A walk in the park: Cooper Marsh Conservation Area

 Part of an occasional series exploring North America’s national, provincial and state parks.

COOPER MARSH – I’m just going to come right out of the closet: I suffer from pretty intense anxiety. For the last few years I’ve had a very good handle on it, but I’m not one of those strong women who holds up well when walls cave in on all four sides. So I walk.

Which is a roundabout way of telling you I went for a walk a couple of weeks ago and it was good. I kind of just wanted to sack out on the couch, but I also wanted to stretch out on the highway, and thankfully Melani knows what’s best for me, so we packed up the baby (she will be three soon, but she is still the baby) and headed west with no real destination in mind. We’d gone as far as Cornwall and turned around, heading east but not on the 401, for sanity’s sake, when she spotted the sign on Old Highway 2.

“The Scouts used to visit Cooper Marsh,” she said. “Let’s pull in there.”

cooper marsh (5)It’s right off the old highway and it doesn’t look like much, so I was kind of surprised that the narrow parking area was almost full, and doubly surprised that there were shaded spots left.
The Cooper Marsh wetlands, home to 130 species of birds and all sorts of snakes and spiders and turtles and field mice, is the perfect place for a late-summer stroll when you’re not quite feeling yourself. The wide, grassy trails weave through sparse woods and allow plenty of room to dance or run with a tiny person who understands the magic of spiderwebs and rays of sunlight.

A boardwalk over the marshes cuts through tall grasses and taller bulrushes and offers the illusion of walking over a plain. Canopied by blue sky and tranquil clouds, with a soundtrack of cicadas and birds, peering through a duck blind with civilization nowhere to be seen, anxiety bleeds out and is sponged up by the marsh.

And then there are the butterflies. The Monarchs might have sensed the chill in the air, but Cooper Marsh is a gracious host and they seemed as reluctant to leave as we were. There are few things on Earth—watching a child’s sun-dappled hair caught in the wind is another—that calm the soul like a butterfly pausing to stretch her wings on a leaf right next to you. There are no medicines stronger than that.

three wheels

We give Cooper Marsh three stroller wheels (out of a completely subjective five), with the caveat that we were glad we didn’t have the stroller with us. The wide grassy paths are great for hiking and ideal when a little girl wants to hold both her parents’ hands at once, but we would have walked in a cloud of expletives if we’d had to maneuvre the stroller over the uneven ruts.

There is a small interpretation centre that was closed when we visited but looks lovely, and we appreciate the conservation area’s focus on education and outreach. At least one of the boardwalks is wheelchair accessible. We spent about 45 minutes rambling along one of the paths; the other, which winds west, looked lovely, too. There are barbecue pits at the entrance near the parking area, plus picnic tables and (a very smelly) portable toilet.

Cooper Marsh is open year-round. Entrance is free, but stick a few bucks in the donation box or spare a few dollars online, here.

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