Autumn 2010 Number 58

The Moulton Gorge Flood - A Natural Event?

By Herb Helmstaedt

In our Spring/Summer 2010 newsletter, we provided an update on plans for the reconstruction of the two bridges crossing the Moulton Gorge and Birch Creek in the southern part of the Tetsmine Lake Loop.  You may have read that replacement of the aging structures had been on our to-do list since the previous year, but that it suddenly became a priority project when last October a beaver dam broke upstream, washing away the lower bridge (crossing Birch Creek at site 1 on the accompanying Google image).

Google map image of Moulton Gorge Bridge Location

A Google image showing the locations of the new bridges at localities 1 and 2
and the broken dam, marked by the white arrow.


The upper bridge (crossing the Gorge at site 2) survived the flood, as it was protected by another beaver dam, but it was left nearly impassable (see photo 1).

Photo 1 Old Moulton Gorge Upper Bridge - photo: Herb Helmstaedt

Photo 1. Damaged bridge and beaver dam at locality 2 on the Google map above.



When I first heard of it, I accepted the flood as a normal ‘natural event’ which thankfully did not become a ‘natural disaster’, as no human lives were lost and relatively little damage was done to human property and structures.  However, when I first saw the broken dam during our spring trail sweep (photo 2), I began to have doubts whether it was entirely natural.

Broken dam above Moulton Gorge Bridge photo: Herb Helmstaedt

Photo 2. This is the broken dam that caused the flood.
Note the large angular boulders in the foreground that are washed out from the core of the dam.



Although it looks like an abandoned beaver dam at the top, it is unusually high for a beaver dam in this part of the Canadian Shield, and it has a core of rather angular, large rocks, some of which have been swept down-stream and can be recognized on the photo.

These doubts lingered until June of this year, when during the President’s paddle I was part of a group of Friends who retraced a section of the spring logging route between Big Salmon Lake and Birch Lake that was used between ca. 1850-1880 (see Retracing the Old Log Run, by Jerome McDuff in this Newsletter). Dragging our canoes through Moulton Gorge, I was left wondering how it was possible to shoot logs through the slow meandering creek that occupies much of the Gorge today. This was explained by Chris Barber and Terry Fuchs in Their Enduring Spirit (Quarry Heritage Books, 1997), who write that  “temporary dams were erected at the outlets of both Big Salmon and Little Salmon to raise heads of water to run logs down the creek between the two lakes and down Moulton Gorge using chutes and slides.”  I could see that by gradually lowering these temporary ‘splash dams’ during spring run-off, sufficient amounts of water could be made available to float the logs. But I could also imagine that many logs would get stranded at the end of Moulton Gorge, near the location of our bridges, where the shooting logs would have to change direction from north to southwest, into Birch Creek. Although it occurred to me that an extra burst of water would be useful to refloat these logs, it did not click until later, when I took another look at the map, that the drained pond above the broken dam (photo 3) might have served as auxiliary reservoir for such extra water.

Moulton Gorge Drained Lake above broken Dam photo: Herb Helmstaedt

Photo 3. This photo shows the drained pond above the dam.
Note the large angular boulders in the foreground that are washed out from the core of the dam.


This I thought would explain the unusual structure and height of the broken dam: it had been a ‘temporary’ splash dam that built by loggers and off and on maintained by beavers had survived more than a hundred years before it finally let go in October, 2009, taking out our bridge in the process.

My thoughts were reinforced when I reread the logging chapter in Chris Barber’s book, in which he writes that evidence for the former existence of man-made structures was discovered also under the beaver dam at the upper bridge (photo 1 at site 2 on the Google image) that presently maintains the water level in the pond upstream.  When water receded after this dam let go about 1990, ”two man-stacked piles of rocks were revealed at the narrows near the gorge’s outlet, possibly part of an old funnel through which the logs were picked-poled to clear the narrows.” Chris Barber goes on to say that water levels in the Canadian Shield are “vastly changeable” through the work of beavers or men, and that marsh hay was once cut from the bottom of the Gorge. It is obvious that when beavers resettled the area of the Park, reclaiming from the loggers and settlers their role as regulators of water levels, they utilized previous man-made structures, often hiding them in the process. One thing is certain, even if my hypothesis about the origin of the broken dam is incorrect, loggers and beavers are equally adept in utilizing topography for directing or redirecting the flow of water to suit their respective purposes. When you next hike the Tetsmine Lake Loop, check out the broken dam and form your own opinion.


