January 29, 2014

Friends of Terra Cotta promote park’s benefits

As published in The Erin Advocate

Inspired by a successful trail project at Island Lake near Orangeville, the Friends of Terra Cotta (FOTC) is hoping to increase public interest in their natural “jewel” just south of Erin.

“We want to showcase the park’s best features and promote the benefits of environmental activism,” said Annette Graydon, chair of the volunteer citizen group.

Located on Winston Church Boulevard, Terra Cotta Conservation Area is part of a 1,900 acre protected zone that includes Silver Creek Conservation Area and sections of the Bruce Trail.

“It is our flagship, our jewel in the Niagara Escarpment,” said CVC Director Judi Orendorff, one of several staff members on hand to provide encouragement and information for the group. “It is envisioned as a key park because of its wildness. We need to make things better for visitors, and local community involvement is key. We really need to pick up the pace.”

New features this year are the Outdoor Amphitheatre and the Sugar Shack, which will provide more opportunities for entertainment and education.

The Friends of Terra Cotta has been operating the family-oriented Haunted Forest event at Halloween each year, to raise money for park projects