Early spring is one of the best times to visit the boardwalk on the Dofasco 2000 Trail. Over two spans, the 1.9km boardwalk runs through the centre of the Vinemount Swamp. This is the largest intact forest remaining above the escarpment in Hamilton, and is an excellent example of a deciduous swamp ecosystem.
What is a swamp?
Simply put, a swamp is a forested wetland and they are different than marshes. A marsh is an area dominated by submergent and emergent herbaceous vegetation (plant life growing under or in the water, like lily pads and cattails). Swamps on the other hand are dominated by woody growth like trees and shrubs. They are located in areas that are flooded permanently or during certain times of the year. Often, they have wet soil year-round, even if there is not standing water present.
Swamps are unique ecosystems that are increasingly threatened by urbanization and agriculture. They provide pockets of habitat for many interesting and sometimes endangered wildlife that you wouldn’t normally see elsewhere. They are excellent spots for nature enthusiasts, and provide great educational opportunities for kids.
What can you expect in early Spring along the Vinemount Boardwalk?
The Vinemount swamp provides the perfect habitat for amphibians. From late March to late April, you’ll be greeted by huge choruses of Spring Peeper and Chorus frogs. Frogs call in the spring as they look for mates, and it is common for hundreds or even thousands to be calling at once. This is called “chorusing”. Think Bohemian Rhapsody, except with frogs instead of Freddy Mercury. Try timing your visit in the late afternoon or early evening and on damp days for the most impressive choruses. This can be an amazing experience, and is almost guaranteed to blow away young children who have not heard the phenomenon before. The boardwalk allows you to get right into the centre of the swamp where you are surrounded by the sound.
Instead of looking down, look to the sides, and up. Many tree and shrub species bloom in early spring, and two that are common in the Vinemount Swamp are Pussy Willow (Salix Discolor) and Silver Maple (Acer Saccharinum). Both have strikingly different flowers that bloom in early spring. Pussy Willows are large shrubs, so you can easily see their flowers directly beside the boardwalk. Silver Maple blooms are high up, so you may want to bring a pair of binoculars to help you see them better. At the brink of summer in a few months, keep your eyes peeled on the swamp floor to see the eye-catching Blue Flag Iris (Iris Versicolor) and easy to spot Michigan Lily (Lilium Michiganense).
Study the pictures below and then try to identify them in the field!
Flooded farm fields on each end of the Dofasco Boardwalk provide perfect feeding grounds for migrating waterfowl. Common sightings in early spring include Tundra Swans, various duck species, plovers and other shorebirds that typically carry on to northern shores. Along the boardwalk inside the swamp itself, observant visitors may meet significant breeding birds like Northern Harriers and Sedge Wrens as spring progresses.
Sounds cool! How do I get there?
Visitors looking for a daylong hike or long bike ride should park at the Devil’s Punchbowl Conservation Area, located at 185 Ridge Road. The Dofasco 2000 Trail head is located just across the street from this parking lot, and it is about an 8km hike to the start of the boardwalk from here. Be warned – in springtime muddy conditions should be expected, especially between Second Road East to Tapleytown Road. HCA staff are working on improvements to the trails in these sections.
Those looking for a quick visit, and/or those with little ones are encouraged to park safely on the shoulder of Powerline Road, between Tapleytown Road and Fifth Road East. From here, head east on the trail from Fifth Road and the boardwalk begins roughly 300m from the gate on Fifth Road.
The Vinemount Swamp is an amazing spot year round, but these sights and sounds make spring a unique and special time to visit. Hurry up and strap on those hiking boots to experience the boardwalk while spring is still here!