Harold Town Conservation Area on a Mountain Bike

Summer 2015: When I originally wrote this article in 2011 I had to break through a locked gate to bike these rough trails. Flash forward to 2015 and the work Zach Whynen and countless volunteers have done is astonishing. Harold Town is now a premiere mtb system with signage, proper drainage, and a very, very active support group.  But the group needs all the volunteers it can wrangle for the many trail builds and updates. Visit the Facebook page join the group to get notifications about upcoming builds, trail conditions, videos, pix and events. And now, below, my original post before it all happened.


 

When I announced I was moving from Oshawa to Peterborough, many of my friends figured I’d be enjoying some prime mountain biking close to home. I knew what I was getting into and told them as far as I knew, there were no mountain biking trails anywhere in the Peterborough area; in fact I guessed that I was going to be spending my time travelling to Long Sault or Ganaraska forest just like I used to.

During a trip to the most amazing outdoor store on the planet WildRock for a bike tuneup (OK, I’m still in the afterglow of winning a prize pack for being the 100th Twitter follower) I had a discussion about trail riding in the immediate area. ‘As the fable goes’ there is an abandoned conservation area east of town that is known for some knarly technical hill rides down a 100m incline.

I consider myself an above-average Googler but even I couldn’t find much to go on. It seems as if it was indeed a conservation area at one time called Harold Town (named after the Canadian abstract artist who lived in Peterborough until his death in 1990), but the origins or story of its demise have already been forgotten. There’s no mention of a trailhead, trail map or even where to park.

So on a glorious summer morning I packed up and went exploring.

There’s a parking area on the north end of the property on Old Norwood Road, just west of Drummond Line. There I met a young family with a friendly dog and one small child, who shared their knowledge of the space. I had indeed found the trailhead, and there are three trails that circumnavigate or cross the big hill.  Dad told me the trails were lots of fun and that I couldn’t get lost, then he set off with his family in a clockwise direction.

Not having any idea where I was going, I set off in a counterclockwise direction. More on that later, but it was probably not the best way to do the trail.

Only two minutes into the ride imagine my amazement to find what I would guess is the original Harold Town meeting hall, in total abandon and disarray. Dropping the bike, I grabbed my cameraphone and ventured inside without any barriers. It was a simple structure, with three large rooms, and high ceilings. The furnace room remained, and covering the floor were hundreds of blue and pink bows: the kinds you get at the dollar store to stick on a gift.

Further inside was a pretty sweet series of skateboard ramps including an impressive rail for tricks. There aren’t any videos online but if anyone in the Peterborough area is interested I’d love to shoot something. It was a really big space with lots of street art on the wall.

Back on the trail, the meadow descended into a really thick forest with some babyhead singletrack taking me down towards a creek. Before I hit the water, the trail turns south-west and deeper into a valley of tall trees.

I’m guessing I was near Burnham Line as I started to hear traffic again, then the trail turned east and the steady (brutal) climb up the hill began.

Through the trail I photographed a number of landmarks including a tumorous tree, a skull of something, and a remarkable pile of pink and blue foamy stuff. It almost looked like cotton candy, but I didn’t dare touch it.

Even if it was regular insulation, the question remains: what is it and more importantly how did it get there? It was double-backed single track at this point and very hard to get into.

I came across a very cool looking ramp over a boulder, but didn’t dare attempt it as this was only my 3rd trip out this season, and I’m starting to feel the limitations of a 43 year old frame. But if I was with someone else or a little less exhausted from the hike up, I wouldn’t discount the possibility.

It was at this point when I realized a clockwise trip might have been best, as I was off the bike more than I was on, and the summer sun was steaming up the forest to 27°C. In fact at this point I caught up with the family, who seemed to be really enjoying the long trek downhill, much to my envy.

But still, the creaking tall trees broke at the summit and the blue skies and fresh breeze blew away the last of the bugs, and evaporated the sweat on my brow. At a Y in the path, I turned left (north) and enjoyed a brisk ride across some tricky drainage pebbles, then a dash across a hilltop meadow, all the while being chased by butterflies and flying things.

I heated up my disc brakes on the glorious descent, and rolled pretty much right into the improvised parking area, climbing back over the locked gates.

I’d love to get some history on the Conservation Area, why it closed, and who is responsible for the trailmarking, bridges, tricks and maintenance. Lots of fun. I’ll try the clockwise route next, starting with the walk up to the summit first.

5 thoughts on “Harold Town Conservation Area on a Mountain Bike

  • Rick
    Good story about Harold Town and thanks for getting the word out that we do infact have great riding in Peterborough. But I can`t help but think that you missed large parts of the trail. Currently there is about 10kms of singletrack. By the looks of it you did the flats at the bottom but there is much more, much of it quite technical and challenging but very fun with some man made obstacles and natural terrain features.
    Maybe we`ll meet on the trail some time, heres to great trails and exploring.

  • hey Rick,
    In this time of paranoia and land management issues it might not be a good a thing to try to dig out the history of this site, nor to expose the “movers and shakers” that are making it happen on a day-by-day, as they can, to the best of their abilities to any unwanted attention. Maybe just keep on riding, clearing off some brush if it’s in your way, and appreciating the awesomeness of those trails. Maybe it’s fairies on the full moon?Maybe it’s magical trail spirits in the early misty mornings!! Isn’t the mystery more fun? It does sound like you may have missed some of the VERY cool stuff that’s out there. And speaking as someone who used to be afraid of that bridge over the rock .. it’s easy-peasy-lemon-squeezey. Take a pal along for reassurance, and you’ll roll right over it!

  • I believe I found the definitive thread of information on Harold Town, but @indigoskymind you’ve piqued my interest.

    Here is the thread:

    http://forums.mtbr.com/eastern-canada/where-ride-within-25min-peterborough-552303.html

    Of interest in the foamy stuff: seems this was an archery range at one point and the foam is what’s left of the targets.

    The property was a ski hill called Old Orchard, which was bought by local artist Harold Town. Upon his passing, he donated the land to the local conservation area, but for some reason the deal fell through. My guess it remains property of the conservation area but it’s not officially maintained or recognized.

    As for now, I can hardly wait to try to take the downhill clockwise loop!

  • Rdolishny – you pretty much nailed it. One addendum – the land is under the control of the OR Conservation Authority. It was the plan to make this property an official mtb destination that fell through (though there is hope for the future). See you all on the trails.

  • I was going through my files, and came across an article from Alternatives Magazine (Summer, 2000) on the Otonobee Conservation Authority. It said that the land donated by Harold Town was to be developed as a golf course, and mentioned an organization called Audubon International (as distinct from the National Audubon Society) that promotes “green” golf courses, and which looks suspiciously like a greenwashing organization to me.

    After calming down, I decided to see if this happened, and came across this blog.

    Does anyone know (1) if this is indeed the land that was slated to become a golf course, (2) why it did not happen, and (3) why the memory of Harold Town appears to be shown such disrespect.

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