Nov 032016
 

Big changes in the landscape will soon be a reality in the Kawarthas as extensive growth is looming on the horizon. For many, there is a fear that our region could easily lose its “nearby nature” character and become another Ajax or Barrie – in other words, a landscape that would be hard to distinguish from the 401 corridor running through the GTA. What will our community look like in the next 10 or 20 years? How will we ensure the protection of the special landscapes, natural areas and overall quality of life that have inspired so many of us to make Peterborough and the Kawarthas our home?”

One of the biggest factors contributing to quality of life in Peterborough and the Kawarthas is the proximity of nature. It is no exaggeration to say that a majority of local residents have a closer connection to the land than people living elsewhere in southern Ontario. We are farmers, cottagers, hikers, campers, hunters, anglers, boaters, cross-country skiers, naturalists, and more. We know what stands to be lost.

Growth Plan

The Ontario “Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, 2016”, which is currently under review, identifies areas for new growth in southern Ontario. The Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH) extends north to Georgian Bay, south to Lake Erie, west to Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo and east to Havelock. Room for growth is limited, largely because the province’s existing Greenbelt, Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine are protected areas. They are also slated to be expanded. The proposed Greenbelt expansion includes a huge part of Simcoe, Wellington and Northumberland Counties. This means that much of the new growth will have to happen in areas of the GGH that are located outside of the protected zone. In addition to parts of the GTA and cities such as Barrie and Guelph, the plan identifies the perimeters of Lindsay, Peterborough and even Norwood as “greenfield areas”, which means areas for urban growth.

The relentless march of housing developments into rural land. Parkhill Road at Ravenwood Drive (Drew Monkman photo)

The relentless march of housing developments into rural land. Parkhill Road at Ravenwood Drive (Drew Monkman photo)

According to the placestogrow.ca website, “the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH), together with the Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan…will establish a land use planning framework for the GGH that supports the creation of resilient and sustainable complete communities, a thriving economy, a clean and healthy environment, and social equity.”

As lofty as this vision may seem, growth will inevitably mean the building of new roads, along with new housing and commercial developments. The downside is that natural heritage resources, such as rivers, lakes, woodlands and wetlands, will be in danger of being changed or erased all together. This is especially true for natural areas close to urban centres.

Other Threats

There are other reasons for concern. Highway 407 is inching closer to the Peterborough area and is scheduled to reach Highway 35/115 by 2020. The new phase of the 407 extension opened this summer is already bringing thousands of more people to our region faster than ever before. At the same time, record housing prices in the GTA are driving people here to find affordable real estate. Just in the past year, the price of housing in Peterborough has increased by as much as 30%, according to one source. Traditionally, house prices in Peterborough went up only with inflation.

More development and soaring house prices are likely to create social problems. By driving up the price of real estate, the gap between income and cost of living will increase, especially for people who both reside and work here. Living in the Peterborough area will become less affordable for local residents, compared to those living here but working in Toronto and earning Toronto salaries.

While many embrace the idea of growth and increased population, we do have to weigh the benefits against the potential losses. Right now, the Peterborough region has one of the highest live-work ratios in the province. Many more people both work and live in our community than travel to the GTA to work. This leads to more community interaction and participation and is partly why so many of us consider Peterborough and the Kawarthas to be a caring and supportive place to live.

Jackson Creek Meadows housing development on Parkhill Road. It backs onto a provincially significant wetland. (Drew Monkman)

Jackson Creek Meadows housing development on Parkhill Road. It backs onto a provincially significant wetland. (Drew Monkman)

Other pressures, too, like aggregate development and new approaches to agriculture will continue to have an impact, especially on the natural world. The consolidation (expansion) of farm fields, partly through the removal of hedgerows, is not only changing the cherished character of the landscape but is destroying crucial habitat for birds and pollinators.

