Towab Trail, Lake Superior PP, Ontario

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DougBidlack
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Towab Trail, Lake Superior PP, Ontario

Post by DougBidlack » Fri Jan 24, 2014 5:42 pm

NTS,

on the 7th and 8th of October Ellen and I backpacked up to Agawa Falls and back via the 15 mile (24km) Towab Trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park. The majority of this trail runs along the Agawa River through second-growth Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Forest. The first part of this trail is not along the river and the forest is dominated by sugar maples with yellow birch second and heart-leaved birch third most abundant. According to the sign at the trailhead this forest is also supposed to contain some elm, ash and oak. I saw some American Elm along the trail but I didn’t notice any ash or oak. Northern red oak is the oak that should be found in this area and we saw some along the roads. The ash is likely black ash as this is the only species listed in the “Checklist of Vascular Plants: Lake Superior Provincial Park”. I didn’t notice any black ash while I was in Lake Superior Provincial Park. The most common small woody plants were young sugar maples and red-berried elders (Sambucus racemosa). Not far into the hike we noticed a large yellow birch on the west side of the trail just a little ways after crossing a stream and it ended up being the largest yellow birch that we would measure while in Ontario. It was 12.74’ x 79.5’ (3.88m x 24.2m) shooting straight up. Here are a couple pictures of this tree with Ellen.
1.jpg
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The early part of the Towab Trail was nearly conifer free making it appear quite different from nearly all the other trails that we hiked in this region. Only the early portion of the Orphan Lake Trail was reasonably close in species composition to this site but even that area had more conifers. I soon measured a pin cherry that was larger than the one on Orphan Lake Trail. It was 2.70’ x 58.5’ (0.82m x 17.8m) shooting straight up. As we approached the Agawa River the conifers once again became important components of the forest. In addition, red maples appeared to be much more common near the river and heart-leaved birch a little more common. We also saw an occasional balsam poplar. The fall color was particularly beautiful along the river even though we were probably there a little after the peak.
3.jpg
We eventually came across the largest white pine we would see on our trip but I decided to hold off on measuring until we hiked out. The weather was cool (in the 40’s) and cloudy once we reached the river but it made for better pictures along the trail than the sunny weather we would have on the hike out. Here is a picture of Ellen next to this nice white pine.
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The trail soon became more difficult due to much steeper and wetter terrain with more rocks and roots. Here is a picture of Ellen with a heart-leaved birch behind her.
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And another with Ellen next to a yellow birch. I didn’t measure this tree because it was shorter and smaller than the previous yellow birch.
6.jpg
I spotted a red pine and decided to measure it because it was the largest that we saw and it was far enough off of the trail that I thought I might not see it on the way back. It measured 5.50’ x 87.1’ (1.68m x 26.5m).
7.jpg
We finally got a few good views of Agawa Falls. Agawa Falls is reported to be the tallest waterfall in the park at 25m (82’). Here is a picture of this beautiful waterfall.
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Our campsite was near the top of the waterfall. Here is the view we had looking downstream from our campsite.
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We had the site all to ourselves. In fact we only saw one person on the way in and he was fishing in the river quite early in the hike. The temperature dipped just below freezing during the night and breakfast was a bit chilly but the day would eventually warm up very nicely into the low 60’s under sunny skies. Here is a shot of the top of the falls early in the morning.
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And another shot of the top of the falls later in the morning.
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On the way out I measured my first white pine of the trip to 7.89’ x 101.2’ (2.40m x 30.85m) using the sine method. I also measured my first balsam poplar to 4.67’ x 73.5’ (1.42m x 22.4m) shooting straight up. Here is a picture of the balsam poplar. It is in the center of the shot with yellowish-green leaves.
12.jpg
When we arrived at the big white pine I measured it to 13.10’ x 125.0’ (3.99m x 38.1m) using the sine method. This was easily the largest tree that we measured in Ontario and it made me wonder if there were any 130’ white pines in this park. It seems likely. Here is a picture looking up at this tree.
13.jpg
The combination of the sunny weather, fall color and the Agawa River made for gorgeous scenery.
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After we hiked away from the river I started looking for a balsam fir that I wanted to measure. This tree measured 3.61’ x 77.8’ (1.10m x 23.7m) using the sine method. Unfortunately I had missed another balsam fir that I had wanted to measure and I was a bit bummed because I was hoping to break 80’. Even worse, I somehow managed not to find a white spruce that I wanted to measure. Based on a quick and dirty measurement on the hike in I estimated it to be just over 100’. I also made quick measurements of three other white spruces that were well over 90’. Here is a picture of the balsam fir.
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A little farther on down the trail I measured a pin cherry to 3.17’ (0.97m) in girth. I didn’t measure the height because the top had broken off and it was not all that tall. By this time we were getting close to the end of the trail so we picked up the pace and quickly made it back to the car.

