Reflections on Some Common Nature “Do’s and Dont’s”

Part 2: Signs of Human Presence

Written by Jessica Adams (Nature Nerding)
Reading time: 5-6 minutes

The new program for the grade 4 students visiting our trails revolvings around Noticing Signs of Animal Presence. Throughout February and March we had so much fun scouring Scowen Park for clues, investigating and discussing who might have left each clue behind. We were lucky enough to come across tracks, scat, signs of browsing and even some bones, fur and bits of skin left over from a White-Tailed Deer. Each outing served as a reminder that if we pay close enough attention, we can see signs of animals going about their activities all around us, even in the dead of winter.


What happens when animals of the Homo sapiens variety go about their activities in the forest? What types of clues do they leave behind?

In this article we will dive into the “Signs of Human Presence”, considering some of the usual signs left behind by the humans passing through natural areas and some of the not-so-usual signs that have a greater impact than we might realize. This is the second in a series of articles meant to encourage deeper reflection on the principles underlying the guidelines common to so many trail networks (see Part 1 on Respecting the Trail from the March-April newsletter). With the number of people enjoying natural spaces increasing, it is more important than ever to view park guidelines as invitations to participate in reducing our collective impact and hence preserving the natural areas we cherish.


Part 2: Signs of Human Presence


For the Love of Parks


In 2021, Parks Canada and Ontario Parks joined forces in promoting the For the Love of Parks campaign – one meant to “inspire visitors to enjoy (…) amazing places responsibly, for the enjoyment of everyone.” (Parks Canada)


Why do we visit natural areas? Presumably it is because there is something about them that draws us in, that is special and that we love. Why, then, would we make choices that slowly degrade these areas over time?


Oftentimes human actions (unwitting or not) pose a real threat to the ecological integrity of the spaces we frequent. “Ecosystems have integrity when they have their native components intact.” (Parks Canada) Organisations managing natural areas have a responsibility to keep this in mind when it comes to providing access to said areas. The mandate to make these areas accessible should never take precedence over the mandate to protect them. It is therefore everyone’s responsibility to uphold the integrity of these spaces – for the sake of preserving ecosystems and for the sake of preserving our right to access them.


Undesirable Number 1: Good Old Trash


It is heartbreaking and frustrating when we stumble across trash in the middle of a natural area. When we see this somewhere that is special to us… it almost feels personal. In addition to it being offensive and unsightly to other park visitors, it is problematic for wildlife because it doesn’t belong.


Everything in an ecosystem serves a purpose and is able to participate in a relatively balanced energetic exchange with the other components. Whether it be to provide substrate, nutrients or shelter, the role is necessary and the impact is moderated by the other processes going on simultaneously.


Trash is foreign and not only unable to contribute positively to an ecosystem, but can create an important imbalance. Firstly, trash takes a long time to degrade and while doing so, leaches toxins (and zero nutrients) into the soil. Second, various types of waste have the potential to cause needless suffering and even mortality. From empty bags to plastic containers, curious wildlife picking up the scent of food can become trapped and suffocate or starve to death. Other items can easily be mistaken for food and can be ingested, causing choking or other digestive issues that can lead to death. Moreover, whether mistaken for food or not, anything with a sharp edge to it can cause injury to unsuspecting critters, leaving them vulnerable.


Various forms of trash have the potential to take a lot from an ecosystem without giving a single thing in return… but what about the things that can eventually break down? Are they as bad?


The Not-So-Usual Suspects

“But… it’s biodegradable!” I hear this often during our fall post-outing snack when I ask students to chuck their apple cores in a brown paper bag instead of throwing it into the tall grass.

So many of us (myself included) have been taught that biodegradable equals harmless. It wasn’t until well into adulthood that I was able to fully grasp the importance of such a seemingly harmless action. Once again, it comes down to preserving ecosystem integrity. By leaving behind food waste we are indirectly feeding animals which can:

  • Be unhealthy for animals. Animals’ systems are made to process the foods that are found naturally in their habitats. Not a granola bar, even if it’s organic.
  • Cause animals to get habituated to humans. Animals catch on very quickly and can come to associate humans with food, eventually becoming nuisances as they hang around and beg for food, maybe even becoming aggressive. It’s all fun and cute until raccoons get bold.
  • Influence population numbers of one species to the detriment of another. To illustrate by way of an example: one study found that supplemental food significantly impacted Red Squirrel numbers and studies on Bicknell’s Thrush have shown that their nesting success is significantly impacted by Red Squirrel abundance. “In years when red squirrel populations are high, the reproductive success of Bicknell’s Thrush declines.” (Hinterland Who’s Who) Feeding squirrels could kill birds. Who knew?


Leaving behind additional food sources for wildlife creates an imbalance that can inconvenience humans and wildlife alike. Moreover, these ‘compostable items’ degrade far less quickly than we might think (e.g. banana and orange peel can take up to two years to break down in nature). Animals are capable of fending for themselves, our food scraps leave unnecessary extra resources, which can ultimately compromise ecosystem integrity.


Lastly, on the list of “Not-So-Usual Suspects”, we have facial tissue and toilet paper. Tissues often fall into the category of “But… it’s biodegradable!”


But are they and does it matter?


For all the reasons mentioned above, it is not advised to toss tissue paper in the forest and it bears mentioning that contrary to popular belief… it will not dissolve into the soil anytime soon. Actually, if left to do its thing, a tissue left in nature can take anywhere between one and three years to decompose completely! Not to mention it contributes nothing of value to the ecosystem as it does so.


