Wardsville: A Small town in the heart of the Greater Skunks’ Misery Forest Complex

Birders know all about Skunk’s Misery forest. They come from around the world to quietly see some of the rarest birds in the Country. Many of the rare warblers depend on large (200 acres) undisturbed forests. Cerulean, Prothonotary and Hooded Warblers can be seen mating in the forests surrounding Skunks Misery. Many more rare species of plants and animals are also found in these forests. And the birders are not the only ones to recognize this.

The NCC (Nature Conservancy Canada) has identified Skunk’s Misery as one of the crucial areas of concern as so little of it is protected. In the heart of farmland country, the area has been a rich source of cropland. The land was cleared for crops and produces corn, wheat, beans and onions to this day. It has been the private land owners and farmers who have been protecting these tracts of forests with little or no compensation from the provincial or federal governments. With a conservation incentive plan (not a property tax reduction) for marginal farm lands, forest, wetlands and key corridors to the Thames River, conservation agreements with groups like the NCC or the Thames Talbot Land Trust (www.ttlt.ca) the lands could be protected in perpetuity.

With some marketing support from these organizations and the county of Middlesex, Wardsville could capitalize on the birder revenue and attract more nature lovers to the area. The town needs to move away from the automotive based income which once fueled its growth and move towards its natural assets like the private and County owned forests.

Businesses offering food and accomodation would be a natural fit as more people recognize the site. Last year, for the first time, birders spent more money in travel and gear than hunters. A trend which is expected to grow. Bed and breakfast accomodation would be the first to benefit with restaurants to follow. A new economy awaits Wardsville with babyboomers retiring to beautiful, quiet, and cost effective communites like Wardsville.

The shift is slowly happening, with the new water system installed, the town can focus on these new opportunities. But to get it started some investment from the county, the province and most importantly from volunteers needs to be coordinated into a strategic plan. With a plan in place, it would demonstrate to potential investors, small businesses and government bodies that the town is serious. Conservation groups have already begun this process, recognizing the value of the natural assets the community has. In time these assets can be leveraged by the County and funds could be accessible for more promotion of the area. But at the same time, the commercial side of the town needs to be supported and new ways of promoting the town’s assets to the huge demographic of retiring baby boomers need to be developed.

Volunteers need to form a group and canvas the county levels of government to form a partnership which can build an economic plan. This will take time and commitment. Time we have, but commitment has been hard to come by except for a few good natured souls who seem to be the usual faces when a call for help goes out to the community for their involvement. We need people who love this community to spare a little of their busy lives. As someone who has only lived here for four years, my family and I have made this community home. I hope others will join us in making a significant and positive change to Wardsville and its citizens.


5 thoughts on “Wardsville: A Small town in the heart of the Greater Skunks’ Misery Forest Complex

  1. Terry, you’ve let out the secret. How do we manage visitors who want to be guests in such a special private sensitive place. The land is privately owned and the birds are nesting, are they not? Only once I saw the sandpipers bunch up on the flats of the Bay of Fundy on their way from the Arctic to South America. They were so vulnerable and I felt guilty observing such a special miracle of nature. – Mary Simpson

  2. Mary,
    All the county woodlots have distinct trails (ATV paths…arrgh) and the County of Middlesex has GPSed all the trails for future trail guides (I know ’cause I did all the trail GPS mapping for them).

    The County is encouraging more birders to come to Southwest Middlesex to see the forests and its inhabitants in hopes of taking the forests back from the illegal activity of ATVing. The OPP don’t have the man power to police it. The locals don’t have the wherewithall to police the forests themselves. The County is looking into contracting with a private organization to run a blitz every month or two and issue trespassing fines. If the OPP are brought in, the ATVers had better have plates and insurance.

    The ATVers are destroying those forests and if more people like birders were in the forests, illegal activities could be agressively reduced. A handful of ATVer do more damage with their noise and exhaust and refuse littering than all the birders in Ontario could ever do. Besides, the very sentiment you felt when you witnessed the pipers is the same for most birders. Yes, the birds nest in the trees and could be disturbed. Tut so much study is and has yet to be done on the bird communities in Skunk’s. Well written trail guides will alert avid birders to nesting regions and request quiet diligence with binoculars and cameras.

    Such a request is unnecessary to birders who tend to hold their breath moments at a time any way!

    SO, I say bring on the birders and out with the ATVs!

    Besides, birders are more likeley to use a bed and breakfast and seek out the history of an area in conjunction to their birding activities, which is unlike the illegal ATVers who skulk in and out of the forests hoping to be unseen…

  3. I found great pleasure in hearing and seeing the Cerulean Warbler ( and I saw more than one) in the Skunk’s Misery Forest. A quick visit or two in the early spring and I am able to hear their special song. Many people in Southwest Middlesex are aware that the “Misery” is home to some of Ontario’s endangered birds. We have such a wonderful resource in our back yard. It needs to be protected for our children and their children.

    Do our schools teach our children about what is so very special about Skunks Misery? Curricula needs to have the local component: social, cultural, natural. If the kids aren’t being taught in school, then who will teach the parents?

    Denise Corneil

  4. Hi Fred
    Thanks so much for your “Off Roading” blog

    A little food for thought….
    Chatham Kent (do you live here?) has approximately 3% forest cover in the ENTIRE municipality.
    Middlesex County i.e. Southwest Middlesex has approximately 12%.
    Skunks Misery shares a border with Chatham Kent and Middlesex Counties.
    Skunks Misery is about 1300 acres and is a very environmentally sensitive area for people from Chatham Kent, Southwest Middlesex, and all of Ontario to enjoy.
    From the Ministry of Natural Resourses site
    “Absolutely NO motorized vehicles (ATV, 4-wheel drive, etc.) are allowed with in the woodlot, due to the damage the vehicles do to the tree root systems on and adjacent to the trail system, and to the trail itself.”

    Here’s some special words for you from

    Joni Mitchell 1970 (yes, I am dating myself)

    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot
    With a pink hotel, a boutique
    And a swinging hot spot
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got
    Till it’s gone
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot

    They took all the trees
    Put ’em in a tree museum
    And they charged the people
    A dollar and a half just to see ’em
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got
    Till it’s gone
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot

    Hey farmer farmer
    Put away that d.d.t. now
    Give me spots on my apples
    But leave me the birds and the bees
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got
    Till it’s gone
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot

    Late last night
    I heard the screen door slam
    And a big yellow taxi
    Took away my old man
    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got
    Till it’s gone
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot

    If civilizans do not take an active role in protecting these sensitive areas who will?

    Please sing this song once in a while…….especially when you are off roading in Skunks Misery.


  5. Fred Knight says….
    I have found so much pleasure in Skunks Misery on all of my visits. The area is so peaceful and quiet and i love taking a nice relaxing ride through the area on my off road bike. I do not ride there because i want to destroy the area, i ride there because like your hobby of birdwatching, my hobby is off road riding. I would also gladly leave Skunks Misery to the bird watchers but as the local area has been closing all off road riding facilities in the area so that is one of the only areas left. How is that fair? Im not trying to destroy the area, im trying to appreciate it as much as you. My off road bike probably pollutes the air 5x less than the car you drove to get here. If you have any suggestions as to where to ride legally or other alternatives please suggest them but otherwise, get used to us riding in Skunks Misery because even if you do police it… you will not catch anyone with any skill on a bike.

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