June 22, 2011

Trail upgrades will link homes to water tower hill

As published in The Erin Advocate

Work is expected to start soon on improvements to a trail that links the Delarmbro subdivision with the Erin village water tower hill.

The initiative is being taken by the Erin Trails group, as part of the Town's Recreation and Culture Committee (RACC). It is backed by the Rotary Club of Erin, which has pledged up to $5,000, plus manual labour to help get the job done.

To be known as the Rotary Trail, the route is on municipal land. Walkers and cyclists use it to travel from the subdivision, along an existing berm parallel to County Road 124.

From behind the apartment buildings, the trail then cuts through a cedar grove and over an intermittent stream (which intersects the road next to Kirk's Barbershop). It then climbs a steep embankment to join the service road that takes vehicles from Main Street up to the water tower.

"We decided on the walking trail as being a project which would benefit the whole community," said Rotary President Ron McJury. "The eventual goal is to have a network of interlinked trails throughout the community, linking with some of the existing trails to provide locals and tourists alike an opportunity for exercise, communing with nature, and getting some spectacular views of the area."

Rotarians Melodie Rose and Rod Finnie proposed various projects to the club and members decided to give priority to trails. McJury hopes that new sections can be added every year.

The current project includes construction of a 20-foot bridge across the stream bed, in the style used by the Bruce Trail Association, plus tiered steps on the embankment. There will also be a series of signs and shamrock-style trail blazes. Arrangements are being made for the necessary approvals from Town Council and Credit Valley Conservation.

The Elora Cataract Trail, part of the Trans-Canada Trail, is an important route through Erin and Hillsburgh, but it needs off-shoots to create better hiking experiences. The Woollen Mills Trail (in the conservation area behind Mundell Lumber) was upgraded in 2009, but it needs a bridge across the Credit River to link it with MacMillan Park.

There are numerous informal trails around Erin village, including the routes from the water tower that connect to Charles Street and Church Street, but most are on private property. Erin Trails hopes to get permission to make some of those trails official, with proper signage and liability insurance, making them more accessible to the public.

For more information or to get involved in the trail improvements, call Bill Dinwoody at 519-833-2305 or Steve Revell at 519-833-2571.

As a member of the trails group, I have long had an interest in expanding this valuable network, which is now used by very few people. It is a relatively low-cost venture which can be done in stages. Better trails would enhance conditions for residents and make the villages of Erin and Hillsburgh more attractive destinations.

If we could create a loop route for hikers that includes both natural areas and the commercial section of Main Street, it would be an ongoing benefit for downtown businesses. It should be part of the Town's marketing plan.

If we could design a trail for horses and their riders, branching off from the Elora Cataract Trailway, it would attract a whole new group of visitors.

If we could make more connections between subdivisions, schools and stores, bypassing the busiest roads, we could make the urban landscape safer, especially for kids and seniors.

For a town that prides itself on environmental awareness and quality of life, a good network of trails should not be considered an optional luxury, but an important necessity. It should be a functional part of "The Charm".

June 15, 2011

Campaign to designate Credit as a Heritage River

As published in The Erin Advocate

Is the Credit just another river? Is it a simply a drainway to the lake, an obstacle for road builders and an inconvenience for housing developers? Like most rivers, it is quite scenic, and creates a valuable environment for fish and wildlife, but does it deserve special credit as a "Canadian Heritage River"?

Naturally, a river can be special to the people who live with it, just as we may feel a bond with our home town. But now there is a campaign, supported by Credit Valley Conservation (CVC), to have it recognized nationally, and to raise community awareness of why it deserves the honour.

"We need to build support from a wide range of stakeholders and participants within the Credit River community," said Dave Beaton, CVC's Supervisor of Community Outreach. "We are in the process of forming a community based advisory team."

Before most people could offer their input, they would have to know what a heritage river is and why it could be important. To educate the public and get feedback, the campaign has its own website (www.creditourriver.ca) and a Facebook page. People are urged to blog their stories about why the river is important to them, and groups wanting a presentation on the campaign can contact Beaton at 905-670-1615, ext 426.

The site points out that the Credit has served as a major environmental, economic, social and cultural link for communities, including the First Nations who settled here:
"The Credit River has an incredibly rich and an acclaimed history – one that has played a vital part in Ontario’s early settlement. The Credit River belongs to all of us – all 99 km that flow from its headwaters to where it drains into Lake Ontario. It is, in short, an outstanding example of a dramatic and diverse waterway that is as varied and spectacular as the terrain it passes through."

There are people living close to the Credit River who are only vaguely aware that it even exists. The heritage we have received is in danger of being degraded or lost due to the impact of dams, diversions, pollution and development, so there is still plenty of work to do. Any effort to give the Credit a higher profile is certainly worthwhile.

The Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS) is national river conservation program, promoting Canada’s river heritage, ensuring that leading rivers are managed in a sustainable manner and honouring them as places of pride.

In April, a workshop for interested parties, including community groups and municipalities, gave the campaign a boost. A report on the event, called Giving Our River Its Credit: Toward A Heritage River Designation for the Credit River, is available online.

"We can ill afford to take the Credit for granted," said biologist Steve Hounsell, keynote speaker at the workshop. "We live in the midst of an ecological jewel with the Credit as its centrepiece – we need to protect it. The residents of the watershed need to be connected to the river with a sense of pride."

The website of the national program (www.chrs.ca) says, "Canada is a nation with a rich river heritage. Rivers are the threads that weave together the natural and human elements of Canada." It has extensive information and photos of the 41 rivers already designated, including the Fraser in BC, the North Saskatchewan in Alberta and the Upper Restigouche in New Brunswick. There are 11 in Ontario including the Detroit, French, Rideau, Thames, Humber and the Grand, with part of its headwaters in Erin.

The CHRS has no legal authority. It is driven by partnerships and community involvement, and supervised by board members appointed by federal, provincial and territorial governments.

A designation does not result in any new restrictions on development. And while there are no guaranteed benefits, the designation could help when applying for funding in areas like tourism and wildlife habitat improvement.

A management plan or heritage strategy, to ensure that the river's values will be maintained, must be in place before the designation can be given. A master plan for the entire watershed is something the CVC was already intending to undertake. The CVC board has allocated $100,000 this year to support the designation and master plan.

The designation process is rigorous and could take three to five years. A river must be proven to possess the requisite natural values, historical importance and recreational potential. Strong public support must also be demonstrated.

The villages of Erin and Hillsburgh owe their founding and early prosperity to the Credit and its ability to power the lumber and grist mills of the 1800s. Today many people here are passionate about their river, and feel fortunate that it has remained in good condition. We are only 12,000 in a watershed that is home to 750,000, but I think that this campaign will find valuable support here.

June 08, 2011

Environmental movement has spiritual dimension

As published in The Erin Advocate

As one who attends both church services and environmental events, I cannot help but notice some similarities between the two. The overlap is quite natural, of course, since both activities include a quest for knowledge, and guidance as to the proper ways to behave in the maze of moral choices people face every day.

There is safety and comfort in gathering with others of similar inclination, but preaching to the converted is never really sufficient. There is always the urge to evangelize, to spread the word to those who have not heard it, or who have not accepted it, yet. It is not a matter of coercion, but of leading by example. No one likes being told how to think and act, but everyone can be influenced.

Religious or not, many people share a core belief that the created world and the life forms that depend on it are essentially good. And in spite of the advances of science, there is a recognition that we are a part of something that remains beyond our understanding. We know that we cannot control all outcomes by our actions, but our actions are still important – we can make a difference.

The values promoted by faith communities and environmental associations tend towards the universal – when a group of people agree on something, there is an understanding that if only everyone believed the same things and acted in the appropriate ways, humanity would be a lot better off.

Environmental campaigns often focus on the identification of evildoers, mainly large corporations, who are accused of leading the innocent astray in order to improve profits. Who should we trust to guide our society? Elected politicians? Multinational corporations? Church leaders? Grassroots organizations? News organizations?

In these times, when personal choice and responsibility are considered paramount, it is difficult to herd the population into conformity of action, or a sense of social responsibility. Indeed, it should not be easy. Having a variety of viewpoints accepted in the pubic realm is our best defence against abuses of power. Still, people should look outside their personal world, see the need for building consensus, and recognize a shared responsibility for the future of the planet.

Most religious doctrines include respect and protection of the environment. And many people who wouldn't be caught dead in a church are informally practicing a form of spirituality that reveres the sacredness of all creation. Many also believe in the sacredness of work. You can view work as strictly earning money, or you can see its value in serving the needs of other people. We live in an unstable, unsustainable society, so the gap between people's hopes and their actual reality creates some powerful needs.

I was struck by this during a discussion of farming, during a recent workshop on biodiversity at Everdale Farm. A market garden farmer from Grey County (didn't catch his name) dropped into the group part-way through and had some interesting views about the marketing of organic food.

"A lot of people involved in agriculture right now do not have a background in agriculture," he said. "They are the ones who have twigged to this notion of fashion, using fashion to influence the marketplace. In ten years, food has become hot. If you look at the old families, it would not have occurred to them to present food to people in this way.

"We can spend a lot of energy trying to teach people, but you can also drain yourself. Especially adults, it's almost impossible to teach people anything. Not to be pessimistic, but if you recognize that, instead of trying to flog messages into them, the most efficient thing you can do is create an exciting environment, much as has been done here, where those who want to know, can do so easily. In a way sensitive to what they are really curious about.

