Harper Creek is arguably one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in Peterborough. On September 23rd Peterborough City Council approved the transfer of funds to complete a subwatershed plan for Harper Creek. This is an exciting opportunity to explore how future impacts on the sensitive local environment will be mitigated. The RFP includes several items that will ensure that both the built and natural environment will be protected.
Some of the most exciting proposals include identification and analysis of the natural environment and its sensitivity. This is particularly exciting as the extent of the Harper Park Wetlands has never been assessed since the upgrade of the wetland to a provincially significant status. Additionally an analysis of cumulative impact of the built environment on the natural environment will be addressed. This is especially important as the impacts of surrounding developments on Harper Creek although purported to be small have created significant changes on the local environment when added all together.
Note: All of this would not have been possible without the amazing leadership of Kim Zippel on who worked on the ad hoc committee who set the objectives of this study. Congratulations Kim.
Recently the city of Peterborough released their draft
official plan for public comment. The official plan will guide the development
of the city for the next several years and council cycles and provide some
certainty to members of the public about how the city will develop over the
next couple decades. The official plan is divided up into several sections, the
one that I am personally most interested in is the Natural Heritage System. The
natural heritage system is made up of all of the natural areas in our city, and
the connecting features between them. This section includes a map of all
identified features in our city, as well as a section of policy that will
determine how these areas are regulated and managed. Over the past several
years several people including myself have taken part in stakeholder meetings
that will help determine the contents of the official plan before it is
presented to council to vote on. With the release of the official plan, I have
a couple comments and suggestions for the policy portion of the official plan.
In the draft plan. Natural areas designations are divided into “levels” to signify their importance and degree of protection. Under this system unevaluated wetlands are not defined under any level of protection. I would encourage the city to evaluate all wetlands within the city limits and re-evaluate wetlands within the city limits to further understand their boundaries and functions. Currently, although Harper Creek wetlands are designated as provincially significant there has been no effort to evaluate or update the wetland boundary. As a result several developments have had significant negative impact on the wetland function including flooding nearby neighbors.
The draft plan makes mention of the requirement to conduct environmental impact studies on new developments. I would encourage the city to lay out the exact requirements for an EIS as several other municipalities in Ontario do. In addition, the plan should encourage or development proponents to consult with municipal staff or our new environmental advisory committee. The environmental advisory committee will be an excellent resource for our city, so we should put them to work! This is a common practice and one need only look as far as the region of Durham to find an example.
Finally I would encourage the city to experiment with new ways in which citizens might become involved in the identification, protection and monitoring of natural heritage functions within our city. The city of Peterborough is home to one of the greatest concentrations of environmental knowledge in Ontario, and it would be a disappointment to not put that resource to use. Formally recognizing the role that citizen science and stewardship plays in protecting and enhancing our natural areas!
The draft plan is a great first step, let’s make this plan something we can all be proud of!
Next time you’re in downtown Peterborough, look up and there’s a good chance you’ll see one of Canada’s endangered species. The chimney swift is a bird that lives entirely on the wing, only landing to rest in its roost, often a chimney. Before European settlement, chimney swifts made their homes in large hollow trees that were common before the landscape was cleared for agriculture. Chimneys made a suitable replacement for their roosts, hence their name. Here in Peterborough, we have even erected a chimney swift “tower” in Beavermead Park to provide them with some additional habitat.
Often confused for a swallow, chimney swifts can be identified by their high pitched chirping as they erratically pursue insects above the downtown. They will generally forage within 1/2 km of their roost but sometimes as much as 6 km.
This year, several field naturalists including myself have identified chimney swifts in areas far beyond their typical range in Peterborough’s downtown, so I have started collecting sightings of chimney swifts around Peterborough. Send me your sightings on twitter @StewardsNotes or using the contact form. I’ll be sure to add your sighting promptly! (Special shout out to Alexandra Anderson for all the great sightings!)
If you’re interested in monitoring chimney swifts in greater detail join Bird Studies Canada on their Swift Watch I assure you it is a relaxing way to spend several evenings!
If you don’t know about ebird you should! It is one of the most widespread global citizen science projects in existence that helps track the migration an population of birds worldwide. To participate simply create an account on the website or app and go out to a nearby hotspot to start birding. Every species you are able to identify helps increase our collective knowledge of bird movements worldwide. Plus it is a great way to brush up your own birding skills. Peterborough and area has one of the most active Ebird communities I am aware of. We have as many active participants as the entire city of Toronto! Even still there are some gaps in the map that should be filled in. With the summer birding season upon us, let me make a few suggestions about how your next bird list could have an outsized impact.
