July 27, 2011

Amateur scientists take watershed snapshot

As published in The Erin Advocate

Teams of volunteers fanned out across the headwaters of the Credit River recently to do a quick check on the state of its health.

About 75 people took part in Credit Valley Conservation's first Check Your Watershed Day on July 16, including at least a dozen from Erin Trails and the Climate Change Action Group of Erin.

On a sweltering Saturday afternoon, we measured the temperature of water in shady sections of the river, took photos and made sketches of bridges and culverts, and looked for obstacles to the movement of fish.

"It's not going to go into a box and never be looked at again – the information we are collecting today is real data that will help direct restoration projects in the future," said CVC Aquatic Biologist Jon Clayton. In spite of the many dams on the river, CVC tries to reconnect fish habitat areas where possible.

"There may be spots where fish can't get upstream as a result of a drop coming out of a culvert, and the fish populations are fragmented as a result," said Clayton. "The temperature information is used to assess where dams are having an impact. If we notice a big temperature increase downstream of a pond, that might be an area we come back to and target for stream restoration or riparian (shoreline) planting."

Bill Dinwoody and I worked as a team, assigned to check five sites in Hillsburgh. Measurements at three locations upstream of the dams showed temperatures from 19.1° to 19.9° C. In the pond at the Station Street, and downstream at 22 Sideroad, the readings were just above 26° C.

Checking the Station Street dam.

We saw no blockages of fish traffic apart from the dams, which form three large ponds between downtown Hillsburgh and 22 Sideroad. Clayton said the lower temperatures upstream seemed normal, as did the high reading in the pond, but he was surprised that the water had not cooled more by the time it reached 22 Sideroad.

"I have seen quite a few Brook Trout there before in the summer so that would indicate colder water. Maybe there was a spring or upwelling directly underneath them or just upstream. It also speaks to the need to allow fish to move around to find coldwater refuge during hotter summer periods," he said.

Vegetation next to the river helps cool the water, but incoming groundwater and air temperatures have a more direct impact, he said.

Rehabilitation work was done at the 22 Sideroad crossing a few years ago, with rocks strategically placed to help fish navigate into the culvert. CVC also planted trees in the nearby meadow, but they have not survived.

A Check Your Watershed Day enables a large amount of data to be collected at the same time. Measurements were done throughout the upper watershed, including Orangeville/Caledon (the East Branch), Hillsburgh/Erin (the West Branch) and Georgetown.

The concept has been used successfully by other conservation authorities. It has been promoted by EcoSpark, an organization that works with communities and schools, providing them with knowledge and tools to monitor their environment and take action for positive environmental change.

The group has a special interest in the Oak Ridges Moraine, a prominent ridge north of Toronto, stretching 160 kilometres from the Niagara Escarpment in the west to the Trent River system in the east. It was created between two lobes of receding glacial ice, where the melting water deposited huge quantities of rocky debris.

Moraine landscapes, also prominent in Erin, are good at collecting rainwater, filtering it through sand and gravel, and recharging aquifers deep underground. These supply drinking water for many communities and deliver clean, cold water into river systems.

The Credit River is a unique cold water system that is home to sensitive Brook Trout and is one of three rivers targeted for re-introduction of Atlantic Salmon. It is 90 km long, with 1,500 km of tributaries, draining about 1,000 square kilometres of land.

July 13, 2011

Silver Creek crevices will keep you on your toes

As published in The Erin Advocate

Just read about some doctors who like to prescribe walks in the woods to counteract "nature-deficit disorder", a term coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods. It is certainly a logical way to boost mental and physical health, but the medical angle is a reminder that we are in a crisis of stress and inactivity that is doing real harm.

Active Healthy Kids Canada reports that many young people are spending 6-7 hours a day in "screen-based sedentary activities" and urges parents to assign manual chores and insist on outdoor play. Only seven per cent of kids meet the minimum levels in the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines.

One screen that would probably lead to more activity is that of a digital camera, if kids were out looking for interesting things to photograph. I recently picked up information about a Guelph-based non-profit group called Focus on Nature. Inspired partly by Richard Louv, the group offers photography workshops in schools that enable kids to develop their creative observation skills and to "get outside and explore and connect with the natural world".

I was out with my camera last week, getting an overdue dose of stress relief and cardiovascular stimulation with a hike along the Bruce Trail, in the Silver Creek Conservation Area. It is just a few minutes from Erin, straight down the Ninth Line and Fallbrook Trail, now paved all the way to the trail entrance at 27 Sideroad, Halton Hills.

A huge wilderness reserve, it is 388 hectares (958 acres) of prime Niagara Escarpment land managed by Credit Valley Conservation, stretching from the 10th Line to Trafalgar Road. There are no buildings, just babbling brooks, lush forests, stunning views, an orchestra of birds, and some unique rock formations that make for a rewarding hike.

The origins of Silver Creek are mainly in south Erin, including Snow's Creek that flows south from Ballinafad through Scotsdale Farm, and the network of creeks that arise in the Paris Moraine between Winston Churchill Blvd. and the Eighth Line.

The northern limit of the Silver Creek Sub-Watershed is the rise of land just south of 10 Sideroad, the edge of the moraine. It was formed in the late stages of the most recent ice age. The Laurentide Ice Sheet covered most of Canada and the northern US for about 75,000 years.

