Mar 092017
 

Stretching from Georgian Bay to Kingston, along the interface of the St. Lawrence Lowlands and the Canadian Shield, is a unique ecoregion, now known as The Land Between. It is home to loons, bears, moose, deer and more hummingbirds, at risk reptiles and habitat types than anywhere in the province. At the same time, however, this is a fragile place, which is facing multiple environmental, economic and social pressures.

The Land Between ecoregion (image from TLB national charity)

The first person in modern times to draw attention to this distinct region was probably Peter Alley. From his early childhood, he spent his summers at Muldrew Lake, just south of Gravenhurst. Alley sensed that this area where limestone meets granite had its own unique characteristics. He saw that this was not the Canadian Shield, nor was it the St. Lawrence Lowlands. For instance, he recognized that there are rock barrens here, but nowhere else. Alley wondered if there were other unique ecological features and functions, too. With remarkable dedication, Peter spent 10 years reaching out to individuals, governments and agencies to inspire participation in characterizing and mapping this landscape. His goal was to protect the significant natural features and ecosystem services for future generations. Key to this venture was persuading two land trusts, The Couchiching Conservancy, under Ron Reid, and the Kawartha Land Trust, headed by Ian Attridge, to become involved.

Aerial view of Petroglyphs Provincial Park, located in The Land Between (Photo by Ontario Visual Heritage Project)

The conservancies hired Leora Berman to move the venture forward. Berman brought a background in economics and environmental science to the project. This eventually led to the creation of nationally-registered charity, which shares the same name as the region itself – The Land Between (TLB). Berman, who is the organization’s CMO, broadened the scope of Alley’s vision to include culture and the social economy from a perspective known as “bioregionalism”. Bioregionalism is a holistic way of viewing a landscape, which encompasses and honours all the relationships that exist between and across sectors. It means mobilizing residents as opposed to simply focusing on mobilizing government. A bioregional approach understands that all aspects of a region- from the land to the people – are interdependent and interrelated. It also recognizes that nature informs culture, which in turn fosters the economy and eventually a strong sense of place in the people.

The mandate of the TLB organization is to conserve the ecological, cultural, and socio-economic features of this unique bioregion. To this end, the organization undertakes projects that increase ecological health and community and cultural vitality. The projects are multi-partnered and have multiple benefits across as many sectors as possible. TLB is now recognized as a leading model for cooperation and stewardship in North America. The charity recognizes the value of ecological traditional knowledge and First Nations’ worldviews, and is the first organization to honour First Nation treaties. All of the work they do is in partnership with First Nations. This is achieved, in part, through a dedicated board position for a Curve Lake First Nations delegate. The TLB works entirely through the support of grants, donations, sponsorships and volunteers.

Among its many accomplishments, the TLB now has planning recognition by Environment Canada for the Trent-Severn Waterway and by Hastings and Simcoe Counties. It has been involved in 42 pioneering research projects and forums. In partnership with TVO, the organization produced a three-part television documentary that has reached viewers across the province and can be seen free-of-charge online at TVO.org. TLB has also produced a free mobile app, which provides a virtual tour of the region and explores everything from its special species and spaces to First Nation worldviews. CMO Leora Berman makes dozens of public presentations each year to schools and other groups throughout the region. These presentations highlight the unique habitats, rare species, sacred spaces, history, and relationships that define the TLB landscape.

Naturalization of shorelines with native plants is one of many TLB projects (photo by TLB)

Projects

The TLB chooses projects in seven action areas: fostering cooperative solutions, conserving biodiversity through landscape conservation priorities, sustaining water quality and fish habitats, supporting sustainable economic development, cultivating vibrant culture, enhancing education and engaging youth.

Since 2006, the TLB has worked with partners to protect and conserve turtles and turtle habitats as a major biodiversity focus. The organization works to locate road mortality sites, install turtle crossing signs and support the construction and location of road underpasses. These allow turtles to safely travel to and from nesting sites. One such installation was built recently by the Haliburton Land Trust. It consists of a culvert and a drift fence to guide the turtles through the underpass. Volunteers monitor the site seven days a week through May and June. So far, there have been numerous confirmed observations of turtles and other wildlife using the culvert.

TLB is also a founder and one of many partners involved the Turtle Guardians program, which is also dedicated to turtle conservation. The program’s focus area for workshops and events is The Land Between region, since it harbours the majority population of many of Ontario’s turtles. “Turtle Guardians” learn to identify, monitor and report turtle sightings and habitat features and then apply conservation and stewardship measures on their properties. To sign up as a Turtle Guardian, visit turtleguadians.com  As part of its focus on education and youth, TLB is working with the Trillium Lakeland School Board to deliver state-of-the art learning tools for teachers and students. Engaging students is at the heart of the work done by TLB.

