Being happy volunteering in Happy Valley Forest
In April 2019, my Tiles and Trails hiking group leader, Daisy, asked if any members would be interested in doing trail maintenance at a nearby nature reserve. I had done trail cleanups in the past, so trail maintenance was a natural fit. Plus, it combined my two passions: hiking and volunteer work. I happily said “Yes!”
That summer, we met Jenna, the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) former conservation biology coordinator in central Ontario – West, who showed us the ropes at the Happy Valley Forest in King City. Then we were off to work with garden tools in hand.
In the beginning, we monitored only the Goldie Feldman Trail in the summer. We now cover a distance of almost seven kilometres, adding on the accessible trail, the Donald McGeachy Trail and the three marked trails in Deep Woods, Mary Tasker Reserve and Langtry Nature Reserve. Our initial group of eight volunteers including one leader (Daisy) has grown to 31 volunteers with five leaders. Twice a month, all year round, there are anywhere from two to eight of us ready to go — rain, shine or snow. We are die-hard hikers, so only lightning will keep us away!
Trimmed path along Goldie Feldman Trail, Happy Valley Forest, ON (Photo by Yoke Wong)
I am sure there is a saying “a gardener’s work is never done.” And so it is for trail maintenance folks. Depending on the season and circumstance, we mow grass, trim vegetation, cut overhanging branches, remove tripping hazards and maintain trail markers. We also clean signboards, secure wobbly planks and install anti-slip mesh on boardwalks, pick up trash (very little is found, I am happy to say) and report non-permitted activities (campfires and unleashed pooches, for instance).
Within a day or two of every visit, the team leader prepares a report detailing our work, with commentary and photo evidence, which is emailed to the NCC conservation biologist. The report calls out items that need NCC attention (example, “big tree trunk blocking trail needs chainsaw”) and occasionally, includes suggestions for trail improvements (example, “trail signs here would prevent off-trail trampling”). If warranted, the team leader phones the NCC conservation biologist to address an urgent situation.
Now that I have written out this list, it seems like there is such a lot of work! But as much as I and the volunteers give, we receive many times over. Throughout the forest, we often spot wildlife, mostly red efts (juvenile stage of eastern newt), chipmunks, toads, birds and butterflies, but sometimes monarch caterpillars and their chrysalises. We’ve also spotted small snakes, deer and, in one year, a massive army of spongy moth caterpillars and their “rain” of droppings (not the kind from the clouds!). As the seasons change, we witness the wonder of nature in the flowers and leaf colour, the abundance of fungi, animal movements (or the lack of), and we enjoy the warm summer sun, crisp winter air and soft white snow.
Yoke Wong, trail maintenance volunteer, Happy Valley Forest 2021 (Photo by W. To)
We see first-hand NCC’s initiatives in these past three years — the opening of the Donald McGeachy Trail (we helped build its boardwalks!), the creation of NCC’s first fully accessible trail in Canada, and the expansion of the Goldie Feldman Nature Reserve parking lot. Just last month, our group helped plant 500 trees and shrubs in an open area in the Goldie Feldman Nature Reserve. It will be exciting to see them grow knowing we had a hand in it.
Not surprisingly, although tucked away, Happy Valley Forest gets a good number of visitors from near and far. On our trail maintenance days, we meet hikers and birders who praise NCC for the safe and wonderful forest trails and thank us for our volunteer efforts. It warms my heart and makes me happy to know that we volunteers make a meaningful difference in Happy Valley Forest.
Check out some of the amazing things that we see during our time volunteering in the forest:
Sugar maple tree, Goldie Feldman Reserve, 2022 (Photo by Yoke Wong)
Monarch butterfly chrysalis, Happy Valley Forest, 2021 (Photo by Yoke Wong)
Cleared boardwalk in Deep Woods, Happy Valley Forest (Photo by Yoke Wong)
Fungi on boardwalk, Deep Woods, Happy Valley Forest 2021 (Photo by Yoke Wong)
Fall leaves at Donald McGeachy Trail, 2022 (Photo by Yoke Wong)
NCC tree planting, Goldie Feldman Nature Reserve, 2022 (Photo by Yoke Wong)
Snapshot for Science, Happy Valley Forest 2022 (Photo by Yoke Wong)