All of this is happening against a backdrop of climate change, which is causing further stress to natural and urban areas alike. It will only get worse, even if all greenhouse gas emissions were to stop tomorrow. No less than 14 of the past 15 months in Peterborough have been warmer than the 1971-2000 average. The same trend is happening globally. The record warmth of August continued a streak of 11 consecutive months (dating to October 2015) that have set new monthly temperature records for the planet. September was the second warmest ever. It is almost certain that 2016 will end up being the warmest year the Earth has seen since record keeping began.

We can only hope that the intensification targets (i.e., moving the focus of new residential development from peripheral farmland and greenspace to existing built places) which are in the province’s growth plan will be able to balance investment in the economy and the protection of both natural areas and our quality of life.

Striking a balance

As the population grows and the predominantly rural character of our region becomes increasingly urbanized, any commitment to growth should be matched by a commitment to expanding our network of protected spaces and natural areas.

An example of this commitment is the admirable work being done by the Kawartha Land Trust (KLT). The land trust’s mission is to support these goals by actively seeking out, prioritizing and securing new sites for long-term conservation. The KLT envisions a connected system of natural lands that are cared for by members of our community. It has already made great strides in making this a reality. For example, along with other partners, the KLT was instrumental in launching “The Kawarthas, Naturally Connected” which sets out a vision and required actions for conserving and enhancing protected lands in our region. It has been tied to local planning initiatives as part of compliance to the Ontario Growth Plan, which is referenced above.

Kawartha Land Trust logo

Kawartha Land Trust logo

Protected lands offer a double benefit for the climate. They not only help absorb greenhouse gases, they also prevent significant greenhouse gas emissions that would result from development — including deforestation, construction and the additional driving required by poorly planned growth. Protected properties are also important reservoirs for protecting biodiversity.

The approach of the KLT is flexible. The organization is able to work with all landowners, whatever the situation or intention. For instance, their approach allows for formal conservation of private lands through a unique tool called a conservation easement agreement. However, the KLT can also draw up a memorandum of understanding with landowners who don’t yet have a specific plan for their properties. The land trust depends primarily on private funding from hundreds of volunteers and donors each year. More, however, are needed. In Ontario as a whole, donations to environmental causes have decreased in recent years.

If we are to have any hope of reaching the targets outlined in the report “State of Ontario’s Biodiversity 2015” all sectors of Ontario society – government, industry and individuals – will need to dig deeper into their pockets. This is why my wife and I are monthly donors to the Kawartha Land Trust.

You can learn more about the Kawartha Land Trust by attending a fun and informative gathering on Thursday, November 10. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Starting at 7:00, there will be a presentation on recent KLT highlights and its vision for the future of the Kawarthas (Strategic Plan 2017-2020). The Kawartha Land Trust is now located at the Mount Community Centre at 1548 Monaghan Road in Peterborough. To see their financial statements and annual report, go to kawarthalandtrust.org.

 The Howson family property near Rice Lake. Known-as Glen Burn, it is protected under Conservation Agreement with the Kawartha Land Trust

The Howson family property near Rice Lake. Known-as Glen Burn, it is protected under Conservation Agreement with the Kawartha Land Trust

 

 

 

Oct 082016
 

Walking through the woods and fields of the Kawarthas in early October when the landscape is ablaze with colour is a fall tradition for many local residents. Not only do you feel closer to friends and family, but there is an indelible “sense of place” and connection to the land. Over the last week or so, my wife and I have had the pleasure of discovering some of the new public trails established by the Kawartha Land Trust (KLT). If you are looking to add some exercise and nature-appreciation to your Thanksgiving weekend, I can’t think of any better destinations.

Formerly known as the Kawartha Heritage Conservancy, the KLT is a not-for-profit charitable organization committed to protecting the land we love. The Trust works with landowners and community members to identify and protect key ecological features of the Kawarthas. The KLT acquires a protective interest in land by receiving land donations or by managing properties, many of which have significant cultural value. The organization can also enter into long-term conservation agreements and provide professional advice about creative land conservation approaches.

