As I mentioned in my last post, I have spent an incredible bit of time up north this summer, which is good. Getting copious amount of sun and exercise, which is also good. But what is even better than all of this is that none of it has been the opposite, bad. Last summer as readers of this blog will know there were several distinct moments where our northerly fun was quashed by heavy handed administration, crumby weather and other campers who lacked basic etiquette. This year has been the polar opposite. Weather – lovely. Companions – a joy. Other campers – pleasant. Administration – unseen. And, as always, Ontario Parks – magnificent. I can only hope you have been enjoying it as much as I.

So this past weekend we blasted up the Trans-Canada highway bound for a park I had heard a lot about but never visited. Oddly, it was a park for which many sung its praises but no one ever said exactly why. No one ever explained what made it so great. It was almost as if there were some indescribable element that everyone experienced but instead trying to explain it, they simply said… ‘go and see.’

Bon Echo was the park and it lived up to much of its hype. And as it is not the mandate of this blog to leave you guessing, I shall try my best to convey its majesty.

Located in between Belleville and Renfrew, Bon Echo is considered by many to be one of the post picturesque parks in Ontario. Heavy coverage of old pines, which have been left to grow since the early 1900’s, leave ground level relatively sparse. None-the-less, smart site placement allows for excellent privacy for most campers. The Group Sites, where we stayed, are secluded and natural, many offering paths to private beach areas off of Joeperry lake. The park itself, with its clearly cut paths and high canopy with sparse ground coverage truly reflects the use of the park as a resort and a children’s camp, as it was used from 1900 – 1950.

Bon Echo’s true defining feature is Mazinaw Rock. Rising erect directly out of Mazinaw Lake, Mazinaw Rock stands above the water over 100 meters and carries for over 1.5 km. When I first saw it I could do nothing but stand awestruck. It is as if picked directly from a Group of Seven painting, and, indeed, the Group of Seven did frequent the park, and I am sure stood equally awestruck as I.

We were quick to rent canoes and paddle alongside the great wall. Mazinaw Lake, I quickly realized, has one of the most interesting topographies I had ever come upon. Upon leaving a lagoon where you rent canoes, the land parallel to Mazinaw Rock at the other side of the lake, about .5 km across, abruptly juts directly towards the rock wall. This means the lake suddenly narrows to only a tiny passage right next to the wall before quickly widening again. This forms a peninsula which, viewed from above, is one of the parks most unique features.

Canoeing next to the wall you are treated to several other surprises. Native Canadian pictographs can be faintly seen painted on the rock wall. 260 of them total! We were told about them before heading out but they are still very difficult to see. Another option is to take the Mugwump Ferry on which an experienced guide will point them out for you. Drifting along you come upon another bazaar sighting. A memorial to poet Walt Whitman is actually carved into the wall in foot high letters. Former owners of the area commissioned the memorial and it still stands today. A slight shame to perform such a novelty in a place of such grandeur but certainly an interesting spectacle.

There is also a spectacular trail that hikes on top of the wall and is only reachable by boat. The park operates a shuttle at the price of $3 per rider that will take you across, or you can rent a canoe and dock it. Either route to get there is definitely worth the price of admission.

The beaches of Bon Echo are decent. Several options are available, one grassy, one with fine rock, and the last pure pebble. The Mazinaw is actually the second deepest lake in Ontario, and due to the extreme glacial impact, sand and mud are quite rare under the water. The pebble lake bed means the water remains quite cool, though with the summer we’ve had it is still perfect for swimming. This also means that fish and other lake species are not all that numerous in the area. Though the park is one of the few places where you can find Ontario’s only lizard, the Five-Lined Skink.

Bon Echo is another of Ontario’s absolute treasures. And although I have done my best to show its wonder, I still implore you to ‘go and see.’

What an incredible summer. Blazing sun overhead wide open weekends and an almost ridiculous amount of time spent up north in Ontario’s countless paradises. So much so that this blog remains severely under-updated, and for that I am sorry, but tis better to do than to say, says I. Besides there will be plenty of cold winter nights to convey my stories, that I promise you. (And, as always, I love hearing your stories too)!

On one such visit to the vast northern vantage we found ourselves just north of Barrie in the outdoor amusement park that is Horseshoe Valley. Braving instinctual fears of height and insecure footholds, we decided for a friend’s birthday to try zip lining and tree top trekking.

For those who don’t know, tree top trekking is like an obstacle course up high in the trees. Sounds amazing, right! You are connected to safety wires at all times and must manoeuvre across ropes, bridges, swings and other obstacles to find your way from one platform to another. At some platforms, you must attach a slider that is also on your harness, and zip line from platform to platform, quite a rush!

