Boyd Conservation Area is open weekdays and weekends from the end of April until the end of August, then weekends only from September through to Thanksgiving. It’s closed the rest of the year. Pets are allowed on the trails, but they must be on a leash. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trails Admission costs $6.50 for adults (15 and older) and $5.50 for seniors (60 and older). Children 14 and younger are admitted for free with their families. For more information, call 905-851-0575 or visit trca.on.ca.
Those are just some of the things you might spot during a trek along the trails in Vaughan’s Boyd Conservation Area, nestled in the East Humber River valley, just south of Rutherford Road, at 8739 Islington Ave.
Three main trails and several side trails snake through the sprawling park, owned and maintained by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).
With its myriad amenities – washrooms, soccer pitches, bocce courts, picnic tables – Boyd park is a popular spot for large group picnics, corporate and non-profit functions, cross-country running events and summer camps, among other things.
In the last few years, it has also become a bit of a hotspot for locally shot television shows, especially in the winter.
Given all that activity, you’re unlikely to find yourself alone, at least not in the open areas, but once you hit the trails, it becomes much more serene and, depending on the time of day, you might not encounter a single soul.
Pierre and Janet Berton Trail
Of the three main trails running through the park, the Pierre and Janet Berton is arguably the most publicized.
Getting there requires driving about 1.5 kilometres into the park from the main entrance off Islington Avenue, but there are ample signs to help you find your way.
There’s a large stone marker at the trailhead bearing the honorees’ names.
The 1km loop trail existed for decades, but underwent improvements several years ago and was officially dedicated in May 2011 to recognize the prolific Canadian author and journalist and his family for supporting the Friends of Boyd Park, a local group that successfully stopped the proposed extension of Pine Valley Drive through the conservation area.
The hard-packed dirt trail runs through a forested area of the park, which has been deemed environmentally sensitive, according to Grant Moravek, assistant supervisor at Boyd.
“There are things that grow here that don’t grow anywhere else – some special lilies, a natural spring that never freezes (and)… Jefferson salamanders, which is an endangered species,” said Moravek, a seasoned outdoorsman who has worked in the park for more than a decade, during a recent morning hike.
You’ll also find a wide variety of hardwood trees including cherry, some very old elms, birch, walnut and a few of the endangered butternut tree, “but they’re hard to find”, he said.
A mostly flat, hard-packed trail with a single boardwalk through a wet area, it’s ideal for beginners, Moravek said.
There used to be a stone bridge along the seepage area, but it was washed away by the frequent floods that occur here, he said.
The bridge was built by Dr. Edmund Boyd, an ardent conservationist who owned the property until 1954, when he sold it to the local conservation authority.
At the point where it loops back toward the park, the Berton trail joins up with the William Granger Greenway, a wide, crushed-gravel trail popular with hikers and cyclists that runs alongside the branches of the Humber River, all the way up to Bindertwine Park in Kleinburg.
Those looking for a longer hike can head north along the Granger trail. Others can head south, back into Boyd Park.
William Granger Greenway
The William Granger Greenway, which is part of the Humber River Trail, is named after a former TRCA chairman.
It meanders alongside, and occasionally crosses, the East Humber River with a connection to the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.
Though largely flat, there are a few steep inclines along the route.
The section that passes through Boyd Park is mostly through open meadows.
At points, it affords some up close viewing of the East Humber River, which is a feeder stream for the main Humber.
“We get a good run of salmon in the fall and rainbow trout in the spring,” Moravek said. “Depending on the water level, sometimes you can see them running up and down through the culverts, under the bridges. There’s some natural speckled trout in here, too.”
The river is also home to the redside dace, an endangered species of minnow with a characteristic red stripe along the front half of the body.
They can be seen leaping out of the water to catch insects.
Also noteworthy about this route is that it lies along the historic Toronto Carrying Place Trail, an aboriginal trade route linking Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe and the northern Great Lakes.
As such, artifacts have been found along the trail from time to time, Moravek said.
Within Boyd Park, the Granger passes by an old quarry that was left to re-generate naturally.
Homes from the Islington Woods subdivision that abuts the park sit at the top of the ridge. Down below, out of sight from the trail, are a couple of wetlands that serve as home to an array of animal and plant species.
Those seeking a slightly more challenging hike – though still not terribly difficult — should consider the Red Trail, which runs along the top of the river valley through the densely forested part of Boyd park.
“It’s a good cross-country trail,” Moravek said.
There are three entry points to the trail, none of which are very well marked at the moment due to the devastating ice storm in December 2013.
One can be found at the rear of the Poplar Hill picnic site, located just inside the main gate off Islington Avenue.
For those wishing to drive further into the park, there are access points at the Valleyview picnic site, which provides for a shorter hike, and at the Cliffside 1 site, though, the latter trailhead is fairly steep.
Much like the Berton Trail, the Red Trail is packed dirt with lots of tree roots.
The terrain is undulating and the trail is quite narrow in some sections.
From the Poplar Hill trailhead, it runs alongside Islington Avenue for a fair distance, so depending on the time of day, the din of traffic can overwhelm the sounds of nature.
It then cuts a swath behind the Islington Woods subdivision before plunging into the forest at the park’s north end.
As you travel east along the trail, there are a couple of side trails with wonderful vistas of the East Humber.
It also affords you a view of the wetlands that have formed in the former quarry; the same ones you pass by, but can’t see, on the Granger trail.
All-in-all the Boyd Park trails are perfect for novice hikers looking to work up to more challenging treks or for those seeking respite from the sights, sounds and stresses of the urban jungle, says Moravek,
“You’re right in nature and if you’re into it enough to pay attention – to watch and listen – it’s a great place to be.”