Pack In, Pack Out

It can be easy to fall into the way of thinking that one single action by one single person is “no big deal”. This is when we have to stop and remind ourselves that none of our actions are ever truly isolated. We are part of a vast (and growing) whole. The choices we make have an impact and the more people who decide to make a similar choice, the greater the impact positive or negative.


So what to do with anything that comes into the forest? Treat it all like trash. Treat it like a real threat to the ecosystem’s integrity and bring it back with you. Always have a bag handy in your hiking pack so you can contain the messier things. You can do the sorting (compost, recycling, garbage) when you get home, feeling pleased with yourself that you chose to invest in the future of that beautiful place you just visited. And if you want to be a major investor – feel free to pick up the slack and also commit to removing anything left behind by others (when it’s safe, of course).


We go to these natural spaces because we enjoy them and appreciate them as they are. By choosing to leave nothing behind, to bring it all back out with us, we are actively upholding an ecosystem’s integrity and this is as much a solemn pledge to the natural spaces as it is to ourselves.




Recently, I had the pleasure of joining Nicolas Bousquet from COGESAF (Conseil de gouvernance des bassins versants de la rivière Saint-François) who came to our property for his annual salamander inspection. COGESAF monitors 2 sites on our property. They alternate their visits, making only one site per year to reduce pressure on sensitive habitat! Nicolas was accompanied by Charles and Félix, who came along with their nets and good energy. The day’s work was donated by COGESAF to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). The COGESAF team, along with other regional partners, all participate in the annual inspection of the 18 sites in the Eastern Townships. They share their findings with the CNC’s core research team, which is funding the 10-year project.

Salamandre a deux lignes

They observe the Northern Dusky salamander, the Spring salamander and the two-lined salamander, even if the last one has no status. They come every two years to check the habitat and count the salamander population in a specific 200-metre section of a stream on Massawippi Conservation Trust land.

The Trust’s property was chosen not only because of its habitat, but also because it was considered the control site against which the other results were to be judged. The site is rated 4 stars because it is on conserved or protected land, with little or no human interference, pollution or other man-made disturbance.

Salamandre pourpre or Spring Salamander

The salamanders (of which we have seen many varieties) are in an ideal location, living in and alongside a stream, which together with its surroundings is untouched, with cool, well-oxygenated water. In fact, the trees above the creek and in the riparian strip create top-quality habitat! There are only natural predators, including large purple salamanders that feed on smaller salamanders.

Salamandre pourpre or Spring Salamander

Don’t forget that salamanders are an indicator of a healthy habitat. These small creatures cannot survive in polluted or warm waters. The team found many salamanders on the trust’s land. Their numbers were good.

Charles, Félix, Nicolas from COGESAF / I love the fact that they have a competition among themselves to see who can identify the greatest number of species. They keep their lists in iNaturalist.

Our streams continue to be fresh and clean and flow with cool water to the lake, which is good for all of us, whether we’re four-legged or two-legged!

To find out more about salamanders, read Nicolas’ article. LINK

H. Hamel

Trails Essay – May 2024

by Matthew Cleary

I make hiking trails for a living. It is the best job in the whole world. We are not volunteers. We take our work very seriously. To build a hiking trail that lasts, that is safe, that encourages people to remain on the path and minimizes the damage our presence can cause on the sensitive ecosystems through which we pass, is long, often grueling work, but it is also one of the most rewarding and meaningful endeavors I can imagine doing. 


We all know the benefits of hiking trails, the effect spending time in nature can have on our physical and mental health, on our connectedness to nature, on our willingness to conserve and educate ourselves about the ecosystems that surround us. To be tasked with the job of making the forest accessible to visitors of diverse capacities and levels of experience is a responsibility we do not take lightly.


In this essay I intend to describe our process a bit, to explain the motivations behind the practical choices we make and the steps we take in the work we perform. We are, at times, land surveyors and lumberjacks, pack mules and stone masons, carpenters, gardeners, and landscapers. In the end, the trail must look like it emerged from the earth intact and whole, as if it had to be where it is and could not have been anywhere else. It takes a great deal of planning and work.  By the time the trail finally opens after months or years of blisters, sore backs, and ticks, we know every meter by heart, every turn, interesting rock, and grandmother tree. 


Once opened, a trail continues to evolve. It is rare that outside materials are introduced. Our building materials are typically found on site or nearby, and in building the trail, we have only changed the arrangement of the things we found in the forest, the soil, rocks, and wood. Once the trail is made, the plants and trees continue to grow. The earth continues to freeze and thaw with the seasons. The surrounding nature assimilates the trail in its new form. Ideally, the soil we have moved stabilizes, the roots we have disturbed heal, and the animals return or come out of hiding. 


I have been building hiking trails for the Massawippi Conservation Trust since the beginning. The creation of the Trust and its conservation and environmental education work ever since has been the result of countless wonderful people, and the list continues to grow. The land that has been spared from development and made accessible to the public through the network of hiking trails continues to be a gift to the community, now and for generations to come. I am honored to be involved, and lucky to have spent more time than anyone else in the world on the trails I have had so much fun building.


To describe our process more specifically, and anecdotally I suppose, I will tell the story from my perspective of the conceptualization and construction of George’s Loop. This was the first trail to open in the Wardman Sector of the Massawippi Trail. I have included maps, of the trail network then and now, to give an idea of our progress. The map will continue to grow. For those building these trails, the map serves as a diary. It is hard to look at it and not remember the stories associated with it. Here we began, at this turn. There is where we were when the leaves changed. That switchback was when Mahicans had his baby. Here it began to snow and we all stopped working at the same time and looked up to watch it fall.



