Destination: Clam River

Trail Tale An ATV ride to a place where the birch trees grow tall and the moose is king

Published on August 23, 2008
Stephen Chafe crosses a marsh on his ATV. Photos by Darrin McGrath/Special to The Telegram

My good friend Steve Chafe and I recently took a trip to the central Avalon wilderness where we explored the Clam River watershed using all-terrain bikes.

Clam River is a tributary of the Colinet River and runs through the countryside to the ocean at Colinet, St. Mary's Bay. It is reached by driving the woods road known as Fox Marsh Road, which begins at the Ocean Pond Road.

My good friend Steve Chafe and I recently took a trip to the central Avalon wilderness where we explored the Clam River watershed using all-terrain bikes.

Clam River is a tributary of the Colinet River and runs through the countryside to the ocean at Colinet, St. Mary's Bay. It is reached by driving the woods road known as Fox Marsh Road, which begins at the Ocean Pond Road.

Steve and I had planned this trip back in early May. We've been friends for 20 years and over that time have done a lot of outdoor tripping together and shared many cups of coffee and tea.

Our recent trip began at my cabin in Mahers on a Saturday evening. Steve left his car and trailer at Brigus Junction and drove in the old railbed on his ATV, a four-wheeled, Arctic Cat 400. It was a warm summer evening and the forecast called for a few showers the next day.

We spent the evening talking about our outdoor adventures and then turned in early. We awoke at six o'clock to the sound of rain pounding off the roof of the cabin. It was like God had turned on a garden hose!

We had some coffee and the sky began to clear a little and the rain slackened to drizzle. After a quick breakfast, we decided it was now or never. We donned our rain gear and boots and got the bikes ready.

Night and day

Our ATVs are as different as night and day. Steve's is a big, hulking brand new four-wheeler that has all the bells and whistles. Mine is a 24-year-old Honda Big Red three-wheeler with nothing extra but reverse gear. Steve's four-wheeler dwarfs my trike, and the contrast between the two makes it clear how far ATVs have come in 20 years.

It goes without saying that we donned helmets before mounting our iron steeds. One thing I've learned about biking in the rain is that a helmet keeps you dry - they are watertight.

We left Mahers and headed west on the old railbed. In about 10 minutes were turning onto Fox Marsh Road - a Class A gravel road on which it is possible to drive at high speeds. However, we kept it at second and third gear and cruised along comfortably. The road is an ATV owner's delight and there are many side-roads and trails to explore.

Our first stop was at huge Nichols Pond. It's a popular boating and trouting spot and my brother Pat and his wife Rosalind have taken some lovely ounaniche here.

After a short stop, we got back on Fox Marsh Road and headed south towards Clam River. We pulled over where the brook from Nichols Pond crosses the road and tumbles over a rock face. The rain had freshened the brook and the water foamed white as it dropped about 10 feet over the shale. The noise from the brook forced us to raise our voices as we talked about the beauty of the stream.

Then it was time to mount our bikes and continue the run to Clam River, about 15 kilometres from my cabin. We took our time and puttered along. You have to turn right off of Fox Marsh Road onto Clam River Road, and we geared down as we neared the wide intersection.

The Fox Marsh-Clam River area has been commercially logged for decades. In the 1930s, for example, Capt. Matthew Whelan of Colliers, Conception Bay had a logging camp near Clam River in Ducks Home. In the 1990s, tree-harvesters took thousands of cords of wood from the ridges of Clam River. After the commercial logging operation finished up a couple of years ago, the cutovers were replanted and some of Clam River Road was decommissioned.

You cross Clam River on a steel bridge at a point where the river is approximately 30 feet wide. It is a licensed salmon river, but it also holds some nice brook trout. There is a gate on the bridge which prevented pickups from entering and loading up on wood when logging was occurring. However, the gate has a raised bar to allow ATVs to cross the bridge.

After crossing the river, you can drive on a good gravel road for about another kilometre before you come to the scarified remains of the logging road.

The ridges and cutovers along this section of road are dotted with mature birch trees. The loggers took only the spruce and didn't touch the massive hardwood trees, which stand like silent sentinels, watching the cutovers and guarding the moose.

I got Steve to take my picture with one old massive birch. It was so large that I couldn't wrap my arms around it. Its leafy top waved gently in the wind, sheltering me from the drizzle.

I love to come to Clam River just to see the birch forest. The trees must be 100 years old - what stories they could tell of trappers and hunters, moose and caribou.

While there are no caribou in the area today, they were here in the 1930s and Capt. Whelan, now deceased, told me they used to set snares for them when they were logging during the winter.

Tougher stuff

Steve and I turned off Clam River Road onto a path created for log-hauling vehicles, known as skidders. We quickly left the class A gravel behind and began to experience water-filled bog holes, tree stumps and slippery muddy banks. We were forced to drive in first gear through the cutover, and as we crested a ridge, we saw our first moose - a young bull browsing on a hill. We stopped the bikes and watched him for about five minutes before he slowly sauntered off.

As nature lovers, we thrilled at seeing the beast. As hunters, we commented on how we could make the 200-yard shot.

We continued on, bumping along the skidder path, and encountered two more moose a little farther along. Then we came to a small brook that rattles down from the country into Clam River, and a bridge of rough-hewn logs carried us over the stream, but only after we'd walked it first to make sure it was stable enough to hold our ATVs.

Not far from this makeshift bridge was a long water hole. The only way to go was right through it. It was deep and the muddy water sloshed up around the bikes' engines.

We eased along the skidder trail until we came to a massive bog. I believe this is called Pad's Ma'sh. It's a kilometre or more long.

Where the skidder crossed the foot of the bog, the operators had corduroyed the path, laying down logs across the marsh to protect it and to provide a stable base for driving.

This corduroyed section proved to be a real challenge to our ATVs as the logs were laid unevenly and some caught on the bike tires. Years of skidders crossing the path had worn the logs smooth and the ATV tires sometimes spun helplessly against them. This forced us to dismount and help the bikes along over the logs, although Steve's four-wheel drive did better than my trike.

We continued on through the snaking cutover and passed small beaver gullies and one fair-sized pond.

By now it had gotten really muggy and we stopped for a break. We had driven about three kilometres since leaving the bridge. We had juice and blueberry muffins, and just as we were finishing up, Steve's cellphone rang. It was our wives, Judi and Ann, who work together and were doing a shift at the Health Sciences Centre. They were calling to see how we were enjoying our day off, while they slaved away at work.

On the drive back out Fox Marsh Road, we stopped at the path to the massive Colinet Fourth Pond and made plans to visit it in September.

By now it was near lunch time, so we decided to head for the cabin and a feed of moose sausages.