President's Message

The President Herb Helmstaedt carrying a load of wood. (Photo: Jerome McDuff)Our Newsletter Editor’s position has become vacant, and I begin this message with a plea to all members and other prospective volunteers to step forward and fill the niche. At the same time, I thank Stefan Szrajer for his great efforts in editing our last two newsletters and bringing many fresh ideas to our Board of Directors. Stefan resigned for personal reasons but will remain a volunteer. He also helped editing part of the present newsletter.

Otherwise I am happy to report that one of our two major construction projects for 2010 has been completed. Both bridges damaged and washed out by the Moulton Gorge flood last October (see separate article in this newsletter) have been replaced (see photos). The longer one, crossing Birch Creek, was built in two stages. A group of volunteers built the cribs from cedar logs and rocks in early April, and the building of the actual bridge was contracted out to Brian Rose who once again did an excellent job for us and finished the bridge prior to our Spring trail sweep, on April 17th. The shorter bridge, crossing the narrow end of Moulton Gorge, was built by volunteers supervised by Peter Dawson during our Spring work day, on April 24th. We split into two groups, each building a crib on opposite sides of the stream and using mere eye sight for judging height. Come lunch time, we decided to put one of the support beams across to check whether the cribs were level, fully expecting to make the usual adjustments. To our surprise, however, we found that the beam was perfectly horizontal. Whether providence or skill (or perhaps a bit of both), it certainly helped to speed up construction and allowed us to assemble the bridge in a single day.

Construction crew on the new Moulton Gorge Upper Bridge

New bridge across the brook end of Moulton Gorge
with part of the construction crew.


Once again, replacement of the bridges was a truly cooperative effort between Friends and Park. Peter Dawson was able to persuade MNR to provide funds for the building material. Bert Korporaal designed the bridges and oversaw procurement of the lumber and hardware. Both undertook the tremendous task of delivering lumber to the site, trucking it in as far as possible on the Clear Lake road and using skidoo and sled for the rest of the way. Park personnel and volunteers pre-assembled the bridge railings, and Ben Chabot brought a boat from Charleston Lake Park to ship in additional building material via Birch Lake. The Friends provided most of the volunteer power and paid for the contracting. I thank all those involved for their enormous efforts and hope that the bridges will last for a long time.

When this Newsletter appears, many of you will have signed up for the Frontenac Challenge, and I hope that you will enjoy hiking through the beautiful Fall landscape of the Park. Please mark Fall workday (October 2) and the Fall trail sweep (October 16) on your calendars. If all bureaucratic hurdles are overcome in time, the workday will be devoted to replacing the bridge near Kingsford Dam. And please don’t forget this  year’s Challenge BBQ and Annual General Meeting which are scheduled for November 7th.

Herb Helmstaedt


2010 Board of Directors

The Friends of Frontenac Park is a non profit organization whose purpose is to develop programs and materials that enhance the public's awareness, education, and appreciation of the natural environment and human history of Frontenac Provincial Park.

President: Herb Helmstaedt
Vice-President:Simon Smith
Treasurer: Jim King
Secretary: David Crane
Membership: John Critchley
Publicity: Martha Whitehead
Frontenac Challenge: Anne Hogle
Trail Sweeps: Cathy Murray
Wilderness Skills: Don Stables
Newsletter: Position Vacant


Natural History: Dora Hunter
Winter Camping: Don Stables
Winter Hosting: Cathy Murray
Frontenac Challenge: Anne Hogle, Rose Jones, Erhard Frenzl
Park Management Plan: Paul Vickers
Map Distribution: Cam Hodges
Newsletter Editor: Position Vacant
Newsletter Publisher: Ron Abbott
Web Master: Jérôme McDuff

The Friends of Frontenac Park publishes the Frontenac News three times annually. Note that the views expressed in the Frontenac News are not necessarily those of the Friends of Frontenac or the editor. Some articles are published to give the viewpoint of an author and to incite discussions.

