Turn a walk in the woods into an adventure: Shaw Wilderness Park
By Trish Joudrey
A hike into a wilderness area not only stimulates imagination and sharpens our attention, it elevates our appreciation for the natural ecosystems of our region. Making a walk in the wild fun and engaging for children when there are no beach treasures to discover or park benches to rest on is sometimes a hard sell for parents. But this Halifax family knows how rewarding a walk into the wild can be for parents and the kids—especially when a walk turns into an adventure.
“We call it adventure because every outing is much more than a walk,” explains Nivose Chaulk, mother of Sarah, 8, and Naomi,10. I was intrigued. What made a family walk an adventure? I tagged along on their next outing to find out.
We met at Shaw’s Wilderness Park, a new hiking trail in HRM with old growth forest, brooks and views, enough variation in landscape and terrain to keep things fun.
Bounding from the car, the children race to park’s entrance. “Look at the sign, girls,” says their father, Mike, reading sections aloud. “The 379 acres (153 hectares) will be maintained as wilderness to conserve the Acadian Forest, wetlands and barrens ecosystems found here.”
“I’ve heard there’s a spot where you can see all of Halifax,” adds Nivose. “We’ll eat our snacks there, girls. It’ll be our adventure to find it.”
The goal kept Sarah and Naomi motivated to find the spot. This simple goal also prepared the children for a climb uphill, a possible challenge for some children.
“We always have some sort of goal,” explains Nivose. “It can be as simple as trying a new place or reaching a magical lake. Sometimes we need to adjust it, depending on how tired the kids are that day. It helps us feel we are all in this adventure together.”
Shaw Wilderness Park, a peaceful wilderness area hosting over 40 species of breeding birds and other wildlife and flora, easily feeds a child’s curiosity.
Sarah stops to watch a squirrel’s behavior. Curious, she asks “why does it dart into the log?” Naomi is equally puzzled why foam accumulates on the bank of Williams Lake.
The red ribbons tied to trees to guide hikers along the trail provided the children a chance to be leaders. Each one takes turns locating the next ribbon while the others follow. At a split in the path, Naomi has a decision to make. “Two paths? Which way do we go?”
Her father provides clues, “One path goes downhill, and one goes up. What do you think?” Naomi puts her decision-making skills to work. “Up? So, we can have our snack at the view spot, right Dad?” Naomi beams as she sees her father’s thumbs-up.
Ascending, the children discover unexpected hidden treasures: red lichen growing under a fallen tree, an alarmed army of ants racing along a dead log, a frog hiding under brush, and a handmade crotched dog with a letter on a tree, reminding hikers to pick up after their dogs.
Hearing her father’s shouts of a beaver dam sighting at the edge of the lake, Sarah takes the binoculars to get a closer view. “I see it. I see it!” Her first beaver dam. But Naomi, with her scientific mind, needs more proof.
“There’s one way to find out,” says her mother, taking this opportunity to educate. “If you see a tree that is chewed like a pencil top, you’ll know it’s a beaver dam.”
Searching off the path, Naomi’s interest is heightened when she finds a perfectly gnawed tree stump. “But where are the beavers?” asks Sarah, searching the lake with the binoculars. Concerned that she can’t find them, she commits to uncovering the reason why. “When I get home, I am going to look up to see if beavers are nocturnal. Maybe that’s why they’re not here.”
It was the perfect learning playground, stimulating the brain while having fun. I was seeing proof of positive effects of nature walking in action. The girls’ concentration had sharpened: spotting the camouflaged frog and seeking out red ribbons in the distance. Their initial exuberant energy had calmed: listening to bird songs or standing still to examine ant behavior.
Fortified after a few unscheduled crackers, we eventually reach the spot, a jack pine-crowberry barren, nationally unique to Nova Scotia, on a glacial deposit of granite boulders. Mike seizes the opportunity to share the story of how jack pines need the heat of fires to open their cones, thus revegetating the land soon after a forest fire.
The children stand admiring the view over the jack pines. The panorama from Bayer’s Lake to Point Pleasant Park stretched out to the ocean. “This is so cool,” says Naomi, as Sarah claims her picnic rock, “We found the spot,” she says, “Now we can eat.”
5 Tips to Inspire Children on the Shaw Wilderness Park Trail
1. Venture slightly off the path to add adventure. Visit William’s Lake shoreline to spot lily pads or walk to the stream to watch it flow over the rocks.
2. Follow the red ribbons. Make a game to spot the correct path, because some paths are without markers.
3. Collect and identify samples of various leaves, jack pines, pinecones, photographs of animal tracks, or special scenes from the trail. When returning home, design a nature collage, draw a scene, or write a story.
4. Bring a compass and enjoy following it together. It can be disorienting being in the woods without a landmark. A compass adds to the feeling of adventure.
5. Pack a bathing suit if it is a warm day. Williams Lake has an accessible shoreline.