WIGWAMS, MUD AND BONES
THE LAURIE LAWSON OUTDOOR EDUCATION CENTRE
Recently, on a cool sunny day, we put on our rubber boots and went to explore the Laurie Lawson Outdoor Education Centre. This unique property, north of Cobourg, is jointly owned by the Northumberland Land Trust and the Kawartha Pine Ridge School District. With hiking trails throughout the property, it is open to the public…if you can find it. There is no signage on the road, and even if you know the address, it is easy to drive right past it, as I almost did. Thankfully Sara was already there waiting for me when I arrived, and almost jumped out in front of my car to flag me down. What are friends for?
The Outdoor Education Centre has been in operation since 1968, offering more than 150,000 children access to the outdoors and an opportunity to play in the woods and learn about the local flora and fauna of the area. With 100 acres of land, this unique property includes ponds and marshes, vernal pools, forest, the Cobourg Creek, and loads of trails that meander through a variety of woodland habitats. Local hikers and dog walkers enjoy the property, and groups of local school children are frequent visitors.
On our visit, Sara and I started out by briefly glancing at the trail map posted near the parking lot, and we decided to follow a trail along Cobourg Creek deep into the woods. The creek was clear and cool and flowing quickly that day. As we went deeper into the woods, we began to see many structures here and there; lean-tos that had been made by school children as part of their outdoor education. While being taught to make these structures is certainly a unique learning opportunity, the lean-tos gave the cedar forest a bit of a creepy “Blair Witch” feeling to it. Even in sunshine, the forest had a gloomy feel; and the presence of the lean-tos felt downright sinister to me, but perhaps my love of horror movies had something to do with that. Regardless, the lean-tos are well built and are sturdy enough to crawl into to explore. Children love them.
Hiking deeper into the forest, we discovered that while the trails are well marked with blue tape wrapped around trees, it is easy to get turned around, and…er…lost, as we did…twice. But being the intrepid explorers that we are, we managed to retrace our steps back to the blue flags, poking fun at each other as we went, and soon found our way on the trails again.
Along the trails we spotted all sorts of interesting things including moss, mushrooms, both white and burgundy Trilliums, and other flowers. Eventually we came to a beautiful and peaceful marsh hidden in the woods. There is a long wooden boardwalk and platform that extends out into the middle of the marsh. We walked out onto the platform and stood there for a while, enjoying our peaceful surroundings and admiring a Canadian Goose and a beautiful male Mallard duck swimming about.
We could just barely see the Goose’s mate across the marsh, likely nesting. These fowl did not seem the least bit concerned that we were there. Our "good deed" for the day was performed when we found and saved a drowning worm, freeing him from a pool of water and releasing him back onto the ground. He seemed quite appreciative of our efforts, but you never can tell with worms.
We later came across a very cool wigwam in the woods, apparently made by by Port Hope high school students. While very interesting, we felt the wigwam was a little lacking in the comforts of home (there were a few holes in the roof), so we proceeded on.
We also came upon a mud puddle. Not just any mud puddle, but a deep, wet mud puddle filled with sticky, gloopy black mud. We tried to resist our urges and just walk around it, but with rubber boots on, we could not. So we played in the mud. We stomped. We splashed. We jumped. We laughed. We behaved like 5 year olds with no watching. It was good fun.
Towards the end of our visit, we discovered the bone yard; an open area in the woods where the well weathered bones of a cow have been strewn about and can be picked up. Definitely educational. Definitely a little creepy. Yes, we played with the bones.
We had a great time making various woodland discoveries at the Laurie Lawson Education Centre and with so many still unexplored trails, marshes and patches of forest, we will be back, to happily play like children in the woods.