Article: For Greenleaves

By: Gary Kenny

Date: August 30, 2021

Title: Bruce Grey Woodlands Association visit to Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.”

– Henry David Thoreau As the quote above from the 19th century American naturalist Henry David Thoreau suggests, a walk in a forest can indeed lift one’s spirits, if not stature, to new heights – through knowledge of the many ways forests support human enterprise, the stunning array of interdependent life forms that comprise them, and their unremitting capacity to stir one’s soul with awe. Old-growth forests especially bear these hallmarks, as members of the Bruce Grey Woodlands Association (BGWA) were reminded on Saturday, July 4th. Sixteen members of the Association gathered for an afternoon visit to the Ontario Nature owned and stewarded Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve near Chatsworth, in Grey County. The event was organized by the Events Committee of the 160-member BGWA.

With the guidance of Saugeen Nature member, Nikki May, and BGWA member, Val Makhouleen, participants gathered at a cabin on the site, inside of which information about old-growth forests and the Kinghurst Tract in particular is featured.

Grey and Bruce County residents can thank the now-deceased Krug brothers, Bruce and Howard, for making the Kinghurst Forest wilderness jewel accessible to the public, May said. For 100 years the Krug family owned and operated a successful furniture manufacturing business in Chesley. Its sources of timber were the region’s deciduous forests.

An avid conservationist, Howard Krug recognized the natural uniqueness of the Kinghurst tract and its value, especially for conservation education into the future. In 1997 he bequeathed 242 hectares for public use. Added to that was a legacy gift of 61 hectares by Bruce Krug at the time of his death in 2013. Other small parcels of land also were added, including 30 hectares of former pasture and wetlands bordering on the Reserve purchased by Ontario Nature, which now owns the Kinghurst tract. The reserve is now 370 hectares (913 acres) in size.

Saugeen Nature, a local group dedicated to nature-based conservation and education, stewards the Reserve and provides volunteer services including trail maintenance, and enhancing habitat for the benefit of Kinghurst’s diverse animal life. Although Ontario Nature promotes Kinghurst as old-growth forest, it’s more accurately termed “older- growth,” May explained, because of past disturbance by humans.

An old-growth forest – also termed primary forest, virgin forest, or primeval forest – is a woodland that has attained advanced age without significant disturbance. Few old-growth stands remain in southern Ontario.

After the cabin visit the group wended its way along some of the reserve’s forested trails, stop- ping periodically to listen to May and Makhouleen talk about the characteristics of old-growth forests and pointing out examples.

Old-growth forests exhibit many unique ecological features, they both said, some of which the participants viewed and learned about on the walkabout.

For example, Kinghurst’s towering, 250-300-year-old trees, among them Sugar Maple, Eastern Beech, and White Pine, reach 30 meters into the sky.

Looking skyward, the group saw how the leaves of the forest’s vaulted, cathedral-like canopy lace the sky like needled embroidery. Gaps in the leaf cover created by the death of old trees allow sunlight to reach the forest floor where it encourages the growth of seedlings, generating forest renewal.

May also drew attention to the rugged undulating pits and mounds visible across the forest floor, a feature called micro-topography. The pits were formed when old trees died and fell over taking their roots with them. The mounds are the result of decaying trunks and root masses.

Throughout the older-growth area of the forest are large fallen and decaying logs which, as they break down over many years, form a rich layer of organic matter. Sponge-like, the layer retains moisture and becomes a medium for mushrooms, fungi, mosses, and microscopic life, all of which work to recycle the woody debris for the forest’s ongoing health and renewal.

Snags, the decaying, standing remains of dead trees, serve as “forest condominiums,” as one participant quipped. Some have been deeply excavated by Pileated and other woodpecker species, making of the slowly rotting upright carcasses hosts for many species of fauna and flora.

Yet another unique feature of an old-growth forest, on display at Kinghurst at various times through spring and summer, is the thick ground cover of wildflowers, ferns, mosses, and tree and shrub seedlings that flourishes beneath the forest canopy. Some plants, trilliums and wild leeks, for example, grow in large colonies having had many undisturbed years to propagate.

At one point of the forest walk May drew the group’s attention to a large piece of limestone trailside, about the size of a riding lawn mower. Growing on it were a multitude of small plants, some 15 species. Herb Robert, the rare Hart’s Tongue Fern, Hepatica, Violet, Red Elderberry, and more grew in a community-like setting through moss that blanketed the rock. Participants marveled at this microcosm of biodiversity. One called it “a multi-faced gemstone refracting the light of abundant life.”

Designated by the Government of Ontario as an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI), the Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve is a special place that offers naturalists, professional or lay, or any person who appreciates and marvels at nature, a rare glimpse into Ontario’s natural past.

The Reserve is open year-round for people to enjoy and learn more about Ontario’s wilderness wood- lands. No camping or picnicking is allowed. For directions consult Saugeen Nature’s website:

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