The first time I explored the forest the Wardman family had so generously donated to the Trust, I was with Mahicans Diamond, our fearless leader and trail consultant. I had fished in Lake Massawippi for years, but I had never really explored the forest covering the mountains on the west side of the lake. My first impression, not having seen its limits, was that the forest was vast and wild. I even carried my bear spray. In the first week, I saw the same fox several times and a porcupine in a tree waiting as we passed below. We also came across a few dear stands, a popular salt block, and the remnants of a truck from the 1940s in a ravine.

We parked at the end of Côte du Piémont where a large pile of gravel blocked the way on to where a farm used to be. The neighbors on both sides of the dead end were skeptical, and wondered aloud why would anyone in the world come here in the middle of nowhere to walk in the woods. It was not a virgin forest. There were a couple of old logging roads and four-wheeler tracks, and even a cross-country ski trail passed through that once linked North Hatley to Ayer’s Cliff before development and private property carried the day. An advertisement for the experience is included below. I suspect the prices are no longer valid.


In the case of George’s Loop, we had no Point A from which to start on our trek toward Point B. The mandate was simply to make the forest accessible to visitors of all comfort levels in the woods. There are many ways to build a hiking trail, with varying degrees of intervention, from a raised, wide path of stone dust with ditches on both sides and culverts allowing water to pass from one side to the other wherever necessary to prevent trail erosion. The other extreme involves simply clearing obstacles on the surface and walking on the forest floor as is. The first extreme is costly and limits the degree to which hikers feel part of nature when they hike. The second extreme quickly disappears if not used enough, and if used too much becomes a path of muck. The trail is beaten down by walkers as the network of capillary roots giving structure to the ground breaks down. Hikers avoid the lowest, wettest part of the trail in the center and the trail gets wider and wider as the process continues.

The most important decisions involved in building a trail occur at the beginning. I find it helps to explore an area in the spring when leaves do not obstruct the view of the contours of the terrain. To maintain a trail that hikers will choose to follow, trail erosion is our biggest concern. I try to imagine myself as a drop of water from rain or melted snow. Where would I go? Where would I stagnate? Building a trail is expensive. We have to imagine the absolute biggest rainstorm and flood that might happen in the next 20 years and prepare our trails against it if we want the trail to last 20 years. This is a bigger and bigger challenge as our weather has become more unpredictable and extreme.


After wandering the woods, getting a feel for what’s there, how humid it is, what sights and unique micro-ecosystems hikers might appreciate walking through, we begin to identify the trail corridor. This is an area about five meters wide where the trail will be built. If it is too steep, we plan to build stairs. If it is too humid, we plan to raise the walking surface somehow. The first pass is with a chainsaw. The hazardous trees are cut and the obstacles removed. If anything that is cut or found on the ground is large enough to use to build structures, trees or rocks, we leave it whole nearby and plan where and how we might use it.


The beginning of George’s Loop was easy. The trail gradually climbed as it passed through a plantation of widely spaced pine trees and the soil was relatively dry. Our trails are made with hard packed mineral soil. Vegetation has a harder time growing, and once the trail is compact, it is very durable and resistant to erosion if it is shaped correctly. We remove the organic layer of soil and bury it next to the trail in big pits we dig in search of deeper mineral soil. This is done with shovels or a machine. 


The trail must be crowned, higher in the center, to withstand the further compaction from hikers and weather and to avoid accumulating water. Ideally we find ridges on which to build the trail. Disturbed soil erodes much faster than soil with rooted vegetation and leaf litter, so the less contact our trail has with water the better. Even on flat terrain a trail must undulate in waves to avoid accumulating water, and the trough of each wave must have an outlet where water can run off the trail. 


We are meticulous in renaturalizing an area once we finish a section of trail. Disturbed soil erodes much faster than soil with rooted vegetation and leaf litter. We plant ferns. We spread leaves. We aspire to leave the forest as pristine as we found it. 


Past the pine stand and an area covered by mature maples and ferns, we arrived at our first summit. We built two benches out of a nearby maple that had fallen and managed to roll a rock up the hill the top to serve as a table. As a team we pry and roll our rocks with heavy iron bars we use as levers. Sisyphus would be proud.  Sometimes we use ropes and pullies to help fall trees or move rocks. These simple machines are often all we have access to and all we need.


The descent from the first summit is a bit too steep for switchbacks alone to lessen the grade. We built terraced steps out of logs. We remove the bark with a hammer and cut a flat surface on each log. Removing the bark allows the log to dry and slows its decomposition. Each step is bordered by rocks to retain the mineral soil we fill inside. 


Sometimes the steps are made from large stones we find nearby. We use whatever is available and practical. Whenever we encounter a humid area we must cross, we canalize the crossing water between two large stones to allow hikers to step from one side to the other without muddying the water or their boots.


George’s Loop returns close to the site of a farm where there remains the stone foundation of the farmhouse with trees growing where the house once stood and a small clearing surrounded by apple trees. We found some abandoned tractor parts and horseshoes. I have heard the area used to be a sheep farm, but I cannot confirm it.

The trail continues down toward what used to be the Skiwippi trail, cutting through a straight, long pile of stones that once served as a fence or property line.

The section of George’s Loop along the Skiwippi trail is wide and flat, with ditches and culverts. In building the trail we found a metal wagon wheel. We left it in view leaning against a tree for hikers to marvel at as they passed. It wasn’t long before it disappeared. It is, no doubt, adorning someone’s garden now. There are other remnants of this path’s multiuse history. There is a kilometer marker being slowly swallowed by a tree, and it is on this trail that the rusty skeleton of a truck can be found.


