A magical tour

Our Donors

Champions for Nature

Next to a sparkling Georgian Bay shoreline, under clear blue skies, Ontario Nature’s executive director, Caroline Schultz, and president of the board Brendon Larson led a group of our most loyal and generous donors belonging to Ontario Nature’s Champions of Nature program, as well as staff, on a tour of what will become the organization’s second largest nature reserve. Malcolm Bluff Shores is a natural gem located along the Niagara Escarpment (see “Natural wonders,” page 8). That June day was not only the launch of Ontario Nature’s donor program, but also the perfect way to introduce our Champions of Nature to our conservation campaign, undertaken in partnership with the Bruce Trail Conservancy, to protect an extraordinary landscape. The goal over the next two years is to protect more than 400 hectares of the escarpment.

Our tour began with a hike on the Bruce Trail that runs along the top of the property’s spectacular bluffs. On one side, a rocky shoreline fell away to open water; on the other was a young forest, a regenerating woodland the previous owner had once logged.

Understanding why this place is important is easy, especially when your guide is Brendon Larson, a professor in the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of the Environment, who readily identified rare ferns, snakes and bird calls, such as the great-crested flycatcher and the mourning warbler that flew by – although all 15 of us recognized the fresh bear tracks we stumbled across.

Silence replaced chatter when we made our way down to a gloriously sunny beach and conveniently placed Muskoka chairs fashioned from large rocks. Our adventurous group did not rest long, however, instead walking the entire length of the shoreline. We returned to our cars at the end of the day tired, exhilarated and eager to safeguard a remarkable piece of our natural heritage.

Ontario Nature’s first Champions of Nature outing was so successful we can’t wait until our next trip this fall. For more information about becoming a part of this group, please contact Kimberley MacKenzie, director of development, at kimberleym@ontarionature.org or 416-444-8419, ext. 236.

Our Member Groups

The Richmond Hill Naturalists

Since 1995, the Richmond Hill Naturalists (RHN) has encouraged public interest in natural history and the preservation of natural areas in the southern part of York Region. The group, which has 140 members, holds birding and botany outings and oversees restoration projects, the Don River Eco Fair and a variety of local conservation initiatives.

But the biggest battle the RHN faces today is saving the historic 77-hectare David Dunlap Observatory and Park from development. Despite strong community opposition and York Region’s goal of increasing forest cover from 22.5 percent to 25 percent, the Government of Ontario permitted the University of Toronto – which was bequeathed the property in 1935 – to sell this unique site.

The consortium of developers that make up Corsica Developments (Metrus), which purchased the property, has said it will preserve the historic observatory, stone administration building and Alexander Marsh farmhouse. However, the company’s development plan – submitted to the Ontario Municipal Board in April 2009 – indicates its intention to build high-rise condominiums, homes and retail stores on much of the remaining lands, as well as alter other buildings on the site.

RHN has been raising awareness about the park and its much-needed ecological functions. The water filtration and absorption the park provides are a major help in preventing flooding and reducing costly water treatment. Designated by the local municipality as a significant woodland, the forested area of the park is home to 74 bird species and a range of other wildlife, including a large monarch butterfly population.

The Conservation Review Board of Ontario ruled that three-quarters of the park, in addition to having ecological values, was of exceptional historic, scientific and natural value to the citizens of Ontario. Those values aside, for many nearby residents the park is an accessible one that provides numerous recreational opportunities.

The RHN wants 100 percent protection for the park, which could be achieved through a Cultural Heritage Landscape designation bestowed by Ontario Heritage Trust. To date, the trust, an arm of the provincial government, has refused to designate the property.

The RHN has not backed down in the face of these challenges and has an impressive track record of conservation wins to demonstrate that persistence pays off. In a time of urban sprawl and widespread depletion of biological diversity, making the effort to save this green oasis is worthwhile.

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