With spring finally showing up on our doorstep I thought I’d share some of my favorite wildflower hotspots in Peterborough! The spring wildflowers are incredibly diverse with some early ones quite delicate such as hepatica, or incredibly showy such as the iconic trillium, it’s difficult to pick a favorite. (If I did pick a favorite it would be Bloodroot) There are many places to find them in and around Peterborough, but some places are better than others. Most species seem to prefer upland deciduous forests. By appearing before the tree canopy fills in, they are able to soak up the sunlight before disappearing until next year. Many of these flower species are also pollinated by one of the less known pollinators: the humble ant. So if you want to find some spring wildflowers, look no further than this list.
1. Fleming College Trails
The lands surrounding Fleming College in the south west corner of the city make for perfect wildflower viewing. Some years the forest floor is blanketed with trilliums in a way that I have never seen elsewhere. Many of the other spring wildflowers such as hepatica, bloodroot, and trout lillys are present.
2. Burnham Woods
Probably the best place in Peterborough to see spring wildflowers is Burnham Woods. The old growth deciduous forest makes perfect setting to see all of the spring classics. Blue Cohosh, Mayapples, and Bellwort are all visible along the paths through the forest. Look close to the forest floor and you might even be able to find a violet or two.
3. Lady Eaton Drumlin at Trent
Again, this is perfect habitat for Spring wildflowers, parking is easy at Trent now that school is out for the summer, and it is also quite accessible by bus! Access the drumlin by walking up the slope behind Lady Eaton College at the university. You’ll be astounded by the diversity of wildflowers that are present at the top of the hill. In some of the low lying areas around the hill you can find another spring classic… the showy marsh marigold.
Hopefully this inspires you to get out and explore the best that Peterborough has to offer! Subscribe to Steward’s Notes to get more tips about nature spots in Peterborough or follow on Facebook or Twitter.
This year I’ll be celebrating 2 years of writing Steward’s Notes. This week I’ll be celebrating a year of taking it more seriously and a nomination for an award! When I started writing Steward’s notes in 2017 I was just starting a Masters of Sustainability Studies at Trent University, part of my job as a student was to reflect on our regular colloquium events on Trent’s internal communications tool “Blackboard”. These reflections were meant to be presented in a blog format visible to other students in our program. Unfortunately people who are not students of the program were not able to access the reflections of some of the brilliant minds in my program. In an effort to tie my studies closer to the community I started writing my own blog on Sustainability and Environmentalism in Peterborough. (Initially I included some other content, but that has since migrated to another site) I believe the interest in this blog reflects a real desire in the Peterborough community to hear real grounded stories on environmental issues, where people can and are making a real difference in our city. I also believe that this has been an excellent opportunity to share the diversity of life and nature in our own back yards.
For myself this blog has been an opportunity for catharsis,
when the issues of the day frustrate me, I like to write about how I might act
to solve them. The name Steward’s Notes comes from my desire to take real concrete
action to care for the land we live on and to do the best that we can when we
can. I have a fondness for the term stewardship, it conjures a picture of one’s
labour being reflected in the places and people they care about. I believe that
others appreciate the work that I have done and have used it for inspiration to
take their own actions.
Reflecting on the stories that I have written over the past
year, I see that the most popular stories are ones that share the hidden beauty
of our home, or those that promote real action that people can take (And one
April fools joke). I think that in a period of political disenfranchisement,
being shown a way forward is an act of empowerment that people can latch onto.
In a recent interview someone described to me how for their organization,
moving forward was the only option and that banging heads against a wall is a
pointless exercise. In a land where we enjoy the privilege of freedoms that we
have, it is possible to take advantage of a world of opportunities for caring
and stewardship before we need to start pushing boundaries (Not that we
shouldn’t push boundaries). I was recently reminded of this by a good friend, and
it goes to show that sometimes being forced to refocus can have incredible
effects. I like to think that in my own little way, Steward’s Notes is an
outside beacon encouraging people to refocus when they get lost in the details
of environmentalism, sustainability and stewardship.
As a final note, I’ll say that I’ve discovered that the
three (or four) pillar approach to sustainability makes for good and engaging
content in addition to being much more holistic way of viewing the world. Much
of the most popular content I’ve written in the past year has been when I have
made a conscious effort to consider an issue from all environmental, economic
and social perspectives (I’m still not entirely sure how to separate culture
from social in the four-pillar approach). Logically this makes sense, since you
could expect that readership would have some vested interest in viewing any
particular issue from their pillar of expertise. Mostly I view the world
through an environmental lens, but it is a useful tool to remind me to leave my
comfort zone and consider other ways of thinking and being.
An additional fun little tidbit I’ll share is that according
to my internal analytics, the large majority of my readership has a love of
dogs. Not sure what this says about the blog, but as a bit of a dog person
myself, I’ll take it.
