By Angela Hawn
With summer in the air, it’s time to start thinking about dining al fresco, and enjoying the great outdoors for as long as possible. Canadians are good at this: we who dress in layers far longer than residents of most other countries know a good thing when it’s happening. Fast to strip off our woolies and game to brave t-shirt and shorts garb even when there’s still a chill in the air, (or mosquitos and/or blackflies hovering in our midst) we love to eat outside whenever possible. This might mean staying put right in one’s own backyard and firing up the barbecue, or assembling and broiling the ingredients for smores over a campfire. For those who like to do a little local day-tripping while packing their own lunch, consider any one of the following perfect picnic spots across Hastings County and bon appetit!
Patient birders who spread their picnic blankets at Bancroft’s Eagles’ Nest Park might be rewarded with sightings of eagles, osprey, vultures and falcons, especially if they time a visit between mid-morning and mid-afternoon on a day when prevailing winds blow north to northwest. The steady uphill drive to reach this scenic spot overlooking Hasting County’s most northerly town feels well worth it and once you’re parked, stretch your legs with a hike on one of the area’s marked trails. Even if the birds fail to make an appearance, the surrounding lovely views of the valley from high atop this lofty ridge of Canadian Shield provide glorious consolation.
A Little Aboriginal History
Picnickers seeking a relaxing view with their meal would be hard pressed to find anything more mellow than the one available at Deseronto’s Centennial Park. Arrive by car via the lovely town of Deseronto or take advantage of available boat launch and docking facilities and cruise into the area through the calm waters of the Bay of Quinte. Consider whetting your appetite first (or walking off your lunch) with a visit to the gorgeous Christ Church Royal Chapel. Located only a couple of kilometres away on nearby Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, this Royal Chapel is one of only six located outside of the United Kingdom. Interested in First Nations history? Check out the attached cemetery, final resting place of legendary Dr. Oronhyatekha, the first known Aboriginal Oxford scholar and one of Canada’s first Indigenous M.D.s.
Just Splashing Around
Travellers along Highway 7 can take a lunch break at a covered table in Marmora’s Memorial Park and enjoy the sights and sounds of the scenic Crowe River while the kids burn off energy at the on-site splash pad and playground. This well-kept park with its beautiful gazebo makes a perfect spot to take some pictures or set up a lawn chair for a leisurely read. Arrive on a Saturday between Victoria Day weekend and Thanksgiving and you can check out a small farmer’s market located conveniently in the adjacent parking lot. Looking for more information on Marmora’s mining history, a good local walk or two, or maybe even a picturesque spot in which to dangle a fishing line? The helpful staff at the nearby Tourism Office will be happy to help.
Picnic with the Pioneers
Picnickers with a yen for local pioneer artifacts can take advantage of the sheltered picnic areas at wonderful O’Hara Mill and Farmstead, just north of Madoc. A leisurely stroll around the property presents a wealth of opportunities to explore several historic buildings, including a blacksmith shop, an old school house, a carriage house and an original log cabin moved down from nearby Bancroft and lovingly restored by O’Hara’s enthusiastic team of talented volunteers. Photography buffs often set up their tripods by the original working sawmill or atop the covered bridge. Take advantage of a guided tour of building interiors (admission by donation) or choose a trail and take your four legged friend for a walk in the surrounding woods.
Loving the Limestone
Few picnic spots offer a prettier setting than Vanderwater Conservation Area near Thomasburg. Situated right on the banks of the Moira River, this lovely area offers 15 kilometres of hiking trails (suitable for horseback riding, too!) Walkers can explore a range of natural environments and different forests, featuring mature cedars, hardwood and coniferous trees. A favourite activity for many Vanderwater visitors involves simply taking in the sights and sounds of the Moira cascading over a series of natural limestone steps: soothing, picturesque and perfect for picture taking.
Stick with Stoco Lake
As long as you’re in the neighbourhood, consider passing through the town of Tweed and laying out your picnic feast on a table at Tweed Memorial Park. Visitors can take advantage of the on-site ball diamond and soccer pitch, as well as the boat launch facilities. This lovely park’s central location makes the downtown area easily accessible, perfect for those who seek a pleasant stroll and perhaps, a chance to check out one of the world’s smallest jails!
Rolling on the River!
The compact facilities at Glen Miller Conservation Area feature both boat launch and dock, making it a fantastic stopover for boat and car passengers alike. A covered picnic area protects diners from the elements as they relax and take in the majesty of the glorious Trent River system. And once you’ve finished lunch, try your hand at fishing for walleye and bass or go a little further afield and check out the nearby Bleasdale Boulder, just off Highway 33. A very short and pleasant hike over even terrain affords up close contact with one of North America’s largest erratics, an impressive leftover from a long ago glacier!
The Sights from Sager’s Tower
If a little exercise with your picnic appeals, head to Sager Conservation Area and prepare to get your steps in! A short, gently upward hike from the parking area brings you to the site’s impressive lookout tower. Climb to the very top for marvelous 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside and then chow down on your packed lunch afterwards at a covered picnic table below.
Zip-lining at Zwick’s
Picnickers at Belleville’s Zwick’s Park can tuck in while enjoying both natural and man-made beauty. Pass around the potato salad as you peer at the awesome Bay Bridge, a stunning feat of engineering leading the way into nearby Prince Edward County, or simply keep an eye out for swans swimming by on gorgeous Bay of Quinte. Parents of little ones will love the fenced in playground for tots, while slightly older children might want to give the kid-sized zip-line a whirl.
PERFECT POTATO SALAD TO GO WITH YOUR PERFECT PICNIC LUNCH:
Cook 2 pounds (approx.) of small yellow potatoes (peeled) in salted water until done. Allow them to cool enough to peel and chop into bite-sized pieces before placing in large bowl. Sprinkle with a tablespoon of white vinegar and let sit while you mix together the following dressing:
1/3 cups each of both mayonnaise and sour cream (more or less depending on level of creaminess desired)
1 tbsp whole grain mustard
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
¼ cup dill pickles, chopped
One or two tsps of dried dill or chives (or use fresh and increase to about a quarter cup)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 or 3 hard-boiled eggs, cooled and chopped coarsely (optional)
Dash of Italian salad dressing (optional)
Add the dressing to the potatoes and mix thoroughly, but gently.
Garnish with paprika and fresh parsley.
Cover and refrigerate to chill and keep cool until serving.