We welcome your articles, notes, stories, and photographs for the newsletter. Your ideas, suggestions, and constructive criticisms are always welcome. Material accepted is subject to editing and revision.

Next deadline for submission of material:

Wednesday 01-December-2010

Copy should be mailed to: Friends of Frontenac Park, c/o Stefan Szrajer, P.O. Box 2237, Kingston, Ont. K7L 5J9 or sent by e-mail to:

NOTE: You can visit us at:



Here is a list of upcoming activities that maybe of interest to you. Please participate and tell your friends about them The * denotes Friends' sponsored activities Do not forget that you will need to purchase a daily vehicle or camping permit to take part in most of these activities. Contact the Park (613 376 3489) for more information.

*Sept. 1 to Oct. 31: Frontenac Challenge The Frontenac Challenge involves hiking all 160 km of the Park’s trail network between September 1 and October 31. To meet the challenge, pick up a registration form and the specific trail information at the Park Office and then set out to hike through the autumn grandeur of Frontenac Park. Participants who complete the Challenge will receive a certificate at the Awards Banquet on Sunday November 7, at 10:30. So come out to Frontenac Park and take the Challenge!

*Saturday Sept. 4 : Bring a Friend to the Park Day. If you know somebody who has never been to the Park, please invite them for a hike.

*Monday, September 13: Friends Board Meeting. Location LCVI, Rm. 121 at 19:00

*Sunday, September 18: Wilderness Navigation using Map and Compass. Come and learn how to interpret and read topographical maps and then find your way in the wilderness using a variety of techniques and equipment. Cost $20.00 per person (plus HST and Park fee). Time: 09:00 to 16:00. Meet at the Park Office.

*Saturday, September 25: Natural History Walk with Dora Hunter. Meet at the Park Office at 10:00.

Saturday September 25: GPS Navigation Workshop. Presented by Christine Showler, Frontenac Outfitters Canoe & Kayak Centre.
A workshop designed to show you how to operate a GPS to report a location such as an accident, rescue location or a missing person. GPS units provided on loan. Cost: $65.00 /person( plus tax & park fee). Time: 09:00 to 16:00. See Park Tabloid for further details.

*Saturday October 2: Fall Work Day. Come out and join with the Friends on a day dedicated to fixing up the Park after a busy summer of use. Meet at the Park Office at 08:45 to 16:00. Contact the Park at 613 376-3489 or visit our website ( for further information.

*Saturday, October 16: Fall Guide Trail Sweep. The Volunteers/Guides will do general maintenance on the Park's trails to get them in top shape for our visitors. Bring a lunch & work gloves. A Chili supper will be served to all participants at the end of the day. Meet at the Park Office at 08:30 to 16:00; Contact the Park (613 376-3489) for details.

*Monday, October 18: Friends Board Meeting. Location LCVI, Rm. 121 at 19:00

*Saturday, October 23: Natural History Walk with Dora Hunter. Meet at the Park Office at 10:00.

*October 31: This is usually the date that the Salmon Lake Road gate closes for the winter..

*Sunday, November 7: Frontenac Challenge Awards Barbecue. Registered participants will receive a certificate of achievement, share stories and chow down on hot dogs, including vegetarian fare, cooked by the Friends. Donations will be gratefully received. Meet at the Park Office at 10:30.

*Sunday, November 7: Annual General Meeting All members are invited to attend the Friends’ AGM to start at 12:30 at the Park Office. The minutes of the last AGM will be posted at 12:00. Why not come early and join us for the Challenge BBQ? This will give you an opportunity to meet the Challenge participants.

