*New Walking Tours Beginning September 4th!
Since the beginning of June, with COVID-19 realities setting in, the creation of a guided nature and history tour was put on the front burner as a development project. The guided nature and history tour throughout the Forest Motel property was an idea conceived when the property was purchased 16 years ago. Busy summers and poor cash flow in the winter were a stumbling block to creating a full tour package. Many people, even in our own community are unaware of the history of the property, or the diverse ecosystem and flora & fauna that are found on our 32 acres of wetlands, forest and trails.
First order of the day was maintenance and upkeep of the trails on the property. Several weeks were spent putting a layer of fresh wood chips down throughout approximately 3 kilometres of trails, and disposing of fallen trees, large branches, etc. Many of the trails existed as pathways throughout the forest and new trail portions needed to be added. One kilometre of trail is also part of the AVON Trail network linking this property to Stratford, St. Marys and Conestogo.
After a majority of the maintenance was completed, the next part was to do vast amounts of research on the history of the property to obtain information in order to create large informational signs to be displayed. Since this was being done during the peak of COVID-19, getting information was more challenging than usual. Continuous communication with the Stratford-Perth Museum and the Perth County Archives was had, and both were extremely helpful in helping find the information needed. After all the information was collected, signs were created with a web-based tool using the information obtained through research and photos. Printing companies were contacted to find the right material and size for the signs to be printed on. These signs reflect on the history of the railroad and steam engines, the Old Ice house, the original McCarthy family, and the swans of Stratford who call the Forest Motel home.
As the signs were in print, work began by physically going through the trails once again to identify different species of trees, plants, animals, and the significance of them to the history of the property. For each species or significance, more research was done to identify important features and interesting facts for each. By the end of the identification process, over 50 plants, animal and tree species were discovered to be specifically discussed during the tour.
After most of the species were identified, trail markers were ordered to be put throughout the trails which show the common name, botanical name, and family of all the flora and fauna. This allows guests or avid hikers to easily identify the species. What made these trail markers special is that each one has its own individual QR code that can be scanned with any camera phone. This QR code will take you to an individual web page where one can input more details of the plant, growing information, photos, and special characteristics about the species itself. A photo app allowing us to identify species on the spot with our phones camera has been downloaded and used as well.
All of the identified species and the history information then had to be sorted into a written outline and tour guide schedule. Approximate time of the tour was set at 2.5 hours and tour material was tailored as such.
After the tour program was organized and various items ordered, the process of making stakes and tree brackets for 94 trail markers begins. Three large wooden billboard signs were built in different locations on the tour and these also had a decorative roof built over top for protection. These will also have lighting installed on a time clock. To these billboards all signage, historical artifacts, trail directional signage, and trays for natural samples were attached.
After installation of the signs, website information had to be finalized, sales and booking procedures, brochures, and advertising of tours throughout in-person offices and virtually through social media and our website also has been and is being planned. The planning for the initial rollout of the program was time consuming and geared to a September start up.
The tours began on Labour day weekend, September 5th and 7th. They included a 2.5-hour guided tour through the trails and property where we discuss the history of the property, the flora and fauna, and the swans of Stratford. Each tour includes a bag lunch prepared by the motel kitchen. Halfway through the tour, we stop for coffee, snacks and washroom breaks. Our tours are currently only on Fridays and Saturdays in the mornings and afternoon, but we plan on opening an evening tour or other possible days in the future.
As of now, several successful tours have occurred since our opening weekend, and plans are to continue into the fall, winter, and hopefully long-term. Expansion of our tours will include possible school groups for elementary, middle school, or high school/college students. In the fall, the changing of leaves on trees and plants allows a different learning opportunity for guests, and the winter plans are to include snowshoes and cross-country skis as part of the tour. All tours allow tour guests to relax by the lake after the tour is complete and even enjoy a campfire. The 32 acres of property allows guests to safely physical distance themselves while enjoying a special healthy new outdoor experience while staying in Stratford.
Fun for all ages!
The tour is equipped for all ages! We provide children scavenger hunts that can be used as the tour commences, and we recommend bringing binoculars, microscopes if you have them to get a close-up look at the land.
Lunch will be served at the beginning or the end of the tour, depending on the tour time. Dietary preferences and accessibility needs can be accommodated with prior notification.
Come explore our property & see why it's known as Stratford's hidden gem! Registration for the tours are done through phone or e-mail only. We currently don't have an online booking system for our tours.
Book A Tour With Us! Our office is open 7 days a week from 8am-8pm.
Address: 2941 Forest Rd, Stratford ON, N5A 6S5