The layers of history of a place sometimes reveals themselves over time. With every visit you see more detail. It makes that history more real. This gives you a deeper sense of place and makes the history come alive around you. Although I love exploring new trails I also love getting to know a place. French Fort Cove is one of those places that we return to at least once a each year.
The rain had cleared and my daughters and I agreed that we should go for a hike. The boys were building a fort in the woods and Vicki wasn’t feel well. It looked like it would be just the three of us. We wanted to go hiking and not just for a walk but it was mid-afternoon so we didn’t want to drive very far. The trails at French Fort Cove Park were the best option.
We parked at the end of the Old King George Highway near the curling rink. We usually accessed the Fish Quarry Trail from here. This time I wanted to hike the trails in the opposite direction to mix it up. We walked down over the hill to the covered bridge. The sun was hot and the wind was cool. We wore t-shirts but brought our rain jackets just in case. I wasn’t convinced that the rain was finished.
After a quick check of the beaver dam being built under the bridge we started the long steady climb up to the ridge. We came to the lookout platform in the woods. My daughter figured that since we were here we might as well check it out. The only thing to see from the lookout platform was a large aspen that was half eaten by a beaver. It wouldn’t be long before it would fall into the valley.
We continued our climb and were soon at the trail junction. We could have just done the Fish Quarry Trail but we were feeling good and continued on the Creaghan Gulch Trail. I wanted to take the girls to the lookout above the quarry. In my opinion the rocky outcrop is the best view in the park.
As I walked along the tops of the cliffs overlooking the old quarry the girls ran ahead. I was deep in thought. When I first started hiking the trails at French Fort Cove I couldn’t figure out what a fish quarry was. I thought it was funny when I realized that there is no such thing as a fish quarry. The Fish Quarry was a rock quarry owned by a guy with the last name of Fish.
I caught up to the girls at the lookout. The were cracking up after reading the Warning: Zombies Ahead sign at the entrance to the lookout. That turned into a conversation about the headless nun being a zombie.
When they crossed the narrow rock walkway, and emerged onto the lookout rock, they were wowed by the views and forgot about zombies and the headless nun. The wind was blowing strong. I took pictures as the girls explored the surrounding rocks. I remembered when I first hiked this trail with Vicki. It was not long after we first started dating and she was equally wowed by the views.
We continued to walk through the young jack pine forest and I told the girls about the fire from which the stand originated. A large forest fire swept through the area in 1986. It destroyed all of the trees except the largest of the white pines. There are still many old snags that are covered in charcoal along the trail. Jack pine cones need the intense heat of a forest fire to open up and they love the sandy soil of the cove. I remember sitting on the lawn at the bottom of my street looking across the river at the fire and smoke. At the time I would have been the same age as the girls are now. That made me feel old.
We dropped down into the valley and crossed the log bridge over the stream. We noted the large beaver dam in the stream above the bridge. The girls thought it would be cool to be on the bridge if the dam ever let go. I told them it would only be cool because they would be washed away in the cool stream.
We made our first climb up out of the valley. I was looking for charcoal covered snags to photograph after our talk. This section of trail climbs up and down the hill a bit. We passed a deep square hole that I can only assume must have been a well. It still had snow in the bottom where the sun never shines.
The large white pine trees that survived the fire are fascinating. Their thick rough bark protecting them from the intense heat. Some of them had fallen since and were in varying states of decay. They were still easy to see in in the young forest that was slowly consuming them.
My daughter asked about the really gray soil along the trail. I told her it was from the pine needles that leached the nutrients from the soil. This resulted in acidic soil that made it difficult for competitors to grow. She asked how I knew such random things. I think what she meant to ask was, are you serious or are you making that up? I sometimes embellish the truth in my stories and they are getting old enough to be suspect. I told her that I had taken courses in soils, forest stand history, and weather in my forestry degree. She thought that was kinda cool. I’ll take it.
We dipped down into the valley again and found a new, long bridge crossing the stream on the Fish Quarry Trail. There were several small waterfalls near the boardwalk. We sat and enjoyed them for a bit before we continued on.
We made our last steep climb up out of the valley. I thought of the many thousands of years of erosion that had resulted in such a deep ravine. Another layer of history. Probably the first layer. At the top we sat on a large rock and had a water break.
The young aspen stand transitions into a young, narly beech stand near the parking area. We found one beech tree that was covered in moss and slugs. After testing the minimum focal distance of my camera on the slugs we returned to the car.
After all of the thoughts and discussions about the history of the cove I felt like I had a deeper appreciation for the place. It really is an amazing place that I had taken for granted for many years. I will continue to visit on a regular basis and hopefully peel back more of the many layers of history.