The KLT trails now open to the public include three on the north shore of Stony Lake, one on Boyd Island near Bobcaygeon, and five on the McKim-Garsonnin property (Ballyduff Trails) near Pontypool. They are all easy-walking and well-marked with a trail map posted at the main junctions.

The Stony Lake and Boyd Island trails are located in the Land Between, which describes the “ecotone” or transition zone between the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Lowlands to the south and the Canadian Shield to the north. The landscape is characterized by low exposed granite to the north side and limestone plain and outcroppings along the south side. It is home to many rare species and habitats.

Heart-leaved Asters along Blue Trail - Drew Monkman

Heart-leaved Asters along Blue Trail – Drew Monkman

It’s a happy coincidence that Thanksgiving weekend is usually synonymous with fall nature at its best. All of the KLT trails provide a smorgasbord of the sights, sounds and smells of the season. Red and sugar maples are now approaching peak colour with their vibrant oranges, reds and yellows. The wine-coloured leaves of white ash and the deep reds and maroons of Virginia creeper and staghorn sumac are already at their best. The leaves, however, are only part of the show. The white and mauve blossoms of asters such as the heart-leaved, New England and heath are abundant right now along trails and roadsides. Flocks of yellow-rumped warblers, white-throated sparrows and kinglets are moving through the area and, strangely enough, ruffed grouse can often be heard drumming. If you turn over rocks and logs, now is a good time to find salamanders such as the red-backed and blue-spotted. Of particular interest this year is the wide variety of fungi that have fruited. Fruiting refers to the appearance of the fleshy, spore-bearing body of the fungus, which is typically called a mushroom or toadstool. Thanks to the recent rains, dozens of species can be seen, especially in mixed forests with pine, hemlock beech, birch and poplar. Watch for turkey-tail, artist’s conk, various puffballs and a variety of amanitas, russulas and boletes. Fungi are also a lot of fun to photograph.

Russula mushroom on edge of Red Trail near the large marsh. Drew Monkman

Russula mushroom on edge of Red Trail near the large marsh. Drew Monkman

Stony Lake Trails

If you want to see rich plant, animal and geological diversity, my first recommendation would be the three interconnected KLT trails located south and west of Northey’s Bay Road on the north shore of Stony Lake. Ten kilometres of easy-walking trails wind through four distinct environments: mostly broadleaf forest on limestone bedrock; mixed forest on Canadian Shield granite; large groves of hemlock trees; and an extensive wetland. All of the trails provide great wildlife-watching possibilities, including deer and wild turkeys. The KLT, neighbouring landowners, donors and volunteers, have worked together to make these publicly accessible trails a reality.

Stony Lake Trails - Kawartha Land Trust

Stony Lake Trails – Kawartha Land Trust

If you decide to go, I would suggest leaving the car at Viamede Resort or at the KLT parking lot at #105 Reid’s Road. We parked at the latter location and started our walk by exploring the 2 km Ingleton-Wells trail (yellow) through property belonging to the KLT. Follow the path east along the edge of the open field in front of the parking lot to get to the trailhead. The Ingleton-Wells loop takes you through upland forest of hemlock, birch, maple and bitternut hickory, over mostly limestone bedrock. Watch for yellow birch growing on the top of old, disintegrating pine stumps. An old stone wall along the trail attests to the property’s agricultural past, as does an old apple orchard. In the spring, this is a great trail to see wildflowers such as hepatica and Dutchman’s breeches. The brown-coded sub-section of this trail takes you through a glacial outwash, which supports southern species like bitternut hickory and butternut. The latter is an endangered species in Ontario. Mature butternuts have distinctive bark with wide, flat-topped ridges.