Today Steward’s Notes is pleased to announce a successful bid to replace the Simcoe St. parking garage with a natural outdoor park! This will provide an excellent opportunity to bring daylight back to Jackson Creek and create outdoor space for the downtown community! After working with municipal counterparts it was agreed that the parking garage was underutilized and should be replaced with a showcase of Peterborough’s Natural heritage and beauty! Once again daylight will shine on Jackson Creek for the first time since the 1960s. The multi-million dollar contract will enable the total removal of the parking garage and subsequent replacement with outdoor greenspace. The bus terminal will be relocated to the King St. Parking Garage once construction begins. The benefits of this park promise to be immesurable and include:
About two years ago I was having a conversation with a friend and he asked me about a small little creek that ran through his backyard at the time. Knowing where he lived, I knew it was a tributary of Jackson Creek, but nothing more.
I’ve passed by this creek countless times, small creeks have always fascinated me but I’ve never had the opportunity to explore this one in particular. Small creeks and streams are some of our most fragile yet least understood aquatic ecosystems, yet they make up a large part of our watersheds. As Peterborough was built, countless small creeks were filled in, many people have wet basements because of it, but this small creek remains.
Having recently acquired a copy of a historical atlas of Peterborough, I wanted to understand how some of these environmental features of early Peterborough might still be visible today. This little creek seemed like an excellent starting point.
Blessed with a sunny day and high spirits, I decided to go out exploring….
At the base of Hidden Creek you can see where it spills out into Jackson Creek. The culvert has clearly been installed for several decades. Its nearly invisible this time of year, with Jackson Creek’s levels so high. Its not clear if any water is actually spilling out from underneath the bicycle pathway.
One block north on McDonnel St. it is possible to see where the embankments have been stabilized to make room for more construction. The heavy concrete construction seems to indicate that this creek may have been a bit of an engineering problem at the time. I suspect that before sewer system upgrades this little tributary received a lot of rainwater runoff from the city to the north. Continuing several blocks to the north, you can see how this little creek has been tucked away between lotlines, hidden from view. Neighbors have attached their downspouts to the channel to quickly convey rainwater away. From street level there are sometimes ornate iron bars that prevent passers by from falling into the channel. As you approach the head of the stream the water is not frozen, perhaps there is a hidden spring feeding this creek from below the city.
Finally upon reaching Parkhill road, is the most natural portion of the creek. Its “headwaters” you might say. From underneath the roadway Hidden Creek spills forth into a small grassy space. Apparently this land is municipal property! A great opportunity for a community group to install a pollinator garden or do a small tree planting along the creek’s edge!
Peterborough is full of long forgotten creeks, and this is but one of them. Do you know anything about this tiny Hidden Creek? Do you know of other little environmental hotspots in the city? Perhaps as the summer progresses I will try to discover more of these forgotten places.
This spring so far has not given us much in the way of precipitation, but that’s not to say that we can’t see our surrounding environment hard at work. In Peterborough we have a long history of flooding in our downtown and surrounding neighborhoods. Looking at old maps of Peterborough, it is easy to see why this is the case. When the area was first settled 200 years ago, Jackson Creek meandered through a wetland located where the downtown currently resides. The river still carries memories with it, when the downtown flooded in 2004 the path of the stream passed through buildings and shops in much the same way as it did in times gone by.
Every spring with the influx of water caused by spring melting, we can witness how Jackson Park keeps water on the landscape and out of basements downtown. When the ice first melted this spring, giant dams of ice formed along the creek, water spilled over the banks of the river, and flowed through the trees and brambles that line the side of the creek. The water was slowly released back into the stream to travel towards the Otonabee. It made quite the sight to behold, however the implications are clear:
“Water is held in Jackson Park and the Lilly Lake Wetland instead of the basements of downtown homes and businesses”
(ed. The Previous) City council has had this explained to them on countless occasions, however it is clear they are not listening, or don’t care. Actions that reduce the ability of the wetland and park to properly function are at the direct expense of Peterborough business and home owners. The next time Peterborough proposes filling in wetlands or clearing forests, remember that you are the one who may be paying the bill.
With a new city council that may be willing to keep a closer eye on the natural assets of our community many hope that our natural assets may be accounted for in the same ways that our fire hydrants, sewers and hydro poles are. Just the same way that these assets depreciate, if we do not care for our natural spaces, they too will lose value over time. There are many groups and cities in Canada, such as the municipal natural assets initiative that are working to find ways to account for the value that spaces such as Jackson Park provides. Hopefully in the coming years we can find a way to include the value that natural features bring to our life in Peterborough!
Since I started collecting sightings of Coyotes in Peterborough, I have received several concerns about coyotes in the city. People have been concerned about going out for walks and taking their pets outdoors. I can say with certainty that coyotes pose a significantly lower risk than pretty much any activity that most people participate in. While on a walk you are more likely to be fatally struck by a car or hit by lightning than to be non-fatally attacked by a coyote. To get the point across and hopefully quell some fears here is a handy little chart that I’ve done up.
As a side note, some of the precautions you can take include making sure food stored outside is secure and avoiding any coyote dens during the springtime when the pups are first born. And NEVER feed the coyotes.