*Wednesday, December 1: Deadline for Winter Newsletter We welcome your articles, letters, stories and photographs. Material should be sent to The Friends address shown on the back page or e-mailed to: For electronic items, please sent articles as Microsoft Word files with a minimum of formatting, and photographs as 180 dpi greyscale.

*Monday, December 6: Friends Board Meeting Location LCVI, Rm 121 at 19:00.

Looking ahead to winter
The Friends are planning to hold the following events:
Check, the Winter newsletter, local newspapers, or the Park Office for dates & times of these upcoming events.
- Winter Camping: Planning Session
- Winter Fun Day
- Winter Nature Walk
- Winter Camping Weekend #1
- Winter Lecture
- Winter Camping Weekend #2


A Tio Wulf Ramble

I sometimes wish that Robert Frost’s poem, Into My Own, were true. Especially the first verse:

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,
So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,
Were not, as t’were, the merest masks of gloom,
But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

You see, when I sit in the Park and gaze at the trees stretching from one end of a lake to the other, I know, that in reality, the forest isn’t many miles away from seemingly unstoppable grinding development. Which I suppose could be seen as some form of being at the edge of doom, especially for inhabitants of the wild places.

Other times when I am in the woods and hear a crashing sound resounding from somewhere in its darkness, I think of William Blake’s poem, The Tyger:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night.
What immortal hand or eye
Could form thy fearful symmetry?

Of course, I’m in Frontenac Provincial Park, and so I’m thinking more about Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies. Those fluttery tigers that pop out of their pupae just as the leaves appear on poplar trees in the spring. These flying felines are related to their Lilliputian relatives, the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail.

Deer Fly! Deer Fly! burning bright.
Who formed thy fearful symmetry?

 I’d actually like to have a talk with the fella who came up with the symmetry idea of putting those little, painful-bite-inflicting critters on this earth. Just might have had one too many good ideas. And here’s a little rule I read in a book: “Try not to wave your arms too much at a nearby Deer Fly, as they are attracted to movement.” Yoo-hoo! Over here, Deer Fly.

We have a band of marauding raccoons that live in our forest. They arrive at night, and in the early morning hours they disappear back into the dark trees, which do not go on and on forever, but have enough vastness and substance to hide them.

These banditos destroyed the brand new composter we bought from the South Frontenac Township Office. They wedged open the little door, pulled out the pegs, and flipped it over.

We put a different one out a few days ago.  This one is totally sealed except for many tiny holes punched in the sides. It has a screw top. We put in our first load of compost.

Two nights ago we heard a loud roar from a raccoon. I got out of bed and shone a flashlight out the bedroom window. The mother raccoon was walking by our window and it sounded like she was cursing, or was at least in a very bad mood. Trailing behind her were all the little youngsters of her family. Chitchatting away. It was funny, like school kids on an excursion.

The next morning I checked the composter. It was secure. They must have been frustrated, and that’s why the mother had walked by our window in a huff. They hadn’t been able to get the goods.

The next night I heard the raccoons again.  This time there were no cursing noises coming from the woods. Just lots of happy chatter.

This morning when I went out to check the composter, I discovered that the little dears had unscrewed the composter top. They had sounded happy the night before because they were ordering take-out combos to their hearts’ delight.

Our next modus operandi is to make sure the lid is on really, really tight and to tie the composter to a tree, because I wouldn’t put it past them to decide to roll the barrel home and work on it at their leisure. It’s light enough and they’re creative enough.

When I’m hiking in the Park, I feel like I’m surrounded by, and part of, an organized cacophony of consciousness. One of diverse brain power radiating from the tiniest bug to the largest mammal, all of which having an understanding and perception of the world, which is radically different from ours.

So, when I spotted a fawn standing between two huge maple trees near the shore of Big Clear Lake, I tried to put myself in her brain. Can she smell my Old Spice Original? Can she hear me breathing? Is the fawn aware of Park boundaries? Does she see me as a threat or as a dozy curiosity?

