Almost exactly 1 year ago we took possession of the land that is now the Park and the rest of the Land’escapes property. The land is located in a beautiful rugged part of Ontario that is often overlooked. There are a lot of untouched spaces, beautiful private lakes and expansive wetlands. There’s also evidence of some of the impacts from the previous uses. The history of the property is long and complex, and we are learning more about the land every day. What we do know is that this land was being used for industrial timber operations for decades. Through our conversations with our community members and our licensees – those that know the history of this land far better than we do, we are getting a clearer picture of what the last several decades have looked like.
For a long time, one company (Domtar – giving the property the local nickname “the Old Domtar Lands”) operated on the land using a more sustainable forestry approach. After many decades of relatively low-impact forestry, the land changed hands a couple of times over the last 10 or so years to companies with short-term interests. The previous decades of delicate harvest were replaced with more aggressive practices, leaving behind paths of destruction that will take many years to recover from. Throughout the Park we find waste and debris left behind such as scrap metal, wires, abandoned vehicles and tires. There’s a network of logging roads, many of which have slash piles lining either side. Slash piles are heaps of refuse from cutting or trimming trees – a byproduct left behind from these types of forestry operations. There’s also pockets where the forest was hit hard and fast, leaving acres of destruction behind. For anyone who appreciates the beauty and tranquility of the forest – these areas are hard to walk through.
Besides the unsightly element of slash piles, clear cutting has serious consequences for the environment. By removing entire patches of forest, habitats may be completely wiped out or fragmented. The trees, which were providing structure to the soil with their roots are now gone, leaving the soil vulnerable to erosion and slides. This can then also lead to a decrease in water retention, which means more runoff, and even more erosion. The runoff can cause sediment buildup in water bodies and alter the delicate balance of aquatic ecosystems. In addition to many of the trees being removed, the refuse left behind from the clear cutting has left enormous piles of slash all over the property. These piles suffocate the life beneath them, creating dead spaces throughout the forest.
All of these practices ultimately left the land with low forestry potential for the future. Without the forestry income from this property, the next logical use would have sadly been to split up the property into building lots for development projects. This made it a perfect opportunity for us to purchase the land with an alternative use in mind.
There are some silver linings and reasons to stay optimistic about the recovery of this property. We have found that in areas where forests have been cleared, early succession forests (the first stage of a forest consisting of shrubs, grasses and young tree seedlings) provide new habitats for a whole host of species that otherwise would not have had a home on this property. Meadows growing in these areas turn out to be excellent foraging grounds for moose and even elk!. We have seen so many moose in the Park. It is incredible.
The process to restore the land is going to take time (we are talking centuries) and we will need to be patient. There are incredible challenges, including the sheer size of this property. We will need to rely on new technologies, our community, traditional knowledge and experts to help understand, restore and conserve this property for future generations.
There are steps we are already taking. When you visit the Park, you may see areas where we have spread fresh mulch. We have started breaking up the slash piles and chipping them into mulch to make way for new growth and to fertilize the soil with the chips. We have started to thin some of those pine stands, making space for new trees and shrubs to grow between them. We have been scouting the property, learning what species live there. This helps us to identify species at risk so that we may work to enhance their habitat and also identify invasive species so that we can actively remove them. The extensive network of logging roads and ATV trails are either being repurposed as hiking trails, or decommissioned to allow them to grow back.
These impacts are why we are so focused on low-impact recreation. It would be great if we could open up the property to the public – but this land needs time to recover without heavy traffic and human disturbance. This property is amazing and there are incredible places that feel as though no one has been there before. Thankfully, many of the shorelines and wetlands are completely untouched. There is so much wildlife that has been thriving here. It’s now our responsibility to step up and rehabilitate the areas that have been impacted. It’s a long road ahead and we are looking forward to sharing our progress.