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Tim-brrrr – exploring the Kris Starr Sanctuary

Tree at Kris Starr Sanctuary

If you were walking in the Kris Starr Sanctuary in 1865, you could very well have heard the sound of a tree crashing to the ground. Back then, the Longford Lumber Company was busy clearing all marketable lumber our of this area as well as areas much further to the north.

If you were walking in the Kris Starr Sanctuary just a decade or so ago, you might also have heard the sound of a tree crashing to the ground. At the time, Kris, with his brother Cecil, were improving their competitive lumberjack skills. Unfortunately, Kris died of cancer in 2007. Thanks in part to a generous partial donation by the Starr family, the Couchiching Conservancy was able to purchase this property which was named in honour of this young lumberjack.

The Sanctuary is a mixture of alvar and Canadian Shield, with a diverse variety of species. The Head Rivers runs through a section of the property, and to the north, the property connects to the Queen Elizabeth II Provincial Park creating a vast wildlife corridor.

I can remember my first visit to the property. Dave Hawke led me along a trail on the north side of Monck Rd and showed me where a tree still shows the reminders of the lumberjack training that took place here. The tree is showing its age as it is starting to decay and the metal clamps on it are rusting but you can still imagine two young lads spending hours there refining their skills.

From there, we continued along the trail. This is not one of those overly groomed trails; there are fallen trees and knobs of exposed root and moss covered rocks to step over. It is necessary to keep eyes peeled to spot the pink flagging tape that marks your way.

Suddenly we arrived at the beaver dam. It is incredible to think of how much work was, and still is, put into building a structure that towers about twice my height above me. With no tools other than teeth and feet, how many beavers put how many hours into creating and maintaining this wall? It is amazing, and yet also a little scary. As we stood on the dry side, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if the dam should give way while we are standing there?” According to Dave, there was a rupture in the recent past and the water rushed down towards the Head River, taking a road culvert with it.

At its south end, the Sanctuary takes in a small piece of the Carden Alvar, and the steep limestone slope created by the rough caress of the glaciers. At the foot of this slope, the Head River meanders across the reserve, its spring floods nourishing a rich floodplain forest.

We then refreshed our batteries by sitting quietly on sun-warmed bare granite looking out over the beaver pond. The pond was quiet that day, no ducks, no beaver, but it was still a wonderful opportunity to feel the strength of the rock underneath us. As we sat, we took a little time to identify some of the plants around us, species that typically grow in this area like wintergreen, sweet fern and juniper.

Eventually we returned to the south side of Monck Rd to explore the property on that side. We followed the trail down to the Head River flushing a couple of ruffed grouse along the way. After a brief stop at the blue beech to stroke its muscular surface we found ourselves standing on the shoreline watching the water move placidly along. Damselflies like ebony jewelwings and powdered dancers settled on limbs and leaves, gorgeous colours glowing in dappled sunlight.

The Kris Starr Sanctuary is a place of history, a place for nature and a place to reflect and remember. I will be back.

Written by Ginny Moore.

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