I sometimes wonder just what micro-percentage of human intelligence and creativity it takes to think up and formulate the theories and programs which are dragging our world toward physical and nervous exhaustion.  Those human rationales for the destructive processes that allow people and governments to maintain clear consciences while choosing which lakes can be turned into toxic death holes, deciding to clear-cut massive forests, selling toxic products to poor countries and basically suffocating or destroying the astonishing, amazing power that is this wondrous creation. I think these human spider experts could spin plausible deceits to prove anything. But add it all up and the king is still as naked as a newborn eagle.

So, I guess you can see why I sometimes wish that the forests and the world were infinite, even if it meant I’d never be able to track down those raccoons. Because there’d be an eternal number of clean lakes, animals, forests and space. Then this insanity on which our theorists operate, which is that this finite world is infinite, wouldn’t be quite as mad. And if these theories were too much to live with, then people or animals could migrate to a space where those theories weren’t contaminating their part of the world.
Dream on, Tio.

But then again, if our world were infinite, just think about how much more suffering there would be. And that’s where I stop thinking about infinite and finite and start to think about other things - like why, for the first time, did I see a cormorant on a Park lake, and is that a good thing?

And why are the seagulls on Big Clear Lake so vocal and hyper? Even at two in the morning. It’s starting to look and sound like they’re having some kind of feud or they’re a bunch of party animals. And there seems to be more of them spread out all around the lake. Maybe all their commotion has something to do with the cormorants being around. Or maybe it’s because the loons seem to be hanging out in a different part of the lake than they used to. A turf war?

I’m going to try to mind-read one of the seagulls and pick up some juicy gossip. If I consider the gossip to be reliable, I’ll fill you in.


Retracing the Old Log Run

By Jérôme McDuff

We made it to Birch Lake, and a strong wind was blowing. It was hard work to get back to campsite 8 but we were grinning from ear-to-ear from our adventure.

Herb lifting canoe over logs - Photo Jérôme McDuff It all started fairly innocently on Friday around the campfire. A group of Friends had joined Herb at campsite 8 for the yearly President’s Paddle (18-June-2010) and we were throwing ideas as to what we would do the next day. Erhard suggested a small loop from campsite 8 to Little Salmon Lake, up Moulton Gorge and down Birch Creek back to campsite 8. That made me laugh and I told him he was crazy.

The next morning after breakfast, Paul said that Angela would come along if we did the small “crazy” loop. Alright then, let’s go for it. Shortly before 11 am, two canoes left the campsite, Herb and I in one, Paul and Angela in the other. Erhard, the instigator, decided to stay behind and enjoy a relaxing day with the rest of the crew. He had second thoughts and warned us that there was probably no water at places along the route.

For someone that is interested in park history this trip promised to be exciting as this route traces part of the log run of the olden days – from Big Salmon Lake to Birch Lake and eventually to Bedford Mills. Chris Barber and others canoed the creek from Big Salmon to Little Salmon Lake but, to my knowledge, nobody in recent years has ever done “our” route. I still thought the idea was a tad foolish because the beavers have been active and, as Erhard cautioned, in places there may not be enough water to float a toothpick.

Heads of Angela paddling in tall grass - Photo Jérôme McDuff We started with the long (over 1 km) and arduous portage between Birch and Little Salmon Lake. The erosion is particularly bad at the descent towards Little Salmon Lake extreme care must be taken.

We were back on the water at around 10h40 and paddling towards the opening at Moulton Gorge when the sky opened and the rain came down in buckets – within a few minutes we were soaked to the bones. The entrance to Moulton Creek was barred by fallen logs and a small beaver dam. We hauled the canoes over the obstacles and had to wade and repeat the lifting process multiple times until we eventually came to where the walls of the gorge widened. From there we were able to board our canoes and paddle a very narrow meandering channel through tall grass. It was a bit like playing hide-and-seek with the other canoe. At times we still had to go over a few beaver dams but it was “wild” to paddle under the footbridge of the Little Salmon Lake Loop. After that the water widened.

