As you enter Hamilton on Highway #403, you’re treated to a beautiful view of Cootes Paradise as the highway winds its way up to the Niagara Escarpment. In warmer months there are canoes and kayaks dotting this shallow marsh and in the winter it’s a very popular skating area. Hamilton’s Waterfront Trail hugs the bank parallel to the highway and leads to Bayfront Park which I’ll talk about at a later date.
Cootes is owned by the Royal Botanical Gardens and their website provides lots of information about it’s history and recent restoration. First designated as a fish sanctuary in the 1870’s and a nature reserve in 1927, the formation of RBG in the 1930’s was another step in protecting this important area. It is the largest river mouth marsh complex on western Lake Ontario.
Project Paradise, a restoration initiative of RBG, began in 1993 as part of the Hamilton Harbour Remediation Action Plan. A big part of it’s success has been the removal of destructive carp who stir up the marsh bottom sediment, destroying vegetation and creating murky water. A fishway constructed at Cootes’ north end blocks the carp’s access from Lake Ontario. It’s well worth a trip to see RBG staff empty out the massive underwater cages and send the large fish down a chute and back to the lake.
Beautiful trails direct you through the forested slopes that surround Cootes. It’s quite common to see deer herds, abundant wild flowers and many types of birds. You may come across groups of people who seem frozen with their palms lifted to the sky. Watch awhile and you’ll see groups of chickadees landing in their hands for peanuts and sunflower seeds.