23. Nashwaaksis Stream Nature Park
Near Intersection of Main Street and Brookside Drive
You won’t believe you are in the heart of Fredericton. The development of this riverside park is a little subliminal by-product of the City of Fredericton’s desire to get greener. This former municipal snow dump is slowly being restored to several different types of natural habitats that are a haven for a large variety of birds. Once past the Fredericton Loyalists Rugby Clubhouse your walk will take you through regenerating grassland, home to American Goldfinch, Bobolink, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Killdeer. The river shore is lined with majestic maples that may hold an osprey or even a bald eagle. Seems like Ducks Unlimited first staked out a claim to this place in the mid-1990’s, recognizing it as a special piece of bird habitat, and installing an osprey nesting tower at the mouth of the Nashwaaksis Stream. Summer evenings along this trail are especially rewarding for the wondrous thoughts of birdwatchers, as pleasure boats involuntarily work at flushing large flocks of Double-crested Cormorants, Ring-billed Gulls, and Common Mergansers, roosting on the exposed rocks of the river flats just upstream. That last minute of warm air swathing across your face seems to bring with it small flocks of mallards and black ducks, and American Widgeon, all headed to the same river diner they may have discovered only yesterday. Round the corner and the trail takes you up along the Nashwaaksis Stream. The Nashwaak River, only three kilometers to the east, gets its name from the corrupted Maliseet word for slow current. One can only assume that Nashwaaksis might have referred to the smaller of these two watercourses. What surrounds you now is a typical bottomland floodplain forest of silver maple, ash trees, basswood, and red maple. These trees tolerate their basements being flooded for 2 months every year from the spring freshet. Spring freshet is a maritime term that describes the rush of water or increase in water levels that occurs along watercourses, but to many it refers to a yearly natural ritual that often reflects the amount of snow that was dumped on this fair province during the winter.
At sunset the massive hardwoods have an eerie feel to them, looking very much like the heavily angled legs of giant mosquitoes or of the mythical creatures that come to life in that movie of the little girl with pig tails you watched as a child. Among these ominous sentinels you might catch a silent glimpse of a Great Horned Owl or hear the swoosh of wood ducks departing, almost unheard, if it wasn’t for their ‘hooeeek’ alarm call. In this river floodplain the turn-over rate for maples is accelerated by the extended period of flooding the trees must endure. As a result, many maples are in various stages of decay, offering hairy woodpeckers excellent grub. Walk into this forest wonderland to acquaint yourself with the giant ferns that supplied First Nations peoples with an early summer salad of fiddleheads. If you happen to be here in May or June and encounter someone hunched over carrying a white bucket you have come across a ‘local’ who can show you what to look for on the forest floor the next time you visit.