On one Saturday night each month – the one closest to the full moon – in January, February and March, volunteers lead groups of skiers, walkers and snowshoers through the snow-covered woods and fields of the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
These Moonlight Skis are part of winter programming run by the Friends of the Sanctuary. This year they will be held Jan 3rd, Feb 7th and March 7th, from 7 to 9 pm.
The Sanctuary, located near Ingleside, Ontario, has 9,000 hectares of various wildlife habitats, including a mature upland forest, old fields, wetlands and open water and has more than 8 kilometers of walking trails and over 7 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails.
Colleen Leduc has been coordinating the winter program at the Sanctuary for five years and she says visitors often comment on how quiet it is. “I think they are surprised by the peacefulness,” Leduc explains. “I’ll be leading a group and we’ll stop in the middle of the field – a lot of people don’t get to enjoy the beauty of night – they don’t realize how beautiful the moon is, and how quiet things are – it’s a peaceful calm.”
Visitors arrive and are joined into groups of 10 or so according to skill and fitness levels. Each group is led by a Friends of the Sanctuary guide. Visitors are welcome to borrow the cross-country or snowshoe equipment on-hand at the Sanctuary and volunteers will help you find the gear you need and get it on properly. The cost is $5 per visitor and includes any equipment you need to use.
The groups set out on a loop of approx. 5 kilometres, although more experienced groups sometimes take longer trails. And whether you are walking, skiing or show shoeing, all groups gather midway at the ski shack, where Sanctuary volunteers have a blazing fire going in the fire pit. The adventure ends back to the Visitors Centre to shed equipment and share hot chocolate and cookies.
Leduc says may see hares, fox and deer and even the very occasional moose and perhaps hear coyotes in the distance but the animals always keep their distance.
If you are looking to borrow equipment, Leduc recommends coming before 7 to give yourself some time to find what you need. The Visitors Centre opens at 6:30 on those evenings.
The Moonlight Skis are dependant on weather and snow conditions. If you want to confirm the event is happening, you can call 613-534-8155 before the day of the event or if you are calling on the day of the excursion, call the Bird Sanctuary between 12:00 and 4:00 p.m. at 613-537-2024.
For more information on the Sanctuary and other year-round visiting opportunities, visit the St Lawrence Parks Commission site at stlawrenceparks.com/index.cfm/en/bird-sanctuary/ or the Friends of the Sanctuary site at friendsofthesanctuary.org or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos provided by Friends of the Sanctuary.