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Trees of Distinction bike tour a free ticket to ride

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Cathy Dobson

If you know where to find them, some spectacular trees are scattered across Sarnia with plaques declaring them Trees of Distinction.

You need to look closely, though, because the plaques were attached more than 20 years ago and tend to blend in well.

Nature lovers agree they’re worth the search, and members of the local Arbour Week committee count them among the most impressive trees around.

Cycling and walking enthusiasts say taking a mapped-out route that connects the trees is a great way to spend a few hours. The complete round trip is 21 kilometres.

“Years ago, a friend and I rode it multiple times to design the easiest way for people to see most of them,” says Mary Jean O’Donnell, a member of the committee that created the Trees of Distinction route, which spans the city from Confederation Street to Lakeshore Road.

With more people getting outdoors through the pandemic it’s a great time for residents to rediscover the Trees of Distinction Bicycle Tour, O’Donnell said.

In the mid-1990s Sarnia’s Arbour Week Committee called for nominations of the largest and most distinctive trees in Sarnia, said committee member Brenda Lorenz.

“It’s been a long time, but we’ll still accept nominations and see if a tree is worth a plaque,” she said.

Twenty years ago the plaques were provided free-of-charge by the owner of Guardian Tree Systems.

“We hardly had any kind of budget,” said Lorenz.  “Mike Raaymaker really helped out.”

Not all the trees are native. Some, like a Norway maple on Evan Street, made the tour because of its size and ability to withstand heat, drought and pollution.

“Norway maples are considered by some to be slightly evil,” said O’Donnell.  “They get called weed trees because they are so invasive.”

Another maple on the list is a sugar maple at the south edge of “Tarzanland” in Canatara Park, a majestic native that provides great shade.

Among O’Donnell’s favourites is a bur oak on Russell Street South, which is among the city’s oldest trees.

“It’s just gorgeous,” said O’Donnell.  “It’s well worth seeing.”

O’Donnell also admires a second bur oak on Lakeshore Road noted for its distinctive horizontal branches.

Lorenz is particularly fond of a tulip tree on Christina Street South that has colourful blooms in June.

“It can be admired for its size, its age and its aesthetics,” she said.

Alison Mahon chairs both the Community Round Table and its environmental committee, which convened in the late ‘90s and had a hand in creating the tour.

“We thought it would be a great way to enjoy our natural environment,” she said. “We were looking for ways to showcase our beautiful city and engage people because we really do have some beautiful trees here.”

O’Donnell hosted a handful of bike tours but hasn’t conducted any in years.

“We had media buzz for about five minutes but it didn’t last,” she said. “Maybe it is more likely to catch on now.”

A PDF of the Trees of Distinction Cycling and Walking Tour can be found at



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