The next morning we headed west to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. About halfway there we stopped in the town of Marathon and went to a small community park along Lake Superior. Here is the view looking west.
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We made another stop somewhere between Marathon and Terrace Bay and here I finally found a paper birch among a few heart-leaved birches. Here is a close-up of the leaves.
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Just west of Terrace Bay we stopped to check out Aguasaban Falls.
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We made it to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park late in the afternoon. Here is a picture of the sleeping giant (head on the right) across Marie Louise Lake near our campsite.
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Here are the trees I measured along Towab Trail in Lake Superior Provincial Park.

White Pine
13.10’ x 125.0’ (3.99m x 38.1m)
7.89’ x 101.2’ (2.40m x 30.85m)

Red Pine
5.50’ x 87.1’ (1.68m x 26.5m)

Yellow Birch
12.74’ x 79.5’ (3.88m x 24.2m)

Balsam Fir
3.61’ x 77.8’ (1.10m x 23.7m)

Balsam Poplar
4.67’ x 73.5’ (1.42m x 22.4m)

Pin Cherry
2.70’ x 58.5’ (0.82m x 17.8m)
3.17’ x ? (0.97m x ?)

Doug

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Josh Kelly
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Re: Towab Trail, Lake Superior PP, Ontario

Post by Josh Kelly » Sat Jan 25, 2014 10:55 am

Doug,

I love it! Great trip report of some great places. That yellow birch reminds me of some of the larger diameter trees I've seen here in the Southern Blue Ridge. Do you know much about the bedrock geology of that area?

Josh

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Ranger Dan
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Re: Towab Trail, Lake Superior PP, Ontario

Post by Ranger Dan » Sat Jan 25, 2014 11:26 am

Doug-

Exquisite trip report! This is easily the most beautiful set of images I've seen on this site. I had no idea Ontario had such scenery. Thank you for sharing.

Dan Miles

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DougBidlack
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Re: Towab Trail, Lake Superior PP, Ontario

Post by DougBidlack » Sat Jan 25, 2014 3:10 pm

Josh,

I'm not the best person to ask about geology but I'll take a weak stab at it. Virtually everything I've ever read on this area always starts with some statement about it being part of the vast Canadian Shield and that the part around Lake Superior has some of the oldest exposed bedrock in the world. I believe the origin of the rocks in this region is mainly volcanic and at one time, a very long time ago, there were mountains in this region that were taller than any that exist today. Erosion eventually wore these mountains down to the much smaller highlands and small mountains that are present today. The glaciers scraped away much of the soil of this region; all the way down to bedrock in many instances. Other areas have fairly thin topsoils. I've read that granite and gneisses are the most common rocks found in Lake Superior Provincial Park but there are also 'islands' of greenstone within the 'sea' of granite and gneisses. The greenstone is apparently the result of metamorphosed lava. The Canadian Shield is quite famous for past and present mining for copper, iron, silver, gold and nickel in particular. I'm not sure if this helps at all. I wish Ed were explaining this as I'm sure he'd do a much better job.

I've always loved the area around Lake Superior as well as the Southern Appalachians. They remain as my two favorite areas in eastern North America. I remember when I lived in South Carolina how much I loved going up to Lake Jocassee...it always reminded me so much of the area around Lake Superior.

Doug

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ElijahW
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Re: Towab Trail, Lake Superior PP, Ontario

Post by ElijahW » Sun Jan 26, 2014 11:13 am

Doug,

Thanks for sharing another great report with those beautiful photos. Like Josh wrote, the yellow birch resembles that of the Blue Ridge as well as the Piseco Lake area of the Adirondacks. I'm guessing that many of these place names are Native American (or "First Nation" in Canada) in origin. If so, is there still a native presence in the area around Lake Superior?