It took us over a year to build George’s Loop. It takes about 45 minutes to walk it completely. Hiking gives a person a chance to think and reflect and decompress without the distraction of other people, without constant contact and the demands of our electronic devices. In other moments it allows us to be completely present with those friends and family around us. The land here has had many uses over the years, dating back thousands of years, but whatever it has meant for people living nearby, its importance as a store of carbon and a home for plants and animals remains. We must remember that we are guests in the forest, and strive to act as its protectors as best we can.

Fire and Fire Prevention

We are becoming more and more aware and affected by fire. Living near a forest, an open field of dried grass, an old wooden barn, shed or a house, we worry about fire. What can we do to help prevent it? How can we protect ourselves and our homes?

There are many local sources of information and to help you we have quoted some information for you here.

In March, the Régie de l’incendie Memphremagog Est distributed an information brochure. IN it and on their website, you will find the rules governing outdoor fires, those in your backyard in prefabricated fireplaces and open fires, along with advice about how to protect your home, build an evacuation plan and much more.

Backyard fires in a contained prefabricated fireplaces can be enjoyed under the following conditions, without a permit: 

There is an adequate physical barrier (spark arrester or protective screen), a maximum dimension of 27 cubic feet ((ft ‘) 3ft X 3ft X 3ft), and it is resting on a gravel base and not adjoining a building, that complies with the installation standards set out in article 51 and whose smoke does not disturb neighbours. Winds must be under 20km per hour.

The fire place must be 

  1. 5 metres (m) from a main building; 
  2. 5 metres (m) from an accessory building; 
  3. 3 metres (m) from a property line; 
  4. 3 metres (m) from any shrub or arborescent vegetation


Outdoor fires, sometimes called campfires or open-air fires, have a different set of rules. These fires require a permit. Contact the Régie de l’Incendies Est if you live in the MRC of Memphremagog. Contact 873 289 5886 You need a permit to burn branches and wood. You are not allowed to burn leaves, grass, construction materials, garbage etc.

The rules are:

  1. Have authorization or have received a permit from the competent authority;
  2. All outdoor fires are prohibited when the flammability index announced by the Société de protection des forêts contre le feu (SOPEU) for the Estrie region is high, very high or extreme; 
  3. Keep a responsible adult at the fire scene at all times; 
  4. Keep the necessary equipment close to the fire at all times to prevent it spreading; 
  5. Keep the fire under control at all times; 
  6. Do not use flammable liquids (petrol or other) to start or activate the fire; 
  7. Do not light or keep lit any fire if the wind velocity exceeds 20KM;
  8. No flammable liquids should be in the vicinity of the fire; 
  9. Ensure that smoke and ashes do not spread;
  10. The fire must be extinguished before the person responsible leaves the premises; 
  11. Do not use any of the following materials as fuel: plastics of any kind, tires or other rubber-based materials, construction/demolition waste, hazardous or polluting products, hydrocarbons, household waste, garbage, varnished or painted wood or any other product whose combustion is prohibited by municipal and provincial laws and regulations, etc.

SOPFEU is our Quebec Wide emergency Fire service. They have an excellent website which contains additional information. SOPFEU.QC.CA

Download their Protect your home brochure which includes 12 ways to protect your home.

There is a second brochure called Firesmart Begins at home with more in depth information.

Tips from the pros! Download the SOPFEU mobile app (available for iOS and Android) to get automatic alerts when the fire danger level in your area exceeds “high.”

When smoking:

While in the woods or anywhere outdoors, do not smoke while walking around. Do not extinguish your cigarette butt in soil and leave it there. Did you know cigarette butts are an important cause of forest fires especially when the vegetation is dry?

According to SOPFEU, If you smoke in the forest, you must discard all residue properly. Between April 1 and November 15, smoking in or near a forest is prohibited, whether you are working or travelling, unless you are in a building or a closed vehicle.

  • In order to avoid any risk, do not smoke while walking; find a clear area and stop while you smoke.
  • Extinguish your cigarette butt in water or stub it out on a rock. Discard it in a place intended for this purpose

It can take up to 4 or 5 hours from the time a cigarette is crushed to the time the first flame appears. That’s why the Régie incendie Memphrémagog Est reminds you to be vigilant when you put out your cigarettes. If you have to extinguish a cigarette butt outdoors at home, use an ashtray that is protected from the wind and placed on a stable surface.

A friendly reminder: NO FIRES are allowed on our conserved properties, including Ethan`s Beach.

Get informed and stay safe. Together we can help mitigate the danger.

Written by Jessica Adams (Nature Nerding)
Reading time: 5-6 minutes

We start every outing of the Massawippi Foundation’s Nature Education Program by gathering around the Scowen Park map. Once we are all huddled in close together, we take the time to say hello, to look back on our outing last season, and to revisit the guidelines to follow for a safe and respectful outing. When it comes to this last part, students proudly chime in with their take on “how to be” as we are walking through the forest. By the winter outing (the second of three throughout the school year), students are pretty clear not only on what the expectations are, but why they exist in the first place.

We make this discussion a priority not to restrict enjoyment, but to expand awareness. The idea is for these children to form an understanding of the part they play in a bigger system of interconnected beings. The message is that their actions matter. The hope is this will encourage new ways of thinking that will stick with them for a lifetime and influence their future interactions with the natural world.


This is the first in a series of articles meant to start a conversation around the principles underlying the guidelines common to so many trail networks. With the number of people enjoying the outdoors on the rise, it is more important than ever to view park guidelines not as limiting regulations, but as opportunities to mitigate our impact and be part of ensuring the natural environments we love so dearly continue to thrive for generations to come.

