HCA Natural Areas
Almost 3,031 hectares of Hamilton Conservation Authority owned and managed property is made up of natural conservation areas, and plays a major role in the ecology and health of the HCA’s watershed.
HCA’s natural areas cost about $1,800 per ha per year to maintain (about $5 million in 2010 dollars). HCA does not charge admission fees to most of these areas, except when the passive area is part of a larger conservation area where admission is charged, like at Christie Lake or Dundas Valley.
Our natural areas include Beverly Swamp, Borer’s Falls, Crooks’ Hollow, Devil’s Punchbowl, Eramosa Karst, Felker’s Falls, Fletcher Creek Ecological Preserve, Iroquoia Heights, Lower Spencer, Meadowlands, Mount Albion, Tiffany Falls, Vinemount and Vinemount Wetland, as well as trails such as the Chippewa and Hamilton to Branford Rail Trail and sections of Christie Lake, Dundas Valley, Confederation Beach Park, Spencer Gorge and Westfield Heritage Village.
These lands were acquired and protected by HCA because of their sensitive nature and the overall role they play in the landscape-level natural heritage of the watershed. Directly because of this significance, they are typically designated by the province or the municipality as Provincially Significant Wetlands(PSWs), Environmentally Significant Areas (ESAs), or as Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSIs). The actual designation is determined by many reasons, including significant hydrological function, rare habitat, or species at risk, to name a few.
Ownership by an organization such as HCA protects these lands from changes that could be detrimental to their sensitive features and functions. These lands contribute to the larger natural heritage system in the City of Hamilton and surrounding municipalities, which allows for the greater protection of the watershed’s overall biodiversity.
Please note: Natural Areas which feature parking lots are open from 9 a.m. to sundown.
The Beverly Swamp is 2324 hectares in size, of which HCA owns 920.57 hectares. The rest is in both private and public ownership. It spans three watersheds — Fairchild, Spencer and Bronte creeks — and offers one of the best and largest lowland swamp forest representations in south central Ontario. Parts of it can be accessed by hiking the recreational Lafarge 2000 Trail in the northwest end of the watershed.
This wetland is the source area for Spencer, Grindstone and Fairchild creeks and features a rich diversity of plant and animal life, including some that are rare to the Hamilton region. The area functions as a natural sponge, maintaining hydrological balance over a large area and draining into both Lake Erie and Ontario.
The Borer’s Falls/Rock Chapel area includes a forested section of the Niagara Escarpment. The escarpment area provides habitat for many significant species, including the largest single population in Canada of Red Mulberry (a nationally endangered tree species). The area is managed by HCA and the Royal Botanical Gardens as a nature reserve. It also provides a link between Cootes Paradise and the Niagara Escarpment.
There are several significant bedrock exposures, including the vertical exposure at Borer’s Falls. There are also Eastern White Cedar that grow along the cliff-edge as well as a small area of old-growth cliff-edge forest, unique in Hamilton and rare in Ontario.
Borer’s Falls Conservation Area features informal recreational trails and a wide variety of plants and animals, including large stands of lilacs. The Borer’s Creek bridge offers a stunning view of the gorge. Borer’s Falls is a classical, 17.7-metre waterfall, also known as Rock Chapel Falls. The waterfalls once powered the Rock Chapel village sawmill, run by the Borer family for more than 100 years. Land clearing in the area eventually altered the creek’s flow to such a extent that it could no longer provide sufficient energy, so the family switched to steam to power the mill.
This conservation area contains forested land and informal recreational trails. The main features of the area are the waterfall and the escarpment valley that has been carved out by Borer’s Creek as it descends the escarpment face. The layers of bedrock that make up the escarpment can be viewed at the waterfall area.
Crooks’ is located in the Christie Stream Valley natural area. This area includes Christie Lake Conservation Area and Crooks’ Hollow Conservation Area. The area supports several rich wetland communities, including an Alder thicket swamp with ground cover of skunk cabbage, horsetail species, jewelweed and occasionally rough-leaved goldenrod. Sedges and ferns dominate a hilly seepage area, known as “hummock and hollow” topography.
Nestled in a small valley, through which the Spencer Creek flows on its journey to the Niagara Escarpment north of Dundas and Hamilton, lies the pioneer community known as Crooks’ Hollow. Founded by James Crooks, a Scottish immigrant who came to the area in 1805, the Hollow had its industrial beginnings in 1801, when Jonathan Morden built a sawmill on Spencer Creek. James Crooks built the area’s first gristmill, completed in 1813, and named it after his hero, Lord Darnley.
By 1829, this area contained the Darnley gristmill, a woollen mill, tannery, a distillery, linseed oil mill, cooperage, a general store, clothing factory, foundry, paper mill, agricultural implement factory, log cabins for workers and an inn. This area contains the picturesque Darnley Cascade, which, at 225 metres above sea level, is at the highest elevation of any waterfall in the Hamilton area, but, at 1.5 metres, it has the smallest drop. The cascade was named after the Darnley Mill, which was gutted by fire in 1934, leaving only the ruins. The area features a historical trail past the ruins and remaining historical buildings. Learn more about the Crooks' Hollow Dam Removal Project.
This conservation area contains two separate falls, Upper and Lower Punchbowl Falls.
The Lower Falls is a 5.5-metre classical waterfall, and the main Upper Falls is a 33.8-metre ribbon waterfall. The Devil’s Punchbowl is one of the Niagara Escarpment’s most amazing sights, created at the end of the last ice age by huge melt-water rivers that plunged over the Stoney Creek Escarpment, thus carving the Punch Bowl and gorge.
