FORKS OF THE CREDIT (Hiking with Dog Paddling Adventures)

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Once the leaves escape the trees, leaving them bare, I usually find many hikes as dull as the scenery; yet, I was impressed with the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park in mid-November. Evergreens and bare trees protruding from leaf-covered hills, a swift moving rock-filled river and a waterfall plunging into a gorge decorated the landscape. The company of other people and their dogs topped off an enjoyable day. Dog Paddling Adventures Tessi and I shared the outing with the group Dog Paddling Adventures (DPA), a company Eren and Kathryn Howell created in 2000, when they started with a few canoeing trips that included their dog, Jessie (husky mix), and allowed people to bring their own four-legged friends. Eren states on their website, "I have always appreciated watching the natural world, and the opportunity to share it with our pets brings a whole new perspective to the outdoors." Eventually interest led the couple to offer hikes where dogs would be able to run free. Jessie not only participates in the outings, she holds the position of Chief Dog Operator. The Toronto-based couple plans and organizes the outings, which take place in the beautiful nature parks north of the city. All people and canines are welcome whether experienced or not (besides the most difficult canoe trips). Even the necessary equipment is provided. Length of excursions varies from one day, up to five days. Whereas canoeing keeps DPA busy throughout the summer, hiking takes up the spring and fall seasons. Winter provides skijoring and snowshoeing adventures with the group. A Diverse Landscape All these activities are available in the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, where widely varied terrain consists of trails traversing the Niagara Escarpment and the rolling hills of the Oak Ridges Moraine. A generous variety of trees and vegetation grows in the forests we traipsed through. The park is large enough that we easily accomplished four hours of hiking, while leaving more exploration for another visit. The fall day I signed us up for turned out to be overcast and fairly mild. I was comfortable in jeans and a couple of layers covered by a light windbreaker. Tessi was contented in her own fur as usual. Meeting New Friends Eren greeted us right away in the parking lot and pointed out where everyone was gathering. Once I had my backpack and cameras organized, Tessi and I joined them. Eren went over what our day would entail. A couple of expert guides also joined us - Donna, with Murphy (lab) and Rosie (border collie); and Sarah, with her puppy companion, Logan (husky/shepherd mix). Each of us in the group took turns introducing our dogs and ourselves. Canine hikers ranged in size, age and breed - from Sierra (American mastiff) to Tala and Cleo (mini schnauzers). Logan, at three months old, was the youngest, whereas some of them, such as Mike (lab/cocker mix), were in their teens. The human parents, all varying in age, were mainly women with just a few men present. Most of the group has participated with Dog Paddling Adventures before. Liv, Mike's human mom, is one of DPA's returning customers. She once lived in Calgary, where she and her dog often enjoyed exploring the mountains. During one of their outings they came upon a young bear at Sunwapta Falls. After stunned stares all around, Liv and her leashed companion headed the other way before finding out if momma bear was wandering the area. Liv now calls the Niagara region home. She hasn't found too many dog-friendly places yet, though she says there are a lot of pretty little parks. Sarah and I talked about various topics on and off throughout the day. She had also lived in Calgary, mentioning that coyotes are a concern in addition to bears. Now she lives in Toronto, where she enjoys taking Logan to the dog park at The Beaches, a lakeside community and well-known tourist destination in the city. I had plenty of opportunity to chat with my fellow hikers as the day carried on. Carolyn, April's (husky/shepherd mix) mom, told me how April had been bitten the year before in a Toronto off-leash park. Carolyn had been gradually getting her used to other dogs again, purposely waiting to join a large group such as Dog Paddling Adventures. While Carolyn and I talked, I could tell April was a little anxious around some of the dogs; however, with Carolyn's guidance she settled into a pleasant walk. Sierra had her own issues to work through. She had gotten lost on a previous outing, but was soon found. Her mom, Debbie, thought maybe she'd stay close this time. They were together every time I noticed them. The guides, equipped with two-way radios, disperse themselves throughout the group. They can quickly check with one another if anyone or any dog is missing. Tessi, as usual, zipped around trees, bushes and hikers (human and canine), only pausing to beg