Part 1: Honouring the Trail

Trails as Pathways for Recreation & Conservation

“One of the main challenges of the planning, design, and management of natural areas is making decisions that will produce the best quality user experience, while protecting the ecological integrity of the resource base.” (Lynn and Brown, 2003)


Trails are one of the main vehicles for encouraging nature-based tourism. People walk and hike through nature for a variety of reasons, not least of which are the physical and mental benefits we experience by moving and breathing outdoors. There is little doubt as to the benefits trails have on their users… but is there potentially a benefit to the natural areas themselves? Indeed there is. The idea of conserving nature might not factor on the list of top priorities if individuals have never had the chance to experience it firsthand. To know something is to develop a love for it and, naturally, a desire to protect it. Trails provide access to natural areas where it might not have been granted otherwise, providing opportunities to build a relationship with the natural world.


How we enjoy this access to nature, however, can have consequences. If enjoyed in a way that is mindful, having access to nature will not only have a smaller impact on the surrounding ecosystems, but can be a gamechanger when it comes to connecting people with nature and encouraging pro-conservation attitudes. Conversely, if this access is enjoyed in a way that is careless, the impacts on the habitats through which the trails run could be potentially devastating.

The way the pendulum swings is up to every individual who sets foot on a trail. So what does it look like to enjoy a walk in the woods in a way that is mindful?


Trails Built with Intention

A lot that goes into building a trail. When done properly, everything is taken into consideration, from the trajectory it takes through the forest to the types of tools used. Generally, trails are designed to:

  • respect the natural area through which they run, meanwhile showcasing some of its most stunning features
  • withstand a reasonable amount of wear and tear (from walkers and from the elements)
  • keep trail users safe and on-track

In short, trails are built for enjoyment with hiker safety and conservation top of mind.

Sometimes we venture off trail because we want to see something up close, take a shortcut or find a more private lookout point…. As tempting as it might be and as harmless as it might seem, let’s consider the advantages of staying on trail.


By enjoying the trail and keeping to it, we avoid exposing ourselves to additional risks, such as:

  • Getting lost. “Wandering off trail is the number one reason, ahead of injury and bad weather, that adult hikers require search and rescue.” (Moye, 2019) Accidentally losing the trail can happen to the best of us, but whether on purpose or not, a stroll off into the forest can last longer than we’d like and potentially evolve into a serious ordeal.
  • Sustaining injuries. Trails are carefully built so walkers can get around with less risk of injury. They skirt more challenging and potentially dangerous terrain and have features like steps and boardwalks for areas that are trickier to navigate.
  • Rashes or burns. Trails are generally cleared of vegetation which means we are less likely to brush against Stinging Nettle, Poison Ivy or other plants with neat (but unpleasant) defense mechanisms.
  • Bites. Ticks don’t hang out in mud or gravel, but they do hang out in tall grass and leaf litter! Staying in the trail keeps them at a more comfortable distance and decreases the chances of one hitching a ride home with us.

Presumably, those of us who favour trail walking do so because of the beautiful environment. By enjoying the trail and keeping to it, we preserve the natural areas around us by:

  • Protecting sensitive and vulnerable life. This can range from avoiding stepping on plants to avoiding leaving behind our human smell that might signal danger (and cause undue stress) to critters living in the forest.
  • Maintaining the soil’s porosity and resistance to erosion: Untouched soil on the forest floor is protected by layers of plantlife and organic matter and has a certain absorbency when it rains. If the same areas are trampled time and time again, the top layers of the forest floor recede, revealing the soil beneath. With more trampling, this earth is compacted over time. Not only can water no longer be absorbed, but water running over it gradually erodes the surface, washing away soil particles and important nutrients.
  • Preserving the habitat integrity: The more traffic an area sees, the less favourable the soil is for new life to anchor in and get growing. Little by little, this can limit plant growth and the diversity of species.


The opening discussion with students can go in a variety of directions, but we always come back to the notion that guidelines don’t exist to take away the fun, but to protect the natural areas we love so much. A reframe, if you will: by not doing something small… we are doing something big. By choosing to stay on the trail we are taking responsibility for our safety and we are actively investing in the health of the places we are visiting. As visitors, we are part of the natural systems, even if for a brief moment, and we get to choose whether our impact is positive or negative. How wonderfully empowering.

Stay tuned for more information on other common guidelines and how they help us protect the natural areas we enjoy.



Alain Lessard

How did you find out about the Sentier Massawippi trails, even though you are not from the Eastern Townships?

A friend of mine, a resident of North Hatley, introduced me to the Sentier Massawippi and Scowen trails.

She and I are both active people, and we have been going regularly, about twice a week, for a little over two years now, on one trail or the other.

In addition to offering a calm environment with its forest, mature trees, streams, birds and deer, the trails are safe, well-maintained and the Sentier Massawippi offers us as well, access to the Lake.

Moreover, as an added bonus, it is always a pleasure to cross paths with other hikers and salute them on the way.  

Last fall, my hikes in these exceptional natural sites sparked the idea of undertaking a long-distance adventure.

After a bit of research on the Internet, and because of its reputation as one of the most difficult but also most magnificent hikes in Europe, my choice was made….the GR20 in the mountains of Corsica!

And yes, with its total length of 180 km length and its 11,000 metres of positive vertical drop, you mustn’t be afraid of a challenge to tackle this great hike, especially if you are a 70-year-old! For me, it’s now or never!

With 15 refuges along the way, 15 days is the standard time to complete the hike. The more athletic hikers will do it in less than 10 days, which is not my case, wisdom, prudence and humility being my motto for this great adventure!

