The waterways associated with the village of Washago have seen development pressure over the past several decades. However, a relatively large block of natural habitat is still intact in the area bounded by Riverdale Drive, between the Green River and Cooper’s Falls Road. This area includes a diversity of ecological communities typical of the southern Shield, as well as habitat for several species at risk.
A major part of this area is protected through the efforts of the Couchiching Conservancy. Known as The Alexander Hope Smith Nature Reserve, this wild area is over 220 acres in size. It was acquired in two phases.
In August of 2007, Ms.Hope Smith, now a resident of Toronto, donated the southern property of 113 acres to The Couchiching Conservancy. This property is now known as the Alexander Hope Smith Nature Reserve, in memory of her grandfather who was a prominent citizen in the Washago area.
In 2008, the Conservancy acquired the 110-acre northern property within this natural area through a partial donation and partial purchase agreement with Mr. Stan Hope-Smith. Title to this northern section is held by the Ontario Heritage Trust however, stewardship of both portions of the property are overseen by the Couchiching Conservancy.
The north portion of the nature reserve is a good example of the exceptional biodiversity found within The Land Between corridor, with a mosaic of rich riparian habitats along Boyd’s Creek, rock barrens with scattered pine and oak, linear watercourses and wetlands located in bedrock depressions, a diversity of treed, shrub, and open marsh wetlands, and mixed pine and hardwood forests and abandoned fields on areas of deeper soil.
Based on recent records in adjacent areas with similar terrain, the Alexander Hope Smith Nature Reserve contains habitat suitable for a high diversity of species, including significant species such as five-lined skink, (Ontario’s only lizard), Blanding’s turtles, eastern hognose snakes, milk snakes, red-shouldered hawks, common nighthawks, and golden-winged warblers.
A few years ago, a team of volunteers found an eastern hognose snake basking in the sunshine on the open bedrock along Boyd’s Creek.
The forests of the nature reserve vary between the two properties. The southern portion contains a mature forest with a large variety of species and boasts a bounty of fern species including the stunning maidenhair fern. The northern portion is a bit more rugged with open granite outcrops and younger trees growing in where trees had been harvested.
Through the centre of the nature reserve runs a shallow but beautiful waterway known as Boyd’s Creek. At certain times of the year, especially in the spring, the creek is navigable by canoe or kayaks (access via the Green River) and provides an excellent opportunity to view wildlife such as herons and turtles. There is also a profusion of wetland and aquatic plants such as white water lily.
The southern section of the property features a recreational trail perfect for hiking in the summer and snowshoeing in the winter. Access to this trail is at the end of Riverdale Drive.
The Alexander Hope Smith Nature Reserve plays an important role in habitat protection in north Simcoe. It’s also a valuable green space for the community; one that invites visitors to explore its beauty and diversity.