Last summer, I discovered I have a new obsession: exploring non-operating provincial parks. I had a lot of fun exploring Burnt Lands Provincial Park near Almonte and hiking Mashkinonje Provincial Park in West Nipissing. This time, I went to visit Alexander Stewart Provincial Park in the Ottawa Valley.
Non-operating provincial parks are protected provincial territories that typically lack basic infrastructure, visitor centres, parking, and staff. But since they are public lands, it is still possible to access them and, quite often, to hike there.
What I particularly like is that non-operating provincial parks are often less known and therefore much less busy. Many protect watercourses, as well as rare flora, fauna and geological landscapes, and are therefore interesting to visit.
In the case of Alexander Stewart Provincial Park, it is a small nature reserve that protects a early successional hardwood forest of maple, American Beech, basswood and some less common species such as Blue-Beech and Bur Oak. This piece of land was donated by Garfield and Ethel Stewart to the Government of Ontario and is named in honour of their father.
There are about 1.5 kilometres of trails there and I followed them all when I visited this small provincial park. Since the forest is mostly made of hardwood trees, I imagine it must be prettier in the summer than under the gloomy November skies, but it still gave me the opportunity to do a nice walk in the woods.
The trails were a bit tricky to follow as they were covered with fallen leaves and the few markers you can find here and there were a bit confusing. Sometimes I felt like I was going in circles and had to retrace my steps a few times when I realized that what I thought was a trail ultimately wasn’t.
Still, the forest is definitely a great spot for a fairly easy walk. I saw a lot of birds (including several woodpeckers) and a few squirrels. Apparently, work is underway to improve access to the provincial park, such as building bridges and cleaning up trails. This is giving me a good excuse to come back eventually!