I am planning to start at the beginning of May, but the refuges don’t offer accommodation, catering, repair services, tent rental, etc. until May 22. Traffic and hot summer temperatures are the reasons for my choice of early May. So l will have to carry everything I need in my backpack to enable me to sleep as soundly as possible and to have the food I need to give me the energy required to successfully meet this challenge. I’ll spare you the long list, which amounts to a payload of around 25 kg. 

So, to get back to the Sentier Massawippi trails, they naturally become a perfect training site. With a potential vertical drop of over 400m and a possible distance of around 10km, hiking the trails is an excellent workout that can be enhanced by adding weight to your backpack.

This physical exercise also enables me to test the hiking equipment that I will be using in Corsica: hiking boots and socks, crampons (there will be snow and ice in the mountains in May), hiking poles and backpack. Between now and my departure, I plan to hike other trails such as Mont Chauve via David Creek, 12.7km and 550m ascent, Mont St-Hilaire closer to home, 12.7km and 537m ascent, and Mount Mansfield in Vermont with its 12.4km and 880m ascent.

I am aiming to be ready by mid-April in terms of my training. This allows for a week’s rest and time for final preparations before departure, as my flight is scheduled for April 27.

And then, off we go for a great adventure!!




Written by Jessica Adams (Nature Nerding)
Reading time: 5-6 minutes

There is an interesting duality to the month of January. On the one hand, the new year feels ripe with possibility and promise and on the other it often comes with a post-holiday slump only made worse by the gloom and cold of winter. What does the new year signify to you? When considering potential resolutions, what came to mind? According to Forbes Health/OnePoll survey, improved fitness and improved mental health factor in to the top three resolutions made in 2024.


Investments in our goals to improve physical and mental health can look like a variety of things: memberships, equipment, supplements, consultations… and the list goes on. Not surprisingly, many businesses have caught on and are poised to capitalize on this annual wave, ready to offer you exactly what you need at exactly the right time- for a fee, of course. Profiting from trends aside, what matters most, is that what you choose supports you in achieving your goals. So if improved fitness and mental health factor into your list of top resolutions, perhaps there is a highly effective resource, that is readily available, low-cost and with little to no negative side-effects, available to help you achieve those objectives…


The Biophilia Hypothesis posits that humans have an innate desire to connect with the natural world. Considering we had a direct and very concrete dependence on this connection for the better part of our evolutionary history, this makes a lot of sense. Why wouldn’t we have an affinity for and awareness of what sustains us? That instinctual tendency to connect lingers in our biology to this day and is very much intact when we are younger. The opportunities for nurturing this tendency throughout our lifetime, however, are fewer and farther between (just one of the reasons why we are so passionate about our Nature Education Program). This modern day reality has noticeably affected us mentally, emotionally and physically… to the point we are at a time where the concept of a “prescription for nature” is a legitimate thing!


There is a large body of research demonstrating the profound positive impacts nature can have on our health and wellbeing. With health on so many people’s minds, especially at this time of year, we thought it would be the perfect moment to outline some key bits of compelling information and some practical suggestions around the topic of making more time for nature in support of a healthier lifestyle…


Who benefits from time spent in nature? The short answer: everyone. At any age there are benefits to not only taking time to be in proximity to nature, but to intentionally engaging with the natural world.


Just some of the ways time in nature can benefit us at all stages of life:


  • For children, it can help improve attention and memory as well as the ability to cooperate with others, all of which support a child’s ability to learn and thrive in social settings. On the physiological side, time in nature can encourage lung function and make them less likely to develop allergies, not to mention supporting motor skill development.
  • For adults, it can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and play a roll in regulating blood pressure and blood sugar.
  • For all, time in nature inherently involves fresh air and often involves movement – both of which are beneficial to our physical and mental wellbeing.


For more insight into the ways we are better off for connecting with nature, visi PaRx: A prescription for nature and this article in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.


What does connecting with nature look like? Just being in nature can affect us in a positive way, no agenda necessary. This is a great place to start, particularly for those who are not accustomed to spending lots of time outside. If you want to take it further, key things to keep in mind are the presence and intention you bring to your experience of the natural world. “Stopping to smell the roses”… or “Pausing to observe the lichen”… or “Lingering to listen to the chickadees flitting around the feeder”. In short, slow down, notice and appreciate the everyday things.


Where can I connect with nature? Anywhere. Nature is in the snow that falls gently outside your window and in the life that grows on the bark of your favourite tree in the nearby park as much as it is in the remote depths of the wilderness. The beauty of this is that you don’t need to go far to incorporate nature into your life.


5 Prompts for Making More Time for Nature


1: If you’re even the slightest bit intrigued, make a commitment to yourself by setting a realistic objective! With as little as two hours a week, spread out in increments of 20 minutes or more, you can experience the benefits of connecting with the natural world. How can you incorporate those nature breaks into your schedule in a way that feels feasible?


3: Consider your current activities and hobbies – can you adapt them so they can be done outside? If not, can you occasionally swap an indoor activity for one outdoors? Families, for example, might want to try getting bundled up and doing storytime outside every now and then. Those who enjoy working out at the gym could occasionally save the cardio portion for a fast-paced walk or hike in a nearby trail network.


2: Make a list of five places you can visit without too much planning or preparation. Whether around the home, in the neighbourhood, or a short distance drive away, identifying places that you know and are easy to get to increases the likelihood of following through. If you’re feeling adventurous, maybe add one place you’ve never been before and set a goal to visit it sometime this year.


4: If you are feeling uninspired or just curious to hear some ideas, consult resources for prompts on different ways of engaging with the natural world. You can start by referring to our Nature Advent Calendar published in our December newsletter because these ideas work all winter long! Be Outside, Idaho also has a list of 101 Things to Do Outside in Winter.