From the bottom of the falls, one can see the many different coloured rock layers of the Escarpment. The Punchbowl is the only area where one can view such a large vertical display of Ordovician and Silurian stratified rock. Some of the layers include Queenston Formation red shale, Cabot Head grey shale, limestone and shale dolomite. There is a spectacular view of Stoney Creek and Hamilton Harbour from the lookout, not to mention the view down into the seemingly bottomless gorge. The Dofasco 2000 Trail, an 11.5-kilometre recreational trail through upper Stoney Creek that features a long boardwalk section through Vinemount Swamp Forest, begins here.
Filled with underground caves and streams, meadows and forests, this is one of the watershed’s unique natural gems. Eramosa Karst is located off Upper Mount Albion Road in the Stoney Creek area of Hamilton. A perfect location for hiking, nature appreciation, and education, Eramosa Karst is a one-of-a-kind property in Hamilton’s natural inventory. Karst are geological formations, including underground drainage, caves and passages, caused by dissolving rock and found in limestone formations such as the Niagara Escarpment. The Eramosa Karst contains examples of 16 different karst features.
The Eramosa Karst Conservation Area offers more than four kilometres of recreational trails, boardwalks and bridges that allow visitors to explore the escarpment forests and meadows, the unique geological formations of the karst landscape and the beautiful natural amphitheatre. Interpretive panels throughout display facts about the area’s natural inventory and history.
Felker’s Falls Conservation Area is a beautiful spot just steps away from an urban environment. This escarpment area is forested and features Felker’s Falls, a 20-metre ribbon waterfall, scenic vantage points and recreational trails, including the Peter Street Trail, a wheelchair accessible loop trail which winds through the conservation area.
The waterfall is the highlight of this area, which also contains one of the few remaining woodlots on the Vinemount Moraine. The broadleaf upland woods that grow along the escarpment slopes serve as a link between natural areas along the Niagara Escarpment Corridor. The rock exposures located at Felker’s Falls have been identified as providing important geological information and of educational value. Though the plunge pool at Felker’s is not as large as the one at the Devil’s Punch Bowl, it does provide an interesting look at the rock layers of this section of the Niagara Escarpment.
Felker’s, like many old escarpment river channels, has an upper and lower gorge. The upper gorge eroded to rapids while the lower gorge developed a waterfall due to its composition of a layer of hard limestone over softer rock. These layers are repeated near the base of the falls, creating another small waterfall.
The Fletcher Creek Ecological Preserve is a unique natural area. An abandoned quarry at the site was rehabilitated, resulting in the creation of a rare type of wetland. Environmental improvements to the area resulting from the restoration are significant and include the expansion of a fen plant community — the rarest form of wetland in Ontario — creation of additional habitat for rare plants and animals already in the area, a new breeding area for leopard frogs, snakes, and a variety of small mammals, such as groundhogs, foxes and bats. A mix of coniferous and deciduous trees will create a canopy that, over time, will provide valuable shelter for wintering birds and mammals. The area contains a trail system and interpretive panels.
This Niagara Escarpment natural area contains a mix of regionally important biological habitats, mostly made up of regenerating agricultural lands. The conservation area features passive recreation, including recreational trails and views of Lake Ontario and the Hamilton/Dundas areas.
This 59-acre conservation area borders Tiffany Creek, a tributary of Ancaster Creek, and includes upland woods and riparian wetlands. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has classified the wetlands as provincially significant. The property has been identified as an Environmentally Significant Area since 1995.
The property is approximately 30 per cent broadleaf forest, 30 per cent successional forest or thickets, and 40 per cent meadows or wet meadows/marshes. It is a groundwater discharge area and considered an excellent wetland habitat for numerous plants, animals, butterflies and birds, including some rare species.
One of HCA's outdoor education sites, Mount Albion is a passive 41-hectare conservation area offering excellent wildlife observation opportunities. As a part of the education program, students have planted more than 5,000 native tree and shrub species, created brush piles to improve the area’s wildlife habitat and built and installed bluebird boxes. The area features a creek, a wetland, reforestation areas, mature trees, trails and old quarry sites.
Tiffany Falls Conservation Area is considered a significant natural area. Its bedrock exposures are considered an Earth Science Area of Regional Significance. The central feature of the conservation area is the two waterfalls within it, Tiffany Falls and Washboard Falls, formed by Tiffany Creek.
The area provides a link between the greenspace corridor along the Niagara Escarpment through the Hamilton urban area, and the extensive natural areas of the Dundas Valley.
The forest area is made up of Eastern Hemlock, Sugar Maple, Red Oak, American Beech, White Ash, Basswood, Black Walnut, Hawthorn, Butternut and White Elm. There are also old field areas and tall shrub thickets.
The highly significant animal, insect, reptile and plant species found within the conservation area include the Purple Clematis, the Hickory Hairstreak butterfly, the Northern Ringneck Snake and the Louisiana Waterthrush.
This swamp forest is the biggest natural forest area south of the Escarpment in the Hamilton area. It is home to several highly significant species of birds, including the Northern Harrier and the Sedge Wren. It also serves as a stopover for many species of migratory waterfowl and supports a heronry. It is the only site in the Hamilton area where one will find the Edwards’ Hairstreak Butterfly, a savanna species of butterfly. In addition, several highly significant species of plants grow within the swamp. Because the Vinemount Swamp is a headwaters swamp, it serves an important purpose in regulating the stream flow in Forty Mile Creek and Stoney Creek. The Vinemount Swamp is visible from the current on-road section of the Dofasco 2000 Trail and its boardwalk through the swamp.
Other areas that are considered passive include sections of Christie Lake Conservation Area, Dundas Valley Conservation Area, Confederation Beach Park, Spencer Gorge/Webster Falls and Westfield Heritage Village.