Review: Byng Island Conservation Area, Dunnville

Byng Island Park, Dunnville, Ontario – A Grand River Conservation Authority Property

By Sherri Telenko

Many Haldimand County residents have fond memories of summers on Byng Island in Dunnville. Today, with two dogs and boyfriend in tow, I plan to join the ranks. I can understand why generations of families spend vacations here – it’s as much public park as nature retreat. There are open grassy spaces, 400 picnic tables, a volleyball court, two jungle gyms, river activities and a pool – an extremely large pool. You can’t talk about Byng Island Park without talking about the pool and I will, soon.

byng island Telenko above dam
Paddle boats are available in the ‘upper river’ above the dam

But first, the river

Byng Island is all about water. The Grand River surrounds it, and people travel here to fish (there’s more than 20 species caught here), boat, canoe and kayak. And that’s why we’re here: to christen the boat that sat in my boyfriend’s driveway all winter. New to the site, we selected one of three boat launches – the one below the dam – and right beside our campsite and parked car.

Sulphur Creek camping area

We’re in the quieter area of the park in the radio-free Sulphur Creek camping area, and frankly this is the area I prefer. Yes, it’s further from the washroom and shower facilities and only has outhouse toilets, but it’s quieter (radio-free is the rule) and half of this section’s campsites line the river, ideal for anglers and kayakers. A mowed pathway through the brush along the riverbank links the site to the pool and expansive park – an area that accommodates multi-generational family activities like picnics and barbeques.

Sulphur Creek camping area -quiet and radio-free on Bying Island
Sulphur Creek camping area

Paddling

We’re not the only ones testing the river today although on the May long weekend, it certainly isn’t crowded. Others back small boats no bigger than ours down the ramp and into the water, but most people are opting to rent canoes and kayaks nearby, which is a good idea because this end of the river, ‘below the dam’ as the guide at the gate said, is shallow and scenic. Canopies of tree branches extend overhead from the shorelines and lily pads and bulrushes grow almost to the middle of the water creating the romantic ambiance slow paddling invites.

 

We head away from the park, and towards Weir Island and in the direction of Lake Erie, 7km away. (But we don’t go that far). Serious anglers, though, like the boat of four camo-clad men we pass make a beeline for the deeper waters. Others fish from shore and wave as we pass. We stick to the quiet and serene narrow passages that offer more opportunity for reflection than catching dinner. The dogs can lean over the boat – the biggest threatening to jump in several times.

There’s another reason to paddle rather than motor: the river here is shallow and at this time of the year, really shallow. Our motor is kicking up brown muck behind us, and at one point we hit an outcropping rocks (seconds after I scream, “rocks”) and have to push ourselves off with a paddle.

A few pulls of the motor later, and we bunny hop our way over the water and back to the boat launch, a little damper, no dog short and willing to head to a deeper spot on the Grand River to try again. Two other launch options are above the dam, where more people are fishing and paddleboats are available for rent. It’s also near the park’s island – the site of permanent RV homes. According to The Grand River Conservation Authority that runs this park, located here is one of Canada’s biggest fish ladders – a water gradation that allows fish to migrate past the Dunnville Dam toward spawning and nursery habitats upstream.

byng island Telenko fishing from the shore
From the shore or boat, anglers catch more than 20 species of fish here

Swimming

If you’re here to swim, you’re in luck – though I don’t recommend the river.

Instead, check out the Byng Island pool when it’s open. In May, it’s too cold and not filled yet, so this isn’t an option for us today. But many Haldimand families have headed here for decades – the pool is as big as a round football field, with sides gradually sloping like a sea-side beach toward the deep centre. Extending into the middle of the pool is a large blue ramp for those brave enough to dive or jump off, and at the end lifeguards sit overlooking the up to 1000 people that can fill the pool.

Hiking

Hiking trails are too few or too short to mention, so water activities provide the draw to this site. We bring picnic food but should have planned to spend more time barbequing or roasting stuff by the fire pit. The town of Dunnville is only minutes away; however, so we can easily run out for supplies.

For anyone with a small boat, this is a good place to start to this summer. You wouldn’t want to discover leaks in deeper water.

Byng Island Park is located at 4969 Haldimand Road 20 in Dunville, Ontario and has 380 campsites (134 serviced with electricity and water), canoe, kayak and paddleboat rentals, and about 20 different species of fish in its river.

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