5: Check in and celebrate. Whatever your new nature routine looks like, take time to notice how it lands. As part of your routine, before you go out, take inventory of how you are feeling both physically and mentally. Then check back in after. Recognize even the tiniest shifts that take place and congratulate yourself on every opportunity you seize to spend time outside.


Whether you are riding the high of New Year possibilities or feeling the weight of the post-Holiday slump, take comfort in knowing the natural world is always there to support you in leading a healthier lifestyle. From taking breaks from the computer and directing your gaze more intentionally out the window to taking a long meander through the woods on a Saturday morning, there are countless benefits to be enjoyed for the body, mind and soul.




We are pleased to announce that we have acquired a new property to protect in perpetuity and helped Blue Massawippi at the same time by purchasing this property which will give Blue Massawippi an infusion of cash for their important work on the lake. We would like to thank Christine Crowe and Denis Peticlerc along with MCT Trustee Margot Graham Heyerhoff who signed the deed of sale on December 19th, 2023.

Long before the Trust was established, Lake Massawippi Water Protection Inc. (Blue Massawippi) was given this 3-acre lot on the lakefront because the owner wanted to see it protected.  It is zoned ‘white’(developable). Had the MCT existed at the time, the Trust would have been the recipient of the land as Blue Massawippi does not have a mission to conserve and protect land in perpetuity.  Its mission is to protect the health and water quality of the lake. They work on issues such as invasive species such as zebra mussels, the recurring blue-green algae causes, and many other lake issues.  Blue Massawippi needs to focus all of its attention on the lake.

The members of Blue’s Board of Directors were very happy to know that this wetland, a carbon-capture environment close to Lake Massawippi, will, thanks to this transaction, be protected in perpetuity and thus continue forever to play its role as a natural habitat for flora and fauna. In addition, during periods of high water, it will help regulate the water level of Lake Massawippi. 

The Trust protects land adjacent to Lake Massawippi and its tributaries by:

  • Acquiring land through either purchase or donation 

– We purchased the wetland from Blue.

  • Establishing servitudes on land

– We have several properties under servitude and others being added in the near future.

  • Helping landowners understand the ecological and tax benefits of limiting the types of activities permitted on their properties.

– Access to the expertise of Corridor Appalachien as a member organization.

  • Helping landowners understand the potentially disastrous effect of over-development on the overall well-being of the Massawippi watershed. 

– As witnessed by residents and visitors alike, the protected green ridge has had a positive effect on the quality of life on the lake due to the many streams that flow into the lake that will never be disturbed.

How do the two organizations work side by side? 

What are the differences?

See below how we complement each other.

Massawippi Conservation Trust (LAND) Blue Massawippi (WATER)
Est in 2011 as a registered Canadian charity. Est in 1968 as a registered Canadian charity.
Mission : To conserve the natural state of the land adjacent to Lake Massawippi and its tributaries, and to provide stewardship services for that land in perpetuity. Mission : To inform, educate, influence and act on environmental issues that threaten water quality, the health of Lake Massawippi and the quality of life of its residents and users.
Description : The Massawippi Conservation Trust (MCT) was established to conserve land adjacent to Lake Massawippi and its tributaries and provide stewardship services in perpetuity. Starting with the lands on the western ridge of the lake because the government of Quebec identified this particular area as containing old growth forest with a rich biodiversity, including rare and endangered flora and fauna documented by biologists from Appalachian Corridor Association The Trust is now expanding its conservation efforts to include wetlands and agricultural lands in the entire watershed.

It is a registered not-for-profit organization that can issue tax receipts for donations.

Description : Bleu Massawippi is an organization dedicated to preserving and improving the ecosystem health of Lake Massawippi and its watershed. It works in close collaboration with its various partners, applying its very limited, non-coercive powers to ensure constant vigilance over conditions that threaten water quality, and to raise awareness among users, municipalities and government bodies of best practices based on scientific evidence. With its capacity to mobilize citizens, its credibility with regulatory authorities and the support of its partners, Bleu Massawippi is setting up structuring initiatives for the protection and conservation of Lake Massawippi with the objective of contributing directly and sustainably to the quality of life of users and the community.
Its sister organization, the Fondation Massawippi Foundation (FMF) whose mission is to:

  1. Preserve the Massawippi Valley’s unique ecosystem; 
  2. Fundraise and principally, but not exclusively, financially support the Massawippi Conservation Trust in its operations; 
  3. Support community-based initiatives that are ecologically, socially, culturally and/or educationally valuable to the Massawippi Valley. 
  4. As a fund within the Ottawa Community Foundation, it can also receive charitable donations directly.
  5. The FMF and MCT are focused on the land in the watershed of Lake Massawippi, an area of 586 square kilometers.
Blue Massawippi was incorporated as the Lake Massawippi Water Protection Inc.

It is a registered not-for-profit organization that can issue tax receipts for donations.


It’s mission is:

To inform, educate, influence and act on environmental issues that threaten water quality, the health of Lake Massawippi and the quality of life of its residents and users.

The lake has an area of 18.7 km2 and a perimeter of 38 km.


The land contains 2 rivers, countless streams and tributaries as well as underground water that all flow into the lake. By protecting the land in the watershed we are helping to reduce the flow of sediments and pollutants into the lake. The lake is the main source of drinking water for several communities as well as a biodiverse body of water at the center of 5 communities and a major tourist attraction for the region.
The Trust has added 12+ kms of natural trails to our protected properties in order to give the general public free access to the benefits of walking in nature. One trail goes down to the lake via Ethan’s Beach. 

