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O’Neill Nature Preserve, Chatham, ON

         The morning started off a bit rough. My morning ‘wake-up’ coffee didn’t even make it into my cup but instead all over my counter. My 1 ½ year old decided to pour his own cereal which ended up with the whole bag of it on my kitchen floor (although to be fair he did get it in his bowl first).  The second cup of coffee to make up for my first attempt got spilled on my lap as I listened to my three year old get frustrated at his Rescue-bots that would not transform correctly. By the time my one year old decided to decorate my kitchen floor a second time (I need to stop going to the bathroom through the day I suppose) with potatoes I knew it was time to escape this house while it was still in one piece. Being it was a beautiful day it seemed like a great reason to go for a walk. Okay, I’ll admit I was ready to do something fun but at the same time an opportunity to have my two little guys sit still for a little bit.

        
Entrance from Thornhill Park
       Here came the mental battle of where we should walk. Sadly, I don’t think that anyone would disagree that my three year old has a better attention span than myself. I like to keep moving. I walk any zoo or museum barely pausing to read a sign or see what it is in the cage. So first thing first, I wanted to make sure that this walk that we were going to was somewhere to keep my interest so it could be a nice long one. I looked online for any trails that we could possibly drive to near us and was surprised to see there is actually a Nature Preserve down the road from us! This was even better than a drive where I would have to chase my children around the car to get them in, make sure they have their car toys, pick up the car toys that they can’t seem to hold onto while in car seat position, then of course they fall asleep for a quick nap and ruin the whole bedtime routine. Wagon ride it was! We even decided it would be a good day for a picnic. Before we left we made a checklist of things we might see while on our walk, I tried to let my oldest son down easily that we may not see an elephant, but there is always hope I suppose.
        Now, O’Neill Nature Preserve has two entrances, one off of Thornhill Crescent Park and another off of Oxley Park.  We entered through Thornhill Park after the boys played a bit to stretch their legs. It is a really nice small park. I am happy we went this way first as the opening to the trail is a lot nicer going in this way. With the sun shining and the breeze gently blowing it was time to introduce ourselves to the trail. I was so impressed to what I saw. It was clean, lots of trees for shade, and the trail itself is very wide. Lots of room for our wagon and a rather smooth ride!
  
         While you are in the Nature Preserve it is pretty easy to forget that you are in town still. The only noise you hear is that of birds singing, squirrels running around, my youngest wanting yet another snack, and the older one saying he thinks he smells elephant poop (let me reassure you I did not smell anything that resembled any type of animal feces) Although, I am pretty sure most people don’t experience the last two sounds. This trail is apparently 800m long so it isn’t huge but it is perfectly fine for a small afternoon walk. It gives you a couple of choices of routes to choose from but it seems to circle around for the most part. Following part of the loop around we came to a little bit of water, I am not sure if it would classify as a stream or ditch but either way it was nice to see some water around too to add to the ambiance of this nature preserve.
          
          We did get to check off a few things on our list such as flowers, sticks, trees, animal tracks, ants, bugs, birds and more. The one year old even fell asleep in the wagon which was a surprise. The fresh air and calm environment must have done the trick (I will have to remember this at bedtime sometimes for him) We exited at the part of the trail that comes out at Oxley Park and came back into realty that we were in fact still in Chatham. Let me warn you now though that the only negative thing about entering or leaving at Oxley park is that there is A LOT of grass to push a stroller (or in our case pull a wagon) through, so make sure you are super strong and energized or that you have a great stroller/wagon. I’m not going to lie; we had our picnic at Oxley Park so I could regain some of my strength for the rest of the walk home.
        All in all, it was a great experience to some of the hidden beauty in Chatham. It is exciting to know that it will be even more beautiful as more leaves and flowers come out. We even saw a snake on the way home; I think that made up for not seeing an elephant.

The Check-List as made up by a 3 yr old

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