Senior Manager, Natural Resources and Land Management at the National Capital Commission
Every time I visit Canada’s Capital Greenbelt, I create new memories. It’s a place where people are able to connect with nature, their loved ones and our nation’s capital. One of my goals at the NCC is to make the Greenbelt a place where shared stories and experiences create lasting memories.
Many people don’t realize that we have the largest publicly owned greenbelt in the world. This unique gem gives back to us in many ways. Whether you’re from the region or elsewhere, here are a few Greenbelt activities that you might want to add to your bucket list.
1. Meditate among the natural wonders of Mer Bleue
Taking a relaxing walk in solitude along the 1.2-kilometre Mer Bleue boardwalk is a wonderful way to decompress and connect with nature. What makes Mer Bleue unique is the fact that its ecosystem is more typical of Canada’s northern boreal forest. It’s also a thriving habitat for many species at risk, including the elusive least bittern, a very small heron. At first, we didn’t think that these birds frequented the Greenbelt very much but, after a couple of years of research, we found that they use it a lot more than we thought.
Not only is this site healthy for the mind, it’s also good for the body. Some of the best researchers are doing climate change research at Mer Bleue, because the wetlands play such an important role in absorbing CO2.
2. Experience desert-like sand dunes at the hottest place in Ottawa
The 10,000-year-old Pinhey sand dunes is another must-see spot in the Greenbelt, because of its unique ecosystem. Did you know that it’s also the hottest place in Ottawa? It is home to plant and animal species that can live only in well-drained, open areas with exposed, fine-grained sand. The sand dunes offer a great opportunity for community involvement. You can even get your hands dirty as a volunteer, helping to restore the dunes by cleaning up the pine needles and leaves in the sand.
3. Enjoy the water, and go for a paddle
Few people know that the Greenbelt connects to the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa River. One of my favourite things to do in the Greenbelt during the summer is to enjoy its water features. On weekends, I like to explore the Rideau Canal by launching a canoe from the Black Rapids Lockstation. You’ll find the Black Rapids Lockstation near Southern Farm and Pinhey Forest.
4. Go birding at Shirleys Bay
The Greenbelt is one of the region’s best places for birding. My fellow birders will want to grab their binoculars and check out Shirleys Bay. This site is a major migration route, where over 270 species of birds have been observed. I’ve even been lucky enough to see a bald eagle there.
Fun fact: We took the Emperor of Japan birding in the Greenbelt, when he visited the region in 2009.
5. Plan a picnic lunch
My favourite hidden gem in the Greenbelt is Green’s Creek, which marks the eastern end of the Greenbelt Pathway. It has the most spectacular views of the Ottawa River. This is the perfect place to stop for a picnic with your friends and family.
You can also check out sheltered picnic areas in the Greenbelt.
6. Go for a bike ride on the Greenbelt Pathway
Hop on your bike, and ride all the way to the Ottawa River, 4.5 km along the Greenbelt Pathway East. You’ll make your way through forests, and past marshes and creeks.
Making memories: The Greenbelt Pathway is a great place to teach young ones to ride a bike, because you can avoid the traffic of city streets.
7. Take that “perfect shot”
The Greenbelt is a very photogenic place. Take a walk through the Greenbelt with your camera, and capture the natural beauty that surrounds you. When you get that perfect shot, be sure to share it with us on Instagram by tagging @NCC_CCN.
We’re lucky to live in such a green capital and we shouldn’t underestimate how much our green spaces can inspire us. In my role at the NCC, I’m often reminded that our Greenbelt is an inspiration to other capital cities around the world.
What’s your favourite thing to do in Canada’s Capital Greenbelt?