Elijah
"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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DougBidlack
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Re: Towab Trail, Lake Superior PP, Ontario

Post by DougBidlack » Sun Jan 26, 2014 5:02 pm

Elijah,

it seems to me that yellow birch is the tree species that best links the Appalachian Mountains with the Great Lakes. There are plenty of species present in both areas but not many that thrive to the point where they are really quite abundant from the Southern Appalachians to the western Great Lakes. Even yellow birch isn't perfect as it isn't present along much of the Ontario coast of Lake Superior. Still, where it is present, like in Lake Superior Provincial Park, it is common and it grows quite large. Even though it's range extends beyond the Appalachian Mountains and Great Lakes area, it seems to grow best in those two places. I grew up in southeastern Michigan and yellow birch was present there but not very happy. Only when you go farther north in Michigan or closer to the Lakes would it grow better. Now I live in southeastern Massachusetts and yellow birch is present here too but it also isn't very happy here either. You need to travel west to the mountains to finally see it growing at it's best in this area. I can't think of any other tree species quite like it. Sugar maple is certainly present all around the Great Lakes as well as all the way down into the Southern Appalachians but it is much more generally distributed and grows very well throughout the North while only having a fairly tiny sliver down into the Southern Appalachians. Mountain maple would be great if it were as common as striped maple along the Appalachians but it isn't. Maybe someone else can think of a similar species.

When I was reading about the Canadian Shield I found out that it extends down into the Adirondacks of northern New York. The general climate and plant life also seems quite similar so I guess it makes sense that the yellow birch pictures feel quite familiar to you.

I'm glad you asked about the Native Americans of the area because I have to admit to being fairly ignorant on the subject. I always thought that the Chippewa occupied the area around Lake Superior but everything I read in Ontario kept saying it was the Ojibwe. It turns out that they are the same people. Apparently people in the US tend to say Chippewa while people in Canada say Ojibwe. Here is a map I got from Wickipedia.
617px-Anishinaabe-Anishinini_Distribution_Map.svg.png
As you suggest, many of the place names have Ojibwe origins. Wawa means 'wild goose' in the Ojibwe language and a big metal Canada goose is a symbol of the town. Here is another picture taken from Wickipedia.
170px-Wawa_ON_3.jpg
170px-Wawa_ON_3.jpg (9.07 KiB) Viewed 1540 times
The trail we hiked to Agawa Falls was named after Towab who was an Ojibwe man who led many people into the Agawa River area for many years. I would say that Native Americans have a much higher presence in the Lake Superior region than in most of the rest of eastern North America. Unfortunately I would also say that the Native American population is poorer than the general population as in other areas of North America.

Doug

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Jess Riddle
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Re: Towab Trail, Lake Superior PP, Ontario

Post by Jess Riddle » Sat Feb 08, 2014 11:20 am

Doug,

Another wonderful description. I especially like the photos of the big birch and of the falls. These forests sound strikingly similar to those in the Adirondacks in terms of both species composition and stature of the trees. In that region, I was impressed by how large the yellow birch were relative to those in the southern Appalachians. White pine and some smaller species like striped maple were the only ones that made a similar impression on me.

Jess

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ElijahW
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Re: Towab Trail, Lake Superior PP, Ontario

Post by ElijahW » Sat Feb 08, 2014 4:14 pm

Doug,

Thanks for the reply. Native names seem to be ubiquitous in New England and Ontario, but actual native people are much harder to find. The native peoples in left in NY, for example, stick mostly to their reservations, and are known for their cigarettes, casinos, and causing trouble with the state government (this last character trait I admire). It makes me sad to see the Mohawks, Onondagas, and Senecas struggle, but I also envy the sense of community and family pride they possess. Thanks again for sharing.

Elijah
"There is nothing in the world to equal the forest as nature made it. The finest formal forest, the most magnificent artificially grown woods, cannot compare with the grandeur of primeval woodland." Bob Marshall, Recreational Limitations to Silviculture in the Adirondacks

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