Paul and Angela lifting canoe over bearver dam - Photo Jérôme McDuff In the old days (after 1850), they would have floated the logs through this route early in spring when the water was high. They would build temporary dams to control the water level and would have kept the creek clear of obstacles.

We kept on paddling north – at times it was more like poling – towards the bend to meet Birch Creek. We came in view of the first of the two new bridges on the Tetsmine Loop. Herb and I portaged around the first bridge. Paul and Angela, wanting bragging rights to be the first humans to voluntarily go under that bridge with a canoe, dragged their canoe over the beaver dam, down the embankment and under the bridge.

We had a snack and then Herb and I watched Paul and Angela turn right into Birch Creek, lift over the beaver dam and again paddle under the second bridge – another first for the couple. Shortly after the bridge, it was wading time again.

Angela and Paul paddling under new bridge - Photo Jérôme McDuff Herb and I followed, sinking in the mud, lifting over logs, paddling short bits. In the distance we could see a red shirt – it was Erhard coming to meet us from the Birch Lake end of the creek. At about that time, I was trying to get back in the boat, my left foot was in but my right was sinking in the mud dangerously tilting the canoe. Unfortunately Herb was sitting in the bow and the heavy tilt took him off balance so he ended up diving into the muck head first. Thankfully the president was not hurt although the running dye from his red ball-cap made him think for a moment that he was bleeding.

We met with Erhard and had a good laugh. Faye and Audrey were watching us from the trail. The only thing left to do was to paddle out of Birch Creek – Erhard told us it was not clear sailing – that there were logs across the creek at various places. By then we were getting used to that.

It was great to finally reach open water – our canoe took off ahead of the rest – we arrived at campsite 8 shortly after 14h00 and went for a swim to wash up. Strangely, Herb found mud and twigs in his pockets!

We sat around with the rest of the group and re-told our tall tale (Joan said too many times). It was hard work but fun. In the late 1800’s, it would have been hard work and with the cold spring water - not much fun.


Natural History Books to Draw You In

by Dora Hunter

Recently, on hikes with a natural history focus, I have been asked frequently about the source of my information on the flora and fauna we encounter on the trails. The books listed below start where the purely identification books leave off. Once you know what you are looking at it is endlessly rewarding to understand how that plant or animal relates to its surroundings and the other inhabitants, plant or animal, of the area. A reminder: Novel Ideas, located at 156 Princess Street in Kingston gives members of the Friends of Frontenac a discount if you show your membership card, and will order books they do not have in stock. With Christmas just around the corner…

Eastman, John, 1992. Forest and Thicket. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Eastman, John, 1995. Swamp and Bog. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Eastman, John, 1997. Birds of Forest, Yard and Thicket. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Bennet, Doug and Tiner, Tim, 1993. Up North. Markham, ON: Reed Books Canada.

Bennet, Doug and Tiner, Tim, 1997. Up North Again. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart Inc.

Legasy, LaBelle-Beadman, Chambers, 1995. Forest Plants of Northeastern Ontario. Edmonton, AB: Lone Pine Publishing.

Chambers, Legasy, Bentley, 1996. Forest Plants of Central Ontario. Edmonton, AB: Lone Pine Publishing.

Newmaster, Harris, Kershaw, 1997. Wetland Plants of Ontario. Edmonton, AB: Lone Pine Publishing.

Stokes, Donald, 1983. Observing Insect Lives. Toronto, ON: Little, Brown and Company.

Stokes, Donald and Stokes, Lillian, 1985. Enjoying Wildflowers. Toronto, ON: Little, Brown and Company.

Stokes, Donald and Stokes, Lillian, 1986. Animal Tracking and Behavior. Toronto, ON: Little, Brown and Company.



Your membership with the Friends entitles you to a 15% discount at Novel Idea, a Kingston owned bookstore located at 156 Princess Street.