Having a few friends who had talked about crazy/dangerous experiences with zip lining in exotic destinations like Costa Rica, I assumed the Canadian version would likely be an over-supervised, foam-padded, plus-sized McDonalds play land. I expected underwhelming.

Luckily my first impression was a good one. I was running late and had fallen behind my group, so the awesome instructor who ran me through my orientation lesson recognized that I was a big boy and gave me a condensed run down of safety and how everything worked. She was quick to turn me loose on the training courses, which were expectedly small and easy, but we were quickly certified and ready to hit the challenges.

Sure enough, when we reached our first course, a 40’ ladder brought us to a towering platform high above terra firma. We crossed several rope bridges, slid across a wire, swung from platform to platform on a rope, and completed all manner of obstacles, some quite challenging. We hit the first zip line, a decent 200 foot slide from end to end. In all there are about 20 bridges, zip lines and other obstacles to cross before reaching the end, all of which leave you will a solid sweat and some pretty decent calices.

The second course started with a bang, five consecutive zip lines, some over 300 feet. Much higher than the first, many of the platforms are literally at the top of the tall pines. Some of the obstacles in the second course were quite difficult, and several in our party had slips and near falls. Several also missed the grab ropes at the end of zip line runs and were forced to pull themselves hand over hand back to the platform.

The last course, the big zip, is an incredible 900’ long zip line. Again this is likely better seen than talked about…

Overall I was blown away by how much fun we had tree top trekking. It provides a decent challenge, some great thrills, a solid work out, and, most importantly, a great outing for good friends. Check out www.treetoptrekking.com for more info.

Beyond wine and spectacular vistas the Niagara region has an incredible abundance of offerings. The microclimate that creates the impeccable wine capabilities of the region also creates a perfect opportunity to create some of the freshest and most delicious fruits, vegetables and herbs in the country.

The Niagara Region’s strategic location places it off the southern coast of Lake Ontario bordered by the Niagara River to the East and the Niagara Escarpment to the West and South. The geographic equivalent to winning the lottery, the combination of these factors leaves the region at a constant temperature variance from the rest of the province. In the heat of the summer, the region is up to 10 degrees cooler than neighbouring regions, and in winter, it can remain 10 degrees warmer. This allows for the longer and more consistent growing season required to grow more finicky foods like tender fruit. The wind off Lake Ontario also plays a strong role as wineries have even learned to plant their vines in lines perpendicular to the water so that the winds rush up and down the rows, providing event cooling and heating and consistent temperatures.   It is also why almost any time of the year, a trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake feels like a full on vacation.

The best part about having this fresh food paradise close to home is that Niagara Farmers love to show off their wares. A drive across Four Mile Creek or Niagara Stone Rd. features countless produce stands where you can pick up fresh-off-the-vine/tree fruits and vegetables in their perfectly ripe form. Usually cheaper than grocery store, 5000 mile foods, you might even find stands asking you to simple pay-what-you-can for these sumptuous offerings. You often feel guilty, favouring a stealthy getaway, after paying the recommended 2 bucks for an incredible bushel of the biggest, freshest peaches you’ve ever seen, that are indeed worth their weight.

Early summer stop by for rhubarb, plums and absolutely amazing cherries. The cherries continue into the mid-late summer and are joined by apples, strawberries, apricots and pears. Late summer signals the arrival of amazing peaches (the best I’ve ever had, take that Georgia)! This not to mention squash, pumpkins, garlic, nectarines, blueberries, raspberries, elder berries, eggplant, tomatoes, and much, much more. Fresh herbs of all varieties are also readily available.

Some uses of this bounty are better than others😉

We are indeed lucky to live near such a fresh food paradise. Warmer climates including the United States usually get a jump on the fresh food market which thus causes us to stock up on fruit that is either unripe, or that ripened over countless kilometers in the bed of a smoke spewing 18-wheeler. If you search for local, the pay-offs are numerous. Supporting local farmers, environmental benefits, fresher, better tasting foods, pride of community, getting outside, saving money, and the joy of finding fresh foods at a local farm or farmers market. You can’t lose!

Check out the following link for a great summery of Niagara’s culinary offerings!

http://www.niagaraculinarytrail.com/index.php?page=map#farms

If you love the peaches as much as I do, pick up a bottle of Peach Wine at the Konzelmen Winery. Locals snatch up most of the stock of this unique vintage each year but if you’re lucky to stop by the winery at the right time, you might find yourself with a bottle.