The Foundation sponsors an outdoor education program which takes place at Scowen Park

With a target of 5 tonnes in 3 years, Bleu Massawippi devotes four weeks a year to removing the waste in the lake with a team of divers. 

A grand total of 4885 pounds (2216kg) of tires, bottles, car parts and concrete blocks and other objects were collected in 2023. It’s primary focus is the removal or reduction of zebra mussels, an invasive species.

The MCT authorizes research activities on its lands, which are part of the 4 tenets of conservation which it follows: Protection, Research, Recreation, Education.   Blue Massawippi runs an education program for boaters in order to help reduce or prevent invasive species from entering the lake, to provide a better control on conserving the riparian strip, and help keep the boaters safe
Current projects of the Massawippi Conservation Trust: 

● Agricultural research project with master’s students from Bishops University 

● 2 scientific studies in progress on our protected properties.

● A nature education program currently for students from grades 3 & 4. 

● Project 27. A targeted conservation project aimed to protect over 785 acres of vital wetlands at the southern end of Lake Massawippi. These lands are the kidneys of the lake.

Current priorities: Control zebra mussels in the lake and removal of veligers (scientific study ongoing)

  • Developing a scientific diving program 
  • Waste removal in the lake
  • Revegetation of the Tomifobia river
  • A scientific study of the lake currents
  • Water quality surveys

Sometimes people confuse the two organizations, thinking that we are one and the same, or they ask why we don’t merge.


The answer is simple. We each have our sphere of influence and focus so that we can accomplish parallel goals. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to protect the land and the lake for our community.  Each entity is able to focus all of its resources and energy on the mandate established at the time of their founding. Each of us are specialists in our own domains, effectively working to protect the valley we love, be it land or be it water.


Perhaps you noticed a group of individuals wearing orange helmets and vests while walking on the trail on Saturday, October 21st? They were volunteers from a search and rescue organization who used the site for their training. Here is some information about our community and a summary of our day.


Who are we?

The group was founded in 2003 under the name Recherche et Sauvetage Sherbrooke Haut-Saint-François (RSSHSF). The original members, some of whom are still active, have over time provided valuable assistance through their life experience and deep involvement, and have gained recognition for the group’s expertise in search and rescue. In the fall of 2021, the board of directors initiated a process to better represent members from all over Estrie. The new name Recherche Sauvetage Estrie was adopted, along with a new logo. What hasn’t changed, however, is the desire and commitment of our members to help others!

Our mission 

We are a non-profit organization, bringing together volunteers from various backgrounds who dedicate their time to respond to the needs of different authorities. Our accredited ground search and rescue members are always ready to intervene to save lives. Our main mission is to provide assistance in finding missing persons, those lost in the forest, or in distress.


Trained and qualified

The group responds to requests from the Sûreté du Québec, Civil Protection, and other organizations or citizens requiring our services. We are recognized and accredited by the Association québécoise des bénévoles en recherche et sauvetage (AQBRS). In order to fulfill our mission, all our volunteers receive training in areas such as search and rescue basics, profile of a missing person, ground search techniques, map and compass skills, crime scene preservation, GPS, radio communication, etc. Volunteer training is ongoing.


Massawippi Trail

Our volunteers typically train in the area around Sherbrooke Airport, where the terrain is flat and well-known to group members. Seeking a different location for a search and victim evacuation simulation, one of our board members, familiar with the Côte du Piémont trail, suggested the location. Immediately, the President of RSE contacted the responsible party at the Massawippi Trail to request permission for our upcoming training day. The site’s topography, quality of trails, and cleanliness of the forest allowed us to practice both practically, theoretically, and physically.


The course of the day 

We arrived in the parking lot at 8:30 am. We had just enough time to unpack our equipment when it began to rain, and it continued throughout the day. So, we set up our shelter, and by 9 am, we gathered under the tent to receive instructions. Despite the bad weather, we were a group of 15 individuals practicing search and first aid techniques. Once teams were formed and directives given, volunteers dispersed into the trails. One member remained at the command post in the parking lot. This task is crucial because this person manages communications and monitors the trailer where all our rescue equipment and victim transport gear are stored.


We began with a trail search. To do this, we divided our group into teams of 3 to explore different trails (except for the beach trail). This search technique involved placing one searcher who walked directly on the trail, while the other two walked on either side about 10 meters into the woods. Their common goal was to find clues, tracks, or objects belonging to the lost person.


A clue was eventually found in the late morning between points 4 and 5 on the trail map. From that location, a search operation was launched with all the volunteers. We formed a search line south of the old Wippi South trail, and the search was conducted within an area approximately 200 meters deep and 300 meters wide. When the team found the person (an actor simulating spending the night in the forest, suffering from hypothermia, and having severe back pain), to add to the challenge, they spoke only in Spanish! Our volunteers had to adapt to communicate with the victim and use our stretcher with a backboard and the mule (stretcher transport system) to evacuate the injured person.


The exercise was a success, and everything was carried out professionally and with a good spirit. After returning to the command post, it was time for lunch. This was followed by an evaluation of the activity to discuss the positives and areas for improvement. Everyone agreed that the Massawippi Trail is simply beautiful! In addition to being perfect for this type of scenario, it provides good physical training. We will definitely return. In the afternoon, it was time to pack up the camp and head back home.


How to become a volunteer?

For more information about our group or to join the 40 volunteers who are at the heart of our mission, please contact Mr. Dany Chaput, the president, at 819-571-7313 or email him at [email protected]. The next training session starts on January 17, 2024, and there’s still time to sign up. Give us a call!

We want to thank the organization for allowing us to use your fantastic terrain!