More than a decade in the making as a provincial park, DuPont is classed as a nature reserve. The new park, the first on the St. Lawrence River in Eastern Ontario, includes a mature hardwood forest, a coastal wetland and one of the largest heron nesting areas in Eastern Ontario. (Photo courtesy Jeff Sorbie)

DuPont Provincial Park:
Heronry among gems in nature reserve on St. Lawrence River

It’s the best-kept secret on the St. Lawrence River.  

There are no entrance signs or parking area announcing Ontario’s newest provincial park, located beside the village of Morrisburg. You also won’t find any designated trails in the 612-hectare park, whose southern boundary boasts about 1,500 metres of frontage on the St. Lawrence River and includes MacDonald Island 250 metres offshore.  

You can’t camp here. Or ride your ATV.   

But if you enjoy getting up close with nature, DuPont Provincial Park is worth the visit: you’re invited to walk around in the forest off County Road 2, seek out blue herons or go fishing in the creek. But remember, this is a non-operating park so you’re on your own. There are no interpretive signs, snack stands or washrooms facilities.  

More than a decade in the making as a provincial park, DuPont is classed as a nature reserve, thus its low-key launch in June and its lack of amenities. The new park includes a mature hardwood forest, a coastal wetland and one of the largest heron nesting areas in Eastern Ontario.  

“It’s been a long process, but we’re very happy to see it finally regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources,” says Gary Bell, the Eastern Ontario program manager for the Nature Conservatory of Canada. “Ontario Parks is in a better position to manage it in that area. We can only do so much as a private owner.”  

The Nature Conservatory of Canada, which long ago recognized the importance of protecting the area’s significant natural features, acquired the land from DuPont Canada through purchases and donations in the late 1990s. The land was transferred from the NCC to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in 2001.  

Ten years and a comprehensive management agreement later, DuPont is officially a provincial park, one of more than 330 in Ontario. It’s the only one along the St. Lawrence River.  

So what makes this nature reserve so special?  

First, Hoasic Creek, a tributary of Lake Ontario within the South Nation Conservation Authority’s watershed and one of the few remaining natural creeks in the region, flows through the property. “Hoasic Creek is one of the least disturbed watercourses in southeastern Ontario, and the park protects the lower two kilometres of its 19-kilometre length,” says Lesley Baird, a park management planner with Ontario Parks.   Along with the creek, the western half of Riverside Marsh is in the park, and provides important feeding and nesting habitat for birds, reptiles and amphibians. This wetland was created by flooding for the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s.  

Home to walleye, smallmouth bass

Hoasic Creek is a warm-water fish stream that consists of slow-moving water, with deep pools and short sections of shallow riffle habitat. Boulders, large woody debris, algae and sparse aquatic vegetation provide cover in the creek, according to the park’s management plan. “In some areas, overhanging maples and alders cover the entire width of the creek. During spring runoff, the creek’s water level increases substantially. This increase in water depth may be what allows muskellunge and northern pike to migrate up the creek to wetlands in the headwaters.”  

Walleye are also present in the creek, and the rocky streambed provides spawning habitat for smallmouth bass. According to the MNR, water quality in Hoasic Creek is “significantly degraded due to high levels of nutrients and bacteria originating upstream.”  

With regulation to back it up, Ontario Parks will work with stakeholders to develop a “co-operative approach” to managing Hoasic Creek, based on the entire watershed. This approach will emphasize improving water quality and fish habitat and maintaining water flow.  

Second, the park “protects almost all of the Hoasic Creek Hardwoods Area of Natural and Scientific Interest,” says Baird. The 357-hectare hardwoods ANSI supports a mature mixed forest representative of what used to be common in the area, before humans began changing the landscape. The low-lying centre of the forest, in an area of swamp that is an extension of the Hoasic Creek wetland nearby, is home to a large heronry.  

“The park’s great blue heron colony was once the largest in Eastern Ontario, with over 300 nests in the early 1990s, the majority of them active,” says the park’s 2009 management plan. The fact that the total number of nests had until 2006 never been fewer than 100 over the last 25 years “suggests the colony is relatively free from human disturbance during the breeding season.” 

But the recent decline to 97 nests “is of concern to park staff.”  

As a nature reserve, recreation is not the central focus of DuPont Provincial Park, though “self-directed nature appreciation” is seen as a good thing. “Low-impact recreational activities such as hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on designated trails will be permitted within the park,” according the management plan. “Water-based activities such as canoeing, kayaking and recreational fishing will continue to be allowed in the park.”  

Warning: you're on your own here!

So far, existing trails within the park are limited to an old industrial ring-road in the northeastern block and a snowmobile trail that crosses the park’s length. Before the nature reserve was considered for provincial park status, the Riverside Snowmobile Club had operated a trail across the DuPont property for many years. Because of that, members of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs will be permitted on the trail as a “non-conforming use,” with the agreement with Ontario Parks to be reviewed annually. Eventually, snowmobiles will be moved out of the park.  

While the snowmobiles can stay for now, all-terrain vehicles are banned.  

“The park contains significant life science features that are sensitive to mechanized traffic, and severe damage to these park values resulting from unauthorized ATV use has been documented,” the report says. “Park resources will be committed toward monitoring and enforcing restrictions on recreational mechanized vehicle use.” So you’ve been warned!  

Also banned in the park are hunting, horseback riding, camping and campfires.  

In future, Ontario Parks may develop an interpretive trail at DuPont. But for now, visitors will have to find their own way through the forest and wetland. You’ll find drainage ditches, laneways and fences, all evidence of the area’s agriculture past (the park area was settled by United Empire Loyalists in the late 1700s).  

And though you won’t know it when you get there, you just may find yourself standing on a piece of history at the site of the historic Willard Cemetery. There are no grave markers or other features to let you know you’re there — the cemetery was relocated in 1966 — but the site appears on survey plans for the area.  

Once you’ve communed with nature, why not head to the nearby Upper Canada Village for a walk through the past. It’s here where your Willard history lesson continues.  

You’ll find Willard’s Hotel on Queen Street, just past the Crysler Store, in the pioneer village set on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. The building, which dates to the late 1790s, was turned into a tavern in 1815 by Daniel Myers, son of the earliest owner, Jacob Myers. John Willard carried on the tradition when he bought the hotel in 1830.  

So come in and soak up the atmosphere in the full-service restaurant hotel-. Enjoy a period-style meal served by costumed staff, or relax with traditional Victorian afternoon tea. The hotel is a perfect complement to DuPont Provincial Park, Morrisburg’s newest heritage gem. — December 2011