Several of our Summer 2010 weekends have been spend meandering through the wineries of Niagara and checking out the shops of Niagara-on-the-Lake. I sincerely enjoy few things more than I enjoy wine. Far from a pretentious wino, however, my tastes rarely depend on the amount forked out to obtain any given bottle. I have turned my nose to the sky at $50 vintages (an act of slight pretention, I admit:) ) just as I have raved about the newest value bottle from the LCBO shelves or our latest pinotage from the local make-you-own shop. There are just few things finer than a glass or two amoung friends, or three… or…

Naturally then, does Niagara call to me. Whether by car, foot or bike I love wandering its fields and learning its secrets and histories. Each winery has its own quarks and stories and it is a pleasure to learn them all. On our most recent visit, a stop at Joseph’s Eststates Winery found us drinking a wine with the smiling bobble headed face of Hazel McCallion, the long time mayor of Mississauga, on the bottle. “She loves it, and only she knows the grapes that are in it” proclaimed the women behind the counter. Joseph’s has an incredible, though seemingly politically motivated lineup of wines that range from dark and bold Pinot (the official wine of the Ontario Legislature) to an incredible, slightly over-sweet Port (a rare find in Ontario wineries).

Touring the wineries and learning these stories, we’ve decided, is best done by bicycle. Several weekends ago we started off from a very helpful bike rental shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL) and began our trek riding along the Niagara River’s edge through the town. We passed Fort George and met up with the Niagara River Recreation Trail, an incredible multi-use path that stretches 56km through Niagara Falls to Fort Erie and back to NOTL. On the way we visited Reif Estates Winery before making a short turn on Line 2 to visit Caroline Cellers, Pilliterri Estates and Joseph’s. Cycling along the river provides spectacular scenery and any detour is sure to find you amongst vines and tender fruit trees.

It is not a difficult route by any stretch, which is likely a good thing when the wineries hand out samples as freely as you could snatch the grapes off the vine.

Biking is an amazing way to see one of Ontario’s most unique regions while sampling one of our finer resources (wine). So if you have a day, grab your bike and hit the road.

Were always looking for suggestions so if you know a winery, bike route or destination in Niagara we’d love to hear it!

Having lived in Toronto for nearly a year and a half I have come to find wonder in its streets and a small form of tranquility in its parks and natural spaces. That being said, it is still a wonderful thing to escape the city’s density and find more scarcely populated lands.

Such an urge came upon us earlier in the spring and we decided to find our way to a trail I have driven by all of about a thousand times in my life.

So we travelled up highway 50 through the lovely town of Palgrave. Just off the highway’s east side lies the beautiful old Mill Pond. During the winter, this pond is transformed into a series of skating rinks, up to five in total, open to all who take the time to enjoy them. Having grown up a short drive from Palgrave, I spent a great deal of time playing shinny on these rinks with the numerous unnamed opponents and teammates that found their ways to the pond. I was told by several people that one of the people that lives on the pond’s southern shore upkeeps the rinks all by themselves, a truly noble labour, if true. However, I digress.

There is an entrance way into a Rotary park on the north western shore of the old mill pond. There you find the hidden beginnings of what turned out to be a small but brilliant trail. Walking, follow the pond’s western edge under a bridge beneath hwy 50, minding the sludgy water that sits before a small man-made dam and waterfall. Walking past the dam, you can either go over a small bridge or continue through the forest into the trail. What awaits you is a surprisingly beautiful trail, rich with rickety bridges, wild flowers and wildlife, including a blue heron that my camera was not quite quick enough to catch. One of the trails tributaries leads up to a dead end at a famers field, where you will find decayed remains of decades old farm equipment that has been abandoned in the woods.

The trail is quite short, but it’s relatively hidden location and beauty make it well worth the short trip.

Palgrave is literally a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of community. What used to be a wonderful ice cream shop has since closed down but you can still stop by the Café for kind service and great refreshments after your walk.

For those looking to venture, Palgrave is located just north of hwy 9, off highway 50. We’d love to hear about any great trails, perhaps hidden like this one, that you’ve found on your travels.

After a winter off here we are again, with more exploring of wide open Ontario spaces to do and stories of the road to tell. We’d love to hear your tales so please feel free to send them along. Happy trails!

Best,
Scott

So being the avid readers you all are (;) you have surely seen my last post and the one before that regarding Ontario Parks and their slow and steady exploration of social media. In my last point I posed the question: were they, in fact, listening to what I had to say?

As it turns out, they do listen! Late last week I was graciously contacted by a member of the Ontario Parks staff who looks after their web based interests. He informed me that Ontario Parks had nothing to do with the Facebook contest I spoke so highly of (I appreciate the honest admission, even if it did mean I was mistaken)! The contest instead belongs to Ontario Tourism, so good on them as well.

