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Posted: June 5, 2007

Articles and photographs by Allison Kennedy

If you are looking for an all ages, all ability chance to explore the outdoors, boardwalks are often the answer.

Boardwalks wind their way through sensitive environmental areas, keeping impact on the land to a minimum and giving people a chance to explore nature on an easy path.

We recently packed my friend's 22 month-old son in the car and headed to the Oliphant Fen for a leisurely walk.

Having checked for details, we knew the boardwalk was a mere quarter kilometre long and we thought we could squeeze in a hike before impending rain showers.

When we arrived, the boardwalk was already busy - walkers with binoculars took their time watching birds and looking at some of the rare plant species found along the way.

The Oliphant boardwalk is short but there is plenty to see. As we gave Noah his freedom on the path, we soon learned just how much there is to see, even when the lady's slippers are not in bloom. Noah stopped every three feet or so to examine a plant, sniff a tree, or to take a look at the interpretive plaques.

This particular boardwalk runs through a fen across the road from the Lake Huron shoreline in Oliphant.

A fen is a bed of wet sand that covers a limestone bedrock base. The soil in a fen is not acidic, and as a result, a wide variety of unique plants make their home here. There are usually several species of orchids, including lady's slippers, and carnivorous plants like pitcher plants and horned bladderwort. Cedar trees thrive in this environment and can be several hundred years old.

The Oliphant boardwalk is a great family destination. It is wheelchair accessible and relatively short. Take the time to read the interpretive plaques to see which plants are in season during your visit.

The Oliphant Fen is located along the Shore Road in Oliphant. Parking is available at either end of the boardwalk.

Twenty minutes north of the Oliphant Fen, you can visit a longer more extensive boardwalk at Petrel Point Nature Reserve. Here the boardwalk is a slightly more challenging walk. It is quite narrow and is not suitable for wheelchairs.

The boardwalk winds through a large fen and also through a cedar forest. Fourteen species of orchids grow in the fen fringe. Orchid lovers will find showy lady's slipper, rose pogonia, calopogon, purple-fringed orchids and broad-leafed twayblade in various places, while shrubs and sedges dominate the drier areas of the fen.

Petrel Point Nature Reserve is divided into two sections: 8.5 hectares on the north side of the road are known as the James Robert Swan Memorial Tract; the area on the south side of the road is the Eric Nasmith Memorial Tract, named after the noted wildlife artist.

The nature reserve is accessible on Petrel Point Road in the town of Red Bay. Parking is available on the north side of Petrel Point Road.

If you are further north, you can visit the Cape Croker Boardwalk. Located on Bruce County Road 9, the boardwalk runs through a wetland area at the base of the limestone cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment. Parking is available at Rick's Rentals.

The Snake Trail Boardwalk is wheelchair accessible and connects with the Bruce Trail as it heads up the escarpment. This combination sends the more adventurous hikers to the top of the rock while those with limited mobility can take more time to explore the intricacies of the wetland.

The trails in the area include boardwalk, gravel and natural hard packed surfaces.

In southern Bruce County, another unique boardwalk runs along the shore of Lake Huron. In the town of Kincardine, the Penetangore Boardwalk runs along the lake and meets up with the Penetangore Path, which then continues along the banks of the Penetangore River.

The boardwalk section of this walk is lined with interpretive signs telling tales of Lake Huron shipwrecks in the area. Continuing on this historic note, take time to visit the lighthouse museum by the harbour. Built in 1881, the interior of the lighthouse is now a museum with plenty of information on Great Lakes shipping history.

There are 4 km of trail here. They range from boardwalk to natural hard packed surface and are an easy walk. Parking is available at the harbour parking lot.

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