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The Thomas C. Agnew Nature Reserve (Washago) Loop Trail Review
The parking for this one can be a challenge depending upon the direction of your approach. Some idiot divided Hwy #11 years ago, making navigation difficult around here. I’ll describe it from the South on Hwy #11. Just before Washago, take Anchor Dr., left on Shoreview, over Hwy #11, and right on Fawcett Rd. then drive to the end beside the bridge – NOT at the end of Facett road at the gate. This link will take you to the parking area : https://goo.gl/maps/FhQpXhuWgf1FJrBL6
You’ll see a small sign saying “VISITORS TO THE FAWCETT RESERVE PLEASE PARK HERE”, which is kinda funny ‘cause there aren’t any trails at the Fawcett Reserve, but there is a wonderful trail beyond it, at the Thomas C. Agnew Reserve (which isn’t even mentioned on the parking sign nor anywhere else, for that matter). Park your vehicle, and start walking North-west on Fawcett Rd. At less than 200 meters, you’ll come up to a gate that looks rather formidable. Walk around it and continue for another 400 meters to The Fawcett Reserve … where you’ll find no trails. So, continue walking Fawcett Rd. for another 600 meters (a total of 1 km from your parking area) to the Thomas C. Agnew Reserve.
Did I mention the walk along Fawcett Rd., is a lovely stroll in itself ?
UPDATE April 20/22 – If you wish to avoid walking the road, please see Ron Kluger’s comment at the bottom of this review describing, and providing, a map link to an alternate entrance. Thanks Ron.
You’ll notice all description of intimidating signage right from the gate concerning the railroad. Don’t worry about it. There’s a railroad bridge about 400 meters further up Fawcett Rd. from the Thomas C. Agnew Reserve. It crosses the river and Fawcett Rd. ends at it, and I guess we’re supposed to care. Whatever.
You’ll find the Agnew Reserve right where the hydro towers cross the river and it’s very clearly marked with a nice big sign and a rest bench. The trail starts by crossing a boardwalk under the hydro towers, and passes a Snapping Turtle nesting restoration project. Then it quickly banks off to the North and into fairly dense forest. The markers are a green/blue rectangle on a white rectangular background. The Wife noticed a yellow rectangle at what looked like the exit of the loop trail at the trailhead. We figured out what that was all about while walking the trail.
Anyway, the trail leads along until you see a small pond to your left. But don’t get too distracted by the water. At least not in late May to early June when, if you look to your right, you’ll be treated to a view of these.
There’s another Snapping Turtle nest restoration project, and some mixed forest walking until you come to a spot where the trail ahead stops, and is barred with a length of birch tree across it. The trail markers turn yellow, and the trail makes a sharp right. The trail straight ahead continues, but it’s obvious someone doesn’t want you to continue going that way. This trail is VERY well maintained and a great deal of attention has been paid to it … recently, so please respect the handlers wishes, and just take it to the right as we did.
From this point on, the trail gets a little lower, and a bit wetter. It has the potential to become wetter still, depending upon recent weather, and the season. As you walk past numerous small wetland ponds, you’ll see a pair of yellow markers with another white backing marker cut into an arrow shape with the words “Simcoe County Forest” hand written on it. We were here to review the Agnew trail, so we only took a quick, short look and found a nice trail heading off into the forest. There’ll be more on my research into the Simcoe County Forest in my “Final Take” below.
As we burst out of the bush onto the shore of a lovely large pond, we discussed, not just the proliferation of wildflowers, but the just plain size of the wildflowers. I felt like I was in a “B” grade movie titled “The Trail That Time Forgot” with everything being huge and prehistoric. We’d never seen such huge wintergreen berries on such huge plants. Those Ladies Slipper Orchids were at least 14 inches tall, and the flowers themselves were almost four inches long. I’d only seen Painted Trilliums once before, and they were maybe 4 inches tall with flowers about one inch in diameter. These ones were a good 12 inches tall with flowers heads nearly 2 inches across. Unfortunately, we were about a week late to catch them at their best. The only things that seemed normal were the Fringed Polygalas. Everything else was huge.
Once I was through marvelling over the plants, I could finally pay some attention to the lovely pond they were ringed around.
The forest starts to get a bit scrubby from the pond on, until you break out of the forest at the trailhead.
The Final Take
Though only a 1.5 km loop trail, it’ll involve a two km (return) walk down Fawcett Rd. with lovely views of the river all the way. The trail is almost wide enough for two to walk side by side for a few stretches, but it’s mostly single file. The Spring wildflower displays are unequalled. There’s water, small boardwalks, more water, and birdsong rang all around us. The trails are very well maintained and even more well marked. Someone really cares for this site, and it shows. Please respect the wishes of the handlers by NOT exploring the old trail but by just taking it to the right where the markers color changes.
There was no mention of dogs, but this wouldn’t be a very interesting trail for a dog who’d just step off trail and sink into muck to track into your car. The only sound you might hear is that of the railroad. Unfortunately for us, we had to put up with the sound of (what felt like) the longest train in Canadian history, but quite frankly my dear, I didn’t give a damn. I was in shock over the wildflowers, and so hardly even noticed. I would assume all the mention of ponds and such would alert you to bring bug repellant ?
As for the Simcoe County Forest … I looked into it, and it’s touted as being the largest County forest in Ontario with some 33,000 acres. However, those 33,000 acres are scattered across the county in about 150 packages. Our thanks to Eric for his comment (below) pointing out that these tracts are quite varied. So I’ll have to do more homework to determine which tracts might be worth the four to six hour round roadtrip for us to review. Having said that, the small County Forest Tract trail offshooting from the Agnew trail won’t add much to the total length of your walk. From what little we saw, and Google satellite view, it’s pretty much just a dry forest with not much of interest in it.
There are no facilities of any kind here with the exception of a parking area, (a picturesque walk of one kilometer from the trailhead), and a rest bench at the trailhead.
Have a nice walk.