Greenbelt protection needs to be extended north

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By Bob Bowles

Previously published by AWARE Simcoe.

The Ganaraska Trail makes its way across Simcoe County as it runs from Port Hope on Lake Ontario to Glen Huron where it meets the Bruce Trail with side trails to Midland and Wasaga Beach. The forests in Simcoe County make up some of the nicest places to hike along the trail. The trail runs through places like Scout Valley in Orillia and then over the Oro Moraine through several Simcoe County Forests then through the 1780 ha. Copeland Forest Resource Management Area, the largest tract of crown land left in Southern Ontario.

This second-growth forest on the Oro Moraine is used by Nordic skiers (13 km of expert, 10.9 km of intermediate and 1.5 km of beginner trails in this area), all track-set with signs prohibiting pedestrians and dogs. It is also used by hikers, hunters, horseback riders, bird watchers, naturalists, recreational walkers, dog walkers, snowshoeing enthusiasts, and in recent years many mountain bikers. Add to that list dirt bikers, four-wheelers and even hummer tours and you have high usage of the lattice network of trails through this beautiful forest.

This is also true for all the Simcoe County Forests where mountain bikers have constructed many trails through the forests that zigzag back and forth over rocks and between trees to give them more distance as they ride their bikes over the forest floor compacting the earth and tearing the beautiful mosses and lichens from the rocks that they use as obstacles and jumps in their high energy recreation that has high impact on the forest ecology. Many new bike trails in the Simcoe County Forests are marked by large blotches of red paint on the bark of nearby trees giving the forest a very unnatural appearance. Add to this the heavy impact of logging of the red pine plantations by the county and you have a forest that is taking on a whole new appearance.

These forests on the Oro Moraine need to be protected, not for the many users and stakeholders mentioned above but because like other moraines, that were formed 13,000 years ago with the melting of the Wisconsin Glacier, they consist of limestone and sand deposits over aquifers that are the source of our freshwater. The Copeland Forests on the south edge of the Oro Moraine form the headwaters of the Sturgeon River, Coldwater River and Willow Creek watersheds. I first became aware of the great importance of these aquifers at the base of the moraine with my work to protect Mill Creek and Scout Valley with its freshwater seeps and springs at the north end of the Oro Moraine at Orillia. There are many other streams of watersheds along the Oro Moraine between these two locations like Burls Creeks, Hawkestone Creek, Bluffs Creek and Bass Lake (source of the North River) just to mention a few. These all provide cold, clean, fresh water to either the Lake Simcoe or Georgian Bay watersheds and protect the quality of our freshwater.

Ten years ago we realized that the Golden Horseshoe area around the Greater Toronto Area was one of the fastest growing regions in North America. The Greenbelt Protection Plan passed in February 2005 protected nearly 2 million acres of valuable land and water, curbing urban sprawl, protecting woodlands as natural carbon sinks, preserving agricultural lands and protecting clean water systems from wetlands and the Oak Ridges Moraine south of our area.

Now, ten years later, this greenbelt protection area needs to be extended north to protect areas like the Minesing Wetlands, the Oro Moraine areas like Copeland Forest and Scout Valley. In fact, the protection should extend north to include all of the Lake Simcoe watershed area which would also include Carden Alvar and the Talbot River system. We need to protect the clean water aquifers in these areas improving the quality of water in Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay but most of all protecting our freshwater sources of drinking water.

This would limit some of the housing development projects in some areas like along Willow Creek in Minesing Wetlands and Snow Valley, the only known location in Canada for the rare Hine’s Emerald dragonfly, a species very sensitive to water quality. It would need to limit some of the logging operations in Simcoe County where our woodlands are below the acceptable limits and the recreational activities in places like Copeland Forest with very sensitive headwaters. It also needs to limit the construction of new recreational trails so that we don’t end up with a lattice work of forest trails which will fragment the forest resulting in no forest in the end. This is something to think about the next time you hike along our trails through the forests on the Oro Moraine.

Bob Bowles is the president of the Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association.

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