for us, we made it to the observation tower as that is where he could [Boba Fett]  get more fuel for his jet pack. So please remember that if you happen to have a jet pack!

The two of us went up to the top and the view was spectacular. Again, I can only imagine how much more amazing it would be during Spring, Summer, and Autumn, but it was sure worth this cold hike to see it. Water and marsh was all around us and just kept going on. The timber from the tower made its own little wooden frames built for this natural picture. As we went down the stairs to check on the other two, the 2-year-old ran up to me, happy to be up from his nap and free!

The boys played around for a bit at the tower, sliding down the ramp, climbing stairs, and playing in the snow. We did finally get to see some wildlife as a huge amount of ducks started flying overhead in small intervals but eventually the cold started to seep into us all and we headed back to the car. And, with one more wave to the little snowman, we left feeling happy and fulfilled from this beautiful trail.

I highly recommend this trail and can hardly wait to visit it again come spring!

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Kim Broadbent bio: First and foremost I am a mother of two little guys and married to one amazing man. While I do have a B.Ed. I currently work at a part-time job so I am mostly at home in the parenting world. I have always loved the great outdoors and living in Thunder Bay for a year only expanded my love. Now that we are back and settled in Chatham-Kent my love for the outdoors is curious to see what is in our own community. Join me on my adventure as I hike on the many trails that Chatham-Kent has to offer. Follow me on twitter at @CK_Hiker for updates. Read my blog Take a Hike CK.

  • Tianna Rayne Burke

    I’ve visited St. Clair so many times and surprised how few locals know about it! It’s a wonderful, wonderful place to visit!! Be sure to visit in March for Tundra Swans and many many ducks!