After completing the Ingleton-Wells loop, you can return to the parking lot, have a snack, and then cross Reid’s Road to do the 3 km Viamede Trail (blue). The first 50 metres or so is particularly rich in mushrooms. Turn right at the T-junction and follow the blue markers for a kilometre or so to a fascinating section known as “The Chute”. An ancient glacial river eroded the limestone here forming a long, gully-like cut through the rock. Each side of the trail is bordered by 1-2 metre high limestone “wall” covered in moss and ferns. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. KLT has even erected a bench – one of many on the trails – where you can sit and contemplate the force of the ancient torrent that once flowed through here.

Limestone cut in "The Chute" section of Blue Trail - Drew Monkman

Limestone cut in “The Chute” section of Blue Trail – Drew Monkman

When you are walking this trail, be sure to follow the blue markers on the trees, since there are several other paths branching off to the side. You will also see metal baskets and various signs that have been erected for guests at the Viamede Resort who come to play “disc golf”.

The 3.5 km red trail provides a great taste of Canadian Shield habitat. It can be accessed from the Ingleton-Wells loop or by parking on the side of the road at #81 Fire Route 10. Like the Viamede trail, this trail winds through private property open to the public thanks to a special agreement with landowners. Just remember to “tread lightly”, stay on the path, and respect all signs.

From Fire Route 10, you have two options. If you head west, the trail meanders uphill through a granite outcropping, traverses a mostly birch forest – watch for a huge old maple “den” tree – and then crosses an old beaver dam bisecting a huge marsh. The dam is very rich botanically with species like sensitive fern and winterberry holly. On the west side of the marsh, there are beautiful hemlocks and mature maples.

Alternatively, you can head east from Fire Route 10, follow the trail halfway up a steep road and then take the branch to the left. You will enter a majestic grove of hemlocks. The exposed tree roots and granite bedrock are particularly interesting in this section. You will also come to a large pond where salamanders and frogs breed in the spring. Most of the red trail is shaded by a canopy of mature broad-leaved trees and scattered pines and other conifers. Although you can usually see deep into the woods, there is a wonderful feeling of seclusion. More open areas of the trail are dominated by red and white oaks with shrubs such as blueberry and arrow-wood viburnum growing underneath. The red trail also takes you over lichen-covered granite ridges and past imposing “erratics”. These boulders were transported by glaciers – often from hundreds of kilometres to the north -and deposited when the ice melted.

You can wrap up your day with dinner at Viamede Resort (call ahead of time at 705-654-3344) or at Uncle George’s Bakery & Dining (705-654-3661), located just north of Woodview.

Boyd Island

If you are looking to add a little paddling to your KLT trail explorations, consider a trip to Boyd (Big) Island, located on Pigeon Lake near Bobcaygeon. Most of the island was donated to Kawartha Land Trust in 2015. It is the largest undeveloped island in the Kawarthas and home to diverse forests, old meadows and rich flora and fauna. A 1.2 km trail has now been established. The trailhead is about halfway down the east side of the island. A boat launch at the end of Bear Creek Road in Trent Lakes Township gives you the shortest paddling route across.

Boyd Island Trail Map - Kawartha Land Trust

Boyd Island Trail Map – Kawartha Land Trust

Ballyduff Trails

Another option for a fall hike is the Ballyduff complex of trails, located at 851 Ballyduff Road near Pontypool. The five trails, which wind through 260 acres of the McKim-Garsonnin property, are protected through a conservation agreement with KLT. The property is on the Oak Ridges Moraine and contains many of the features of this glacially-formed terrain: rolling hills, sand deposits, an esker and a botanically-rich wetland. Of particular interest is a tallgrass prairie that the owners have established as part of their mission to restore the ecological integrity of the land. Please make arrangements before you come by contacting the owners at 705-277-3490 or by email at ralphmckim@i-zoom.net

 

For more information about the Kawartha Land Trust and to print off maps of all the above-mentioned trails, go to kawarthalandtrust.org. You can also contact the Trust at 705-743-5599.