Exploring the Cataraqui Trail in a Nissan Titan (Part II)

May 16, 2015

The rumoured rock barrier at the Marina Road failed to materialize, so we cruised in comfort across the side-roads and beaver ponds which make up the landscape on the stretch between Little Lake and Chaffey’s Locks.

When we came to the bridge over the canal with its planked deck and chain link sides, I regaled the crew with a long and windy account of trying to follow my 15 year-old son across the railway ties while he took advantage of his new, suspended mountain bike.  He’d torn across the bridge at full speed while I was reduced to hopping over one tie after another  while gazing at the Rideau through the wide gaps below my wheels.

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Then it was Doug’s turn to tell us about the livestock culvert through the railway bed and how it had become impossible to maintain due to shifts in the rock and gravel above.

When we came to the gate at the road which leads in to The Two Doctors, a black SUV pulled in quickly behind us while Doug puzzled with the key.  The Queen’s Biology Station prof showed Doug how to fit the key, and then asked if he could go ahead because he had a student with a broken ankle a mile and three-quarters down the trail.  Away he went.

I had built up the bird watchers’ expectations with wide-eyed accounts of the great blue heron rookery just off this section of the Trail.  I should have remembered that dead trees don’t stand indefinitely in a beaver pond.  When we finally got to the large marsh which stretched out far below our vehicle, it was treeless, and thus the heron nests had to be somewhere else.  Undaunted, Lloyd and Dwayne kept up their search for songbird nesting sites.

This stretch of the railway line runs through very rugged territory, so we saw quite a few isolated lakes, the most impressive Garter Lake (or Carter Lake; Doug’s map wasn’t clear on the first letter).  It’s a deep lake a couple of miles long which fills the gap between opposing ridges.

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I called a halt at one point to photograph a huge mud beaver dam which maintained a pond at least four feet above the height of the road bed.  If it ever broke, the trail would be inundated with silt cascading down to another pond about 30′ below on the other side of the road.  Rough country.

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Eventually we came upon the band of Queen’s biology students and the guys helped carry the injured woman out a boggy trail to the prof’s SUV.  They loaded her across the rear seat.  She had slipped while stepping over a log on her way to the beaver pond to work on the water snake project.  The rest of the crew dumped waders and other extra equipment into the back of the car, then cheerfully began the hike back to “QUBS,” their pet name for the Biology Station.

As the landscape began to level out Doug called a sudden halt and asked Lloyd to back up about a hundred feet to a trail marker dangling from a sapling.  Then he bailed out and scuttled down the bank to the entrance of what looked like a large cave.  “Take a look at this!”

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As we assembled at “The Grotto” Doug explained that the builders of the railroad faced a unique drainage problem here.  They needed to provide a route for a lot of overflow from a swamp above, so they drilled a tunnel through the granite ridge.  The makeshift culvert looked to be about fifty feet to the light at the other end.  A placid stream bubbled through the ridge and joined a smaller stream at a conventional concrete culvert under the railway bed.

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Soon we came out at another gate a couple of miles short of Perth Road village.  We opted to return by road from there while Doug told us about Opinicon Village, though we were unclear about the location of Postal Gate, which apparently guards the trail to the mythical town site.

Time will tell what the impact of the trip will be on bird house placements, DSV containment strategies, or local history tours, but the ride through the Cataraqui trail before the bugs of summer was well worth the effort for its scenic value alone.

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