We ended up having a great dialogue on the importance of social media, advocacy and conversations, all of which this individual clearly understood and respected. We also discussed some points I slightly (though not entirely) overlooked, such as the difficulty in maintaining consistent, relevant and high value communications with audiences, particularly when the individual parks themselves may also be in the social media mix.

In my minds eye, the importance of social media has less to do with providing “value” to your audiences and more to do with simple communication. We have long observed business in their ivory towers; their faceless voices only ever heard with the next sales pitch. But social media offers a chance for organizations to engage with their audiences in a way that can be meaningful to both sides. It is a chance to humanize a brand, to converse with and learn about your audiences, and to push yourself away, sincerely, from pure profit motivation.

Twitter is a perfect example of this. Sure you can promote initiatives and new products, but if you fail to somehow engage audiences so that they actually want to hear about such things, your promotion will simply fall on deaf ears. By showing true interest in the environment in which your business functions and conversing with those interested in that environment, you can start to become one of them. This can be achieved through advocacy, listening and retweeting, simple conversation or numerous other ways. The trick is to be sincere, push away the profit motivated bias, and interact as a human being. And the potential benefits, both from the positive perception and financial standpoints, are almost limitless.

I am incredibly impressed that Ontario Parks is listening to those who care about the services they offer. This blog may not be far reaching, but if nothing else I am one of Ontario Parks’ caring customers. And by them reaching out to me – through my medium no less – shows they clearly have some appreciation for what their customers have to say.

And that is more than you can say about many organizations out there.

P.S. Check out the Ontario Parks Blog!

This is interesting.

At the end of my last post on Ontario Parks’ neat new social media contest I questioned why Ontario Parks had a twitter account ( @ontarioparks ) but never used it.

That was September 3, 2009.

And on September 4, 2009, in came their first tweet!

http://twitter.com/ontarioparks

Were they listening?

If so, good on them again for keeping an ear to the ground and following where they’re being talked about. If not, and I am just being a little to big headed about my little blog; good on them still for at least acknowledging your 692 followers.

If they are listening and would like to contact me, I would be happy to chat about how great it would be to stop “thinking about twitter,” and instead,  jump right in.

Organizations beating the drum of social media trends is nothing new, but it still makes me happy when I see organizations that one might consider “trend averse” dipping their feet in.

That’s why I applaud Ontario Parks for giving it a go with their new contest on facebook – “Discover My Ontario.”

The contest is a neat capitalization on social media trends as it plays off of both Facebook and the uber-trendy microblogging site Twitter (find me @scottfry). It basically asks participants to submit their best camping memories in 140 characters of less for the chance to win a digital camera. I think it’s a great contest, super easy, quick, and fun. I celebrate them for having the foresite to use the substantially more popular facebook to promote the contest while playing on the “fashionability,” of microblogging.

Good on you Ontario Parks!

Learn more at: http://apps.facebook.com/discovermyontario/Default.aspx

I’ll be submitting my memories, will you?

P.S. I starting following @Ontarioparks on twitter but they have never posted anything, were they afraid of getting name-jacked, perhaps? I would love to hear something from them.

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Being a relative newcomer to Toronto I find one of my favourite things to do is explore this enormous city. Whether wandering the many diverse neighbourhoods or seeking out the cities numerous parks and trails, there is truly always something new to discover.

One thing that has amazed me is realizing just how connected the city is. Guaranteed public transit connects the farthest corners of the city allowing you to go almost anywhere you need to (so long as they aren’t on strike); providing a literal lifeline to the city. Similarly, the many trail systems that run serpentine across the cities expanse provide the connective tissue that links communities together.

This became clear to me as I set out over the last couple of weeks to explore the Humber River trail system. The 32 km stretch of trail in the west end connects Etobicoke from the lakeshore all the way to highway 401. After tuning up my old CCM bike, I set out from Old Mill subway station and in less than 30 minutes found myself back to one of my favourite parks in Toronto, James Gardens. The trails are paved and in decent condition. They follow the river closely and cross it by bridge several times. Scenery is nothing to write home about but it is neat to look up from the river at the steep embankment and the city above. The trail is rarely interrupted by roads making for a very fast and enjoyable ride.

Having such a trail to connect Etobicoke is truly great. It provides a quick, clean and enjoyable method to access different communities in the area while also preserving the sanctity of the land through which it carves. Wouldn’t it be great of the whole city was connected this way?

Any other Toronto trails you would suggest?

P.S. I need a new bike, badly, any suggestions? Looking for a healthy medium between a mountain and street bike.

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