To be forthright, Pelham is not exactly a nature lover’s paradise—at least not anymore. There is nothing resembling wilderness left in the town, and residential expansion persists at an alarming rate.
As far as waterways go, Pelham can boast a few nice creeks, yet its only river, the Welland River, leaves a lot to be desired.
I have canoed the river on numerous occasions, and can tesitfy that it requires a rather vivid imagination to mistake it for something like the French or even Grand River.
In boyhood days I endeavoured my best to imagine it as the mighty Mississippi (and myself as Huckleberry Finn) but with somewhat limited success.
Fortunately, Pelham does have at least one redeeming natural gem: the Short Hills. And best of all no imagining and romanticizing is even required to spice up the natural beauty of the Short Hills.
Located in North Pelham, the Short Hills constitute an oasis of natural splendour in our densely populated Niagara Region.
The rolling hills, Carolinian forests, deep ravines with gentle streams running through them, and magnificent waterfalls nearly seem like a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city, rather than a ten minute drive from downtown St. Catharines.
Short Hills Provincial Park protects 735 hectares of this area, making it the second largest protected space in the Niagara Peninsula. (The Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area ranks first, at 801 hectares.)
While the park is not pristine—transmission lines cut across the southern portion of the park like a scar, subdivisions encroach just beyond the north boundary, and a scouts camp with mown lawns and several buildings is contained by the park—it is still a remarkable place.
I personally have experienced many memorable walks through the Short Hills, and never fail to encounter some form of wildlife. Wild Turkeys are prevalent in the park, as are whitetail deer and coyotes. It is also an excellent locale for bird watching.
Perhaps the park’s most notable feature is Swayze Falls, a waterfall of impressive height that plunges into a deep gorge. In the spring at high water Swayze Falls is truly an awe-inspiring sight, and for the more imaginative visitors, they can picture it as the scene of Sherlock Holmes supposed death in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem.” At least I like to do so.
The park also offers trails for horseback riding and mountain biking. While I have not as of yet ridden a horse in Short Hills, I have on several occasions exhausted myself along the winding paths and steep hills on my mountain bike.
As far as mountain biking in Niagara, the trails of Short Hills Procincial Park are unsurpassed.
All motorized vechiles are thankfully prohibited within the park, as is camping and campfires. These measures help preserve the park’s ecological integrity and keep the human impact on the park’s flora and fauna to a minimum.
A dedicated group of volunteers, the Friends of Short Hills Park, works to preserve the park. For more information on their projects and the park itself visit their website at www.friendsofshorthillspark.ca.
Although Pelham may not be a nature lover’s paradise anymore, the Short Hills is the best vestige of what must have been at one time a true paradise of natural wonder.