As the ice melted and retreated, it would sometimes expand again during colder periods and rework the landscape, but not always in a north-south pattern. Geologists believe that the Paris Moraine was formed about 12,000 years ago by a huge lobe of ice in the Lake Ontario basin, over a kilometer thick, which flowed northwest, up and over the Escarpment.

The rock, sand and gravel it left behind, with the action of melting water, created both moraines, which are irregular and hummocky, and drumlins like the one next to Erin village, which are long smooth hills pointed in the direction of the ice flow. Neither make for good farmland.

Streams on the Paris Moraine flow south-east and amalgamate into Silver Creek as it tumbles down the Escarpment. It joins another branch in Silver Creek Valley, a deep gouge parallel to the Escarpment, well-known to drivers taking the Ninth Line "scenic route" to Glen Williams. The water flows through Georgetown and does not join the Credit River until Norval.

My hike took me east from Fallbrook Trail, past a look-out over the panorama of Silver Creek Valley where you can watch turkey vultures cruising on the updrafts. The forest trail alternates between dirt and fields of smoothly-pitted rock, with many crevices that could cause a nasty fall or twisted ankle. So watch your step, be sure to keep pets and kids on a short leash and don't set out too close to dusk.

The Bruce Trail carries on towards Caledon, on its way to Tobermory, but you can cut back to the road on the Roberts Side Trail, making a 2.6 km loop that will take an hour and a half at a casual pace. The side trail is not as dramatic, but there is a huge variety of plant life, including trilliums, the provincial flower which seems to be less plentiful in recent years. There is also a large wetland pond with a boardwalk used by school field trips.

If you are thinking of taking up the hiking habit, don't wait for the doctor to tell you. Consider joining the Bruce Trail Association. Go to www.brucetrail.org for an interactive map, download local maps for $3, or get their reference guidebook. There are 800 km of main trails 200 km of side trails to explore.

July 06, 2011

Skateboard Park plan deserves strong support

As published in The Erin Advocate

Dropping in to the Skate/BMX/Band Jam at Erin Centre 2000 on June 25, I was greeted by a wall of angry sound from a punk band on the arena floor. The people I met there, however, were anything but angry – everyone was having a great time.

Punk rock is not my cup of tea, but then neither is opera or jazz. I can appreciate the creative value in any style of music, as long I am not too close to the speakers. I have never been a skateboarder, but I can see that the primary factor is fun, and so I am glad to support construction of a Skate/BMX Park in Erin.

I remember how important a bike was for me as a kid, providing independence, risk and part of my identity. I am especially impressed with the vertical techniques that today's BMX riders have developed.

Skateboarding and BMX are not going away. Their popularity has fluctuated over the past 50 years, but with improvements to equipment and exposure in movies, interest has spread to many countries around the world. There is a need for a facility now, and there is every reason to believe that the interest will continue well into the future.

The Jam offered participants the chance to try out their techniques on portable ramps and rails in the arena. Andrea Rudyk, who helped organize the event, said about $1,200 was raised.

"It was a success, there were a lot of skaters and BMXers enjoying the park, which is what we were aiming for," she said. The bands performing were Agents of Id, Bread Fan, Frenemy, KIZ & LEGIN, Fade Chromatic, Nobel Savage, Rise of the Lion, No King for Countrymen and The Elwins.

Young people in Erin have shown that they are willing to raise money and work for their cause and have attracted support from donors such as developer Shane Baghai, Scotia Bank, Nestlé Waters and Erin Hydro.

It has been more than two years since resident Mark Middleton brought a petition with 335 signatures to Town Council, asking them to support a skate park, now expected to cost about $100,000. The Town has agreed to pay half the cost. A site on the west side of Centre 2000 has been chosen, and work could start this fall.

"I'm going to stick around – I don't give up easily," said Middleton, part of a committee of adults and youth working to raise $50,000. "Seeing the kids on the downtown streets got me going. They need a place to express themselves."

Skateboarders are not always welcome to hang out in some areas of the town. The new park will not completely solve this tension, but it will certainly help. Mutual respect is a sign of a strong community.

Previous attempts to get a park, with extensive efforts by both adults and youth, were not successful. Naturally, interests change as teens get older and they often move out of Erin, but as I saw at the recent fundraising event, many younger kids continue to take up the sport.

To support the campaign, or to get more information, go to www.erinskatepark.com, or their Facebook page. Donations can be made through the Town office, with income tax receipts available. There will be more fundraising at local events this year.

The park has the support of the Wellington County OPP. It will be covered by Town liability insurance, and by the Centre 2000 surveillance cameras. The site will have a flat concrete pad, with portable equipment attached to it. As in other sports, there is a risk of injury, but this can be controlled through common sense and good equipment. The plan is to incorporate a barrier to reduce the noise for nearby homes.

Skateboarding has had a traditional link with punk rock, which supports the sport's rebellious image. It does seem to attract those who do not like the strict rules and timetables of more organized sports, but there is no standard image. Like any culture, it covers a broad spectrum.

There is a natural overlap of interest with BMX bikes, since they use many of the same ramps and structures for their jumps. BMX (bicycle motocross) started out as an offshoot of motorized dirt bike racing.

There is a link too with surfing and snowboarding, which started out as rebel cultures. It is a natural evolution – when an activity has real value, it eventually earns acceptance, even in small town Ontario.