This spring and summer, TLB is holding three workshops to help cottagers and other landowners design a shoreline garden. Participants will learn which plants attract hummingbirds and insect pollinators, reduce erosion, provide fish habitat and deter geese. The first workshop will be held at the Buckhorn Community Centre on April 22. You can pre-order shoreline starter kits at thelandbetween.ca   and pick them up at the workshop. Seating is limited.

Social focus

In an effort to foster cooperative solutions among stakeholders, TLB will organize Land Knowledge Circles, which are a time-honoured tradition of First Nations. They will bring together the everyday people who use the land – hunters, hikers, anglers, snowmobile and ATV enthusiasts, cottagers, nature-lovers, etc. – to share their perspectives, experiences and concerns. These circles emphasize collaborative learning, where participants are encouraged to regard themselves and their ideas as part of a community working towards a collective goal – in this case, a sustainable future for The Land Between region. To participate in a Land Knowledge Circle, please visit www.knowledgecircle.ca

The Land Between is a meeting place where city dwellers, many of whom are cottagers and nature enthusiasts, rub shoulders with year-round residents. This sometimes creates friction, because of the differences in worldview that may arise: liberals vs. conservatives, hunters vs. environmentalists, Settlers vs. First Nation people, etc. However, the coming together of people with different values can also be a source of greater understanding and wisdom. With this in mind, TLB has produced a film in collaboration with Wildlife Habitat Canada. Entitled “My First Shot”, it explores hunting heritage and from a First Nations’ perspective. The film follows Erin Carmody, a left-leaning environmentalist and former vegan, who goes hunting for the first time. Her fellow hunters include Gary Williams, former Chief of Curve Lake First Nation, Keith Hodgson, a member of the Haliburton Highlands Stewardship Council and Kim Roberts, a nurse’s aid and lover of wildlife. Erin’s experience is one of brave discussion, understanding, appreciation and respect for other perspectives on the natural world and for our relationship with it. Through her eyes, the movie explores hunting with a fresh and new perspective. The film showcases the contributions hunters have made to wildlife management and conservation. My First Shot will be presented in Haliburton in late April and in Lakefield in May. Screening dates and times will be posted at www.myfirstshot.ca

To learn more about The Land Between charity, sign up for their newsletter and support their conservation efforts, go thelandbetween.ca

Land trust & Kawartha Highlands P.P. trails

From the outset, the Kawartha Land Trust has been a key partner in TLB work. Many of its properties are located in this region. The Trust envisions a connected system of protected lands, and great strides have already been made in making this a reality. It was also instrumental in launching The Kawarthas, Naturally Connected initiative, the goal of which is to create a Natural Heritage System made up of connected areas that maintain our ecological, social, and economic values.  A Natural Heritage System is a network of connected natural features and areas such as wetlands, forests, river corridors, lakes, and meadows. You can read about the initiative at kawarthasnaturally.ca

A great way to familiarize yourself with The Land Between – or maybe see it with new eyes – is to walk the three interconnected Stony Lake Trails, which the land trust has worked to make publicly accessible. They are located near the west end of Northey’s Bay Road on the north shore of Stony Lake. The trails wind through mostly deciduous forest on the limestone bedrock of the St. Lawrence Lowlands (Blue Trail) and mixed forest on the Canadian Shield granite (Yellow and Red Trails). All of the trails provide great wildlife-watching possibilities and, in April and May, abundant spring wildflowers. Park at Viamede Resort or at 105 Reid’s Road. You can print out a trail map at kawarthalandtrust.org

There is also an interpretive trail in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, which was established by Ontario Parks with the help of the Buckhorn Trails Association. It, too, is a perfect rendering of The Land Between. The trailhead is at the parking lot/boat take out point off of County Road 36, just north of Buckhorn. At 1.5 km, it features several numbered sign posts.  The numbers align with brochures that contain information specific to that location.  Visitors can read as they travel along the trail, and learn about the story of the nearby Mississauga River, its history and how it is linked to settlement and the history of the Buckhorn area. This is the first interpretive trail in the Park and is proving very popular. To learn more and download a trail guide, go to buckhorntrails.wordpress.com/about/

 

 

 

 

 

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 granite 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 bedrock here is mostly limestone. 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.