"The work were doing here isn't really that materialistic. When people come out here from the city, they are responding to really a spiritual void. When we're out here working, we're not just growing food, we are participating directly in creation. Not to get too floaty on this, but that's really what we are doing. And we want to do this, not because we're making any money – at least we're probably not, especially if we're doing our job really well – but for the change that takes place in us.

"And when they come out here, they're coming out here because there's something off, there's something wrong, which is a byproduct of our industrial culture. They come out here and they are looking for peace. When they meet a farmer, they want a piece of that peace, and they're hoping that maybe he has it, and that they can take some of it in.

"So I think it's really important, although we can talk about marketing, but we have to recognize from our own natures, from the work we do and the way we feel about it that this isn't really a materialistic problem. The material ramifications are part and parcel, but that's really not where the impulse is coming from. People didn't come here because they were hungry, at least not for food."

June 01, 2011

Homemade cleaners reduce chemical burden

As published in The Erin Advocate

After a lifetime of buying commercial products with flashy graphics on the labels, it seemed very strange to be mixing my own in a plain bottle. Not quite like being a mad scientist. More like being a cook, or conducting a chemistry experiment.

I decided to give it a try after seeing Chemerical, at the Fast Forward Environmental Film Festival, sponsored by the Climate Change Action Group of Erin (CCAGE) and Credit Valley Conservation.

The documentary follows a family that takes up a challenge to purge commercial chemical products from their household cupboards. It is part of a movement to reduce the stresses on the human body caused by the thousands of petrochemicals and toxins we bring into our homes – and to spend considerably less money on our obsession with cleanliness.

Getting out the measuring cups, I had to get over the feeling that I should be leaving this to the experts at Procter & Gamble. But then, if you can prepare your own food, you should be able to follow a recipe to make your own cleaners. And you don't have to be a hippie to do it (not that there's anything wrong with that).

My big bottle of Cascade dishwasher detergent was almost empty. It comes complete with lemon scent, shine shield, sodium hydroxide, sodium silicate, chlorine bleach and a warning that dangerous fumes form if mixed with other products. So I tried the dishwasher soap recipe I had picked up at the film night:

White Vinegar - 1/3 cup (75 ml)
Liquid Castile Soap - 1/2 cup (125 ml)
Tea Tree Oil - 4 drops
Water - 1/2 cup (125 ml)
Lemon Juice - 2 tsp (10 ml)
Stir it all up, put it in a bottle and use 2-3 tablespoons per load.

The other feeling to overcome is that of excessive frugality. Will guests think I can't afford basic supplies? Am I in training for an economic collapse? This passed fairly quickly, especially when I went to buy the supplies at a health food store.

An 8-ounce (236 ml) bottle of low-suds Castile Soap, made with fair trade coconut and olive oil, cost $7.25. If I keep doing this, I will save money by buying larger quantities. And I may have to continue, now that I have invested $22.35 in a 1.8 ounce (50 ml) bottle of Tea Tree Oil, an antibacterial-antifungal agent. It should last for years at 4 drops per batch, if I don't lose it.

I ran two test dishwasher loads, with dishes that were not too messy. The results were good, though not excellent. The first had 2.5 tablespoons of the mix, and while most of the dishes rinsed clean, some had traces of soap residue that had to be wiped off. For the second load, I used half as much soap, and there was virtually no residue on the dishes. There was some soap foam around the drain to be wiped up.

The dishes were clean, and smooth to the touch. The exceptions were a pan with cooked-on bits of food, and a utensil with something sticky on it, which needed to be re-washed by hand. Overall, the homemade solution was not as powerful a cleaner, but then there always seem to be some dishes that even the commercial products cannot clean thoroughly.

We are already in the habit of pre-rinsing and scrubbing off the worst of the mess, so the new mix should do us fine. Like many aspects of choosing a lower-tech lifestyle, making your own cleaners requires more manual labour, and more discipline.

There are lots of interesting concoctions out there to try, including window cleaner, laundry soap, body lotion, hand cream, aftershave and even lipstick. You can watch a short version of the Chemerical film and download a sample "cookbook" at www.chemicalnation.com. It sings the praises of soap flakes, baking soda, vinegar, borax, soda ash and isopropyl alcohol. Also check the information from the Environmental Working Group at www.cosmeticdatabase.com. And for a wide overview of the many lifestyle changes that could help the environment, go to the CCAGE site, www.anythingittakes.ca.

For more advice and training on homemade products, there is a Healthy Cleaning workshop being held this Saturday, June 4 at Everdale Farm, 10 am to 2:30 pm, with Anne Stewart of Environmental Health Consulting. The cost is $65, and you'll get to make some less-toxic cleaners to take home. Go to workshops.everdale.org or call 519.855.4859, ext. 101 to register or get more details.