by Don Johnston
People sometimes ask where the name of this nature reserve came from.
The donors of the property had given this sanctuary the name High Lonesome inspired by the novels of one of their favourite authors, Louis L’Amour, feeling that it reflected the peaceful spirit of the place.
Ask people in Lanark County about High Lonesome and those who have discovered it will tell you about their encounters with nature in this special place just outside Pakenham. Visitors talk about the unexpected: like the surprise of seeing a mother grouse scurrying away with her brood in tow or spotting a baby porcupine keeping watch in a nearby tree. Often it’s the sounds of nature like spring peepers or the wind through the pine trees that they notice. In winter they enjoy inspecting animal tracks in the snow or perhaps sighting deer while snowshoeing through the woods.
My favourite place at High Lonesome is along Spooky Marsh. The trail leads off from the main path into the woods then over an embankment and steeply down to the edge of the marsh. All along the way are stands of cedar, pine, beech and hemlock. One can’t help but feel a sense of awe simply from being in the presence of these magnificent old trees.
This wonderful place is available to the public because fifteen years ago, a small group of naturalists decided to take direct action to preserve wilderness in our little corner of the world. The idea was simple, acquire wilderness properties and then protect them forever. The key was to find people who owned such properties and who also wanted them preserved. Well, it worked! and it continues to work. The Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT), owner of High Lonesome, has just acquired its 7th property. It now is the steward for over 2500 acres of wilderness in our area where nature can flourish undisturbed.
High Lonesome is one of MMLT’s properties where the public can visit anytime year round to explore its trails and experience nature. This 200-acre property was given to the Land Trust by the Spicer family. Ken Spicer, who continued as the steward of this land, had a passion for the property that was contagious. He would lead families to the giant oak tree and point out all his favourite spots with great enthusiasm. He called it “a place of character; a place to wander and become immersed within the world of High Lonesome.”
Volunteers clear its trails in April and then, starting in May, there are several guided walks over the summer given by volunteer experts. Last summer volunteers built a welcome centre using materials paid for by generous donors* where visitors will be able to pick up a trail map and use the new ‘privy’.
At events for children, kids and their parents hike to various activity stations to wade in the pond gathering salamanders and frogs with nets, make ‘eco-art’ or rope from bark, to climb the big old oak tree and to listen to the sounds of nature with special headphones. These experiences will foster the next generation of advocates for conserving wild places in Lanark County and beyond.
There is more information about High Lonesome at https://mmlt.ca/protecting-nature/our-protected-properties/high-lonesome-nature-reserve/.
* Thanks to Mountain Equipment Coop for their donation to the Welcome Centre and to the Civitan Clubs of Almonte and Pakenham for their donation to the new ‘privy’. Thanks also to Jacquie Christiani and Sherryl Smith for their thoughts on what they love about the place and to Mary Vandenhoff and Michael MacPherson for sharing their knowledge.