for treats and to sniff through foliage. Every so often I'd have to call her back if I lost track of her while I was conversing with others. A few of the dogs had a romp in a pond we passed. I enjoyed watching the big-bodied Sierra frolicking in the water like a child. Debbie had mentioned Sierra doesn't swim; however, the water was shallow enough for some fun. We took a brief break where a couple of trails meet. Eren led us toward the platform overlooking Credit Falls where, for the first time that day, our group spread out. I tended to lag behind because of my picture taking. We took a longer break at the platform. If Tessi and I had been on our own, I would have, if possible, headed to the bottom of the falls for some exploration. As if Tessi knows my interests, she started heading that way as we approached the platform. While we appreciated the view from above, Eren handed out snacks consisting of GORP*, candies and Kool-Aid. He had recommended we bring water for ourselves. After Eren took a group photograph, we headed on. Having a minor issue with my own camera put me way behind the group. Eren and one of guys walked in sight ahead of me. While Tessi ran back and forth between us, I tried to catch up. Interesting photo opportunities of scenic hills and patterns in the grass kept me behind though. The trail eventually returned to the Credit River, where soon the woods opened to reveal a grassy field. I paused to take pictures of the dogs running and jumping through the long grass. We stopped for lunch by the shallow, fast moving river, where a wall of trees loomed as a backdrop. The guides set out a selection of food items, such as lunch meat, cheese and buns, on a flat part of a tree. We had our pets leashed as previously requested; no one wanted them eating our hard-earned lunch. They had gobbled a lot of goodies along the way, since we had been encouraged to help ourselves to Eren's stash of dog treats. They were offered the leftovers after we ate. Our afternoon tour would reveal the park's steeper climbs. Twenty years of being smoke-free means little when I ascend steep hills. One of our fellow hikers had the right idea by pausing a few times to take pictures, giving her lungs respite from the climb. Stinky Messes We settled into a fairly level hike where our footsteps crunched the dead leaves carpeting the forested floor. Partway through the afternoon, a couple of the dogs wandered a little too close to some animal excrement. I saw one dog's fur was smeared with brown that smelled quite stinky. I felt sorry for the dog's mom; yet, to be honest, I had that instinctive reaction of relief Tessi had not been the one in the situation. About 10 minutes later I caught Tessi rolling in some excrement herself. The rest of my day would be filled with her repulsing aroma. I tried rinsing her with the rest of my bottled water. I've always known to carry water when hiking, but never thought of its uses beyond satisfying thirst. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough to rid her of the icky substance. As we carried on with our nature tour, hope of a larger water source appearing kept me distracted. Nevertheless, I continued to chat with some of the others, such as Andrea and John Ackroyd, while their dogs Amy Jay (border collie) and Daphne Rose (cocker spaniel), along with Tessi, dashed back and forth ahead us. The couple is from Oakville and quite often run their dogs at their local dog park. On the last leg of our hike, we reached the pond we had encountered earlier in the day. I gave Tessi a rinse with a piece of cloth I happened to have on me. Back at the parking lot, as I wiped Tessi off with an old towel generously given to me, I thought about how gratifying it had been to have someone else plan an outing. I could enjoy the walk while letting others worry about where we were going. I also appreciated being sent directions beforehand to assist in finding the parking area. I've spent too many trips getting lost on my way to parks and in parks. Fun Year Around Time moves on and soon snow will blanket Forks of the Credit Provincial Park and the rest of our countryside. Dog Paddling Adventures will bring out the skis and snowshoes as they abandon themselves to the winter landscape. In no time at all, green will sprout everywhere bringing the heat of summer. People and their canoes, including DPA and its customers, will be found paddling our province's many rivers. No matter the time of year, a person and his or her canine companion can find interesting ways to enjoy the outdoor scenery. For More Info *The acronym GORP stands for Good Old Raisins and Peanuts, but is informally used to name any mixture of nuts, dried fruits, seeds and such eaten as a high energy snack during outdoor activities such as hiking.

(c) Cheryl Smyth, 2009

Pictures Eren had taken during our hike can be found at:

http://www.dogpaddlingadventures.com/trippicsnov152009.html

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