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The Rotary Eco Trail

A Backyard Forest Sanctuary

The Rotary Eco Trail, in the O’Neill Nature Preserve, is a pathway in an urban forest. The largest forest within the city of Chatham, it is a natural space that feels kilometers away from the city. Members of the community long hoped the forest would be saved from development, and it is now in public hands, preserved for future generations.

Meet and Greet your Natural Neighbours

Some of your natural neighbours living in the Nature Preserve are shy and secretive. These include foxes and their kits, warblers, snakes and a variety of rodents. Others, like a pair of Great Horned Owls, are local celebrities. These birds, which mate for life, set up house in late winter and raise their chicks in hollow trees. Listen for their distinctive h-who-who-hoo call, especially in the January and February nesting season.

Have you been lucky enough to spot an Eastern Garter Snake or rare Eastern Fox Snake basking on a rock? If you see one of these reptiles, don’t be alarmed. They are non-venomous and like to be left alone. As good neighbours, they offer a free rodent control service. Their continued presence here is critical for keeping populations in check.

Walk Amongst Royalty

Tulip Tree, Sycamore, and Basswood are indicators of Carolinian Forest. They are descendants of the majestic trees that once covered much of the area. They are constantly working overtime to produce oxygen, remove carbon and filter water. During your hike, keep a look out for distinctive leaves and bark patterns for the following trees.

  • Basswood
  • Butternut
  • Black Cherry
  • Hackberry
  • Sugar Maple, Silver Maple
  • Sycamore
  • Red and Bur Oak
  • Tulip Tree

Learn more about how you can help this nature preserve by choosing the “Act” tab.

Photo credits: Bronwen Buck, Katheryn Kielstra, Municipality of Chatham Kent

More about the site:

Location: Use Willowdale and Thornhill Park in Chatham for Personal Mobility Device access.

Accessibility: The entire trail is personal mobility device accessible. Note Closest public washroom is Kingston Park (approx. 1 km from the EcoTrail).

Special Features: Carolinian Forest tract, Family Friendly Loop (playground features in nearby Thornhill Park, Species at Risk

Map Credit: Kathryn Kielstra

EcoTrail Partners:

  • The O’Neill Nature Preserve is a treasured place, and many members of the community feel a sense of ownership of the forest, prompting them to become involved. To prevent development of the land, a petition was organized and signed by community members, who then presented to Chatham-Kent Council in favour of preservation of the forest.
  • Through the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Area’s revitalization project, the community planted trees and maintained the forest. Over 150 shade-tolerant shrub and tree varieties were planted, and substantial improvements were made to the trail. Local businesses donated funds and volunteers to make this happen.
  • The Rotary Club of Chatham, Downtown, has been recognized as the “stewards” of the O’Neill Nature Preserve, home to the Rotary Eco Trail. They raise funds, and act as a liaison between the community, the municipality, and other interests.

Explore Chatham-Kent through

Explore more of Chathan-Kent’s nature through This new non-profit organization promotes walking through an annual series of hikes.

Proud partners of the Municipality of Chatham-Kent

Read More About Chatham Kent Trails

Owl Chicks. Photo: Robert Warwick

There is Magic in These Woods

Many people enjoy the Rotary Eco Trail daily, keeping them active and improving their health, and children use the space for imaginative, unstructured play.

Share your impressions, photos and trail observations over social media using the hashtags #Ecotrail #RotaryEcoTrail

Your Stories...

There is magic in these woods and it's only limited by your imagination.
- Maggie Grace Myers, age 12, Windsor, Ontario, involved in saving Paxton's Bush

One windy day, after the bush had been saved, my granddaughter and I went for a walk in the woods. She turned to me, and commented, "Look Pop, the trees are so happy they're dancing."
- Dave Welton, Chatham (retired teacher, involved in saving Paxton's Bush)

Lin fought with all her strength, and love of nature, for the "Preservation of Paxton's Bush" [now O’Neill Nature Preserve], within which holds her “Spirit". She passed away yielding, only, to the wrath of Cancer on June 14th 2012. Even though she had lost the fight for her own life; after getting the news on the 13th of June and only after being assured that Paxton's Bush was saved; She took her last breath, knowing she had won her fight to save the bush .
- B. Thompson

Have your own Quotes, Stories or Photos to share?

use #RotaryEcoTrail #OwlChicks or #Ecotrail to share your story, or follow the “Act” tab above to share your stories online with Carolinian Canada's Grow Wild form.

Rotary Eco Trail - Bronwen Buck, Kathryn Kielstra

Be a Good Neighbour . . . to the Forest Next Door

“It’s a neighbourly day in this beauty wood . . . I’ve always wanted to have a neighbour just like you”
- Fred M. Rogers

TV Personality Fred Rogers could not have said it better. It is a beautiful day for a neighbour, so let us make the most of it!

With a typical neighbour, it is easy to show support: shovel a driveway, mow a lawn, drop off an apple pie. But what if your neighbour is a woodlot or natural area? How do you act then? In fact, the answer is easy. Research shows that people who live the closest to natural areas can do the most to improve forest health. Follow these links to find out how you can be a better neighbour. Let us know how you are making a lasting, natural connection.

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