October 01, 2008

Terra Cotta Conservation Area gets a boost

As published in The Erin Advocate

The Saturday night dances at what is now the Terra Cotta Conservation Area are well before my time, but I do have good memories of camping and skiing there and bringing my young children to swim in the huge, one-acre pool in the early 1990s.

That all ended with funding cutbacks in the mid-1990s, but the 20-km network of trails, with links to the Bruce Trail, is still great for dog walking and getting away from urban noise.

Last week the Credit Valley Conservation Authority (CVCA) held an open house to launch a new management plan for the Terra Cotta and Silver Creek Conservation Areas, which with nearby CVCA forests form a protected zone of about 2,000 acres along the Niagara Escarpment from Winston Churchill Blvd. to Trafalgar Road.

“This gem of a property needs more attention,” said Judy Orendorff, CVCA Director of Lands, who is hoping to have an official reopening with new facilities next year. “We are ready to move from planning to action.”

Terra Cotta Conservation Area is to become a “Centre for Environmental Learning”. Located just south of Erin and north of Terra Cotta village, the Area has undergone some major transformations.

After the CVCA acquired the land in 1954, they got rid of the dance hall (near the current picnic pavilion) and eventually turned the roadside lake into a concrete swimming pool.

At the height of its popularity as a recreation destination, there were more than 100,000 visitors annually, for camping, picnics, mini-golf, swimming, fishing, ice-skating, cross-country skiing and hiking. The cars would line up all the way to Terra Cotta.

It was quite the attraction, but the activity trampled one of the finest natural areas in the Credit River watershed. The funding cutbacks created an opportunity to restore the hardwood forest and turn the concrete pool into an attractive natural wetland.

Lack of funding has meant minimal care. The Area has remained open for hiking and fishing (there are three small lakes created with dams), but the unused buildings have been in poor condition and there was little educational activity.

The Regional Municipalities of Peel and Halton have each contributed $372,000 for 2008, and improvements have started, mainly with new public washrooms in the former pool changehouse building.

The same amount is being requested from Peel and Halton for 2009, and the Credit Valley Conservation Foundation is seeking grants and corporate donations to increase the funding. Like all local municipalities, the Town of Erin financially supports CVCA operations, but no special levies are planned for this project.

Most improvements are designed to make the area more accessible, interesting and convenient for visitors, boosting appreciation of the natural features and general support for environmental protection.

Next year, a Watershed Learning Centre will be built. There will also be a Visitor Welcome Centre, a new gatehouse and expanded office space. The picnic shelter will be upgraded with a locked room to be used by groups renting the facility.
New signage is intended to make the area an outdoor classroom.

There will be a new fishing pier to reduce wear and tear on the shoreline, trails will be rehabilitated and water flow will be re-channeled to improve fish habitat. Harmful invasive species such as Giant Hogweed and Garlic Mustard will be removed.

The public is being asked to support the newly-created Friends of Terra Cotta, not only with donations, but also with time and energy for things like fundraising events and trail restoration. To get involved, call Partnership Development Coordinator Sharlene Hardwar at 905-670-1615, ext. 447, or email: shardwar@creditvalleyca.ca. More information is available on line: www.creditvalleyca.ca.

There is a $5 fee to park at the Terra Cotta Conservation Area (on the honour system) and $50 will get you an annual pass to all 10 CVCA Areas, including Belfountain Conservation Area.

Rae Horst, CVCA’s Chief Administrative Officer, points out that the local environment is facing some serious deterioration, with water shortages in Georgetown and Orangeville, rivers that are not suitable for swimming or drinking, and a decline in bird populations.

“Natural corridors will help species survive,” she said. “Hope is not lost. We can substantially improve the environment in the GTA, and this project is part of that. We need an aware and supportive public.”

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