Trail tips to stay safe this summer

WEST CARLETON – It’s a great time to be outdoors, but be aware: certain pests and poisonous plants are getting in on the action, too.

As you hit the trails, remember to stay on the path and dress appropriately to protect against ticks, poison ivy, wild parsnip and other hazards.

Black-legged tick. Courtesy RVCA
Black-legged tick. Courtesy RVCA

Black-legged ticks are on the rise in Eastern Ontario and can carry Lyme disease, which is passed to humans through tick bites. Left untreated, Lyme can cause chronic neurological and physical problems including memory loss, mobility issues and heart conditions.

But don’t let that keep you inside! Reasonable precautions should prevent most tick bites. When you’re in the woods, stay on the path, wear long pants and sleeves, tuck your pants into your socks and use bug spray with DEET or picaridin. A quick sweep of your clothes with a sticky lint roller before you go home will help catch errant ticks. When you get home, do a thorough tick check of your entire body, including in your armpits, groin area, behind your ears and along hairlines.

If you do find a tick attached, remove it as soon as possible. Contact your doctor if the tick looks engorged or you think has been attached for a long time, to see if you need antibiotics.

If the tick was attached for less than 24 hours and its body does not appear swollen from feeding, you should still be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of Lyme disease for the next 32 days. If you do develop symptoms, see a doctor.

Poison ivy, wild parsnip and giant hogweed all have a presence in Eastern Ontario, lining roadside ditches, taking over empty fields and popping up along nature trails and woodlots.

Touching these plants or their sap can result in painful skin rashes and burns, particularly wild parsnip, which is sun-activated and can cause severe burns and even blindness in extreme cases.

Wear long pants and sleeves, close-toed shoes and socks. The sap from these plants can contaminate your clothes, so be careful when undressing and handling your clothes after an outing.

If you do come in contact with the plants, wash the area with soapy water and stay out of the sun. If the sap gets in your eyes, wash immediately and contact a doctor.

Of course, it’s important to know what to look for so you can avoid these issues altogether.

Poison ivy is perhaps the best known of the three plants. It can grow between 10 and 80 centimetres high, and its leaves range from 8 to 55 millimetres long. Poison ivy leaves feature three pointed leaflets – usually toothed – with the middle leaf being much longer. The leaves are reddish in the spring, turn green in the summer, and become various shades of yellow, orange, or red in the fall. The plant produces clusters of cream to yellow-green flowers.

Wild parsnip can grow up to 1.5 metres tall, with a thick, smooth stem topped with green-yellow flowers forming clusters up to 20 centimetres across.

Giant hogweed looks similar to wild parsnip but grows up to five metres tall in some cases. Its white flowers are clustered in groups between 30 and 90 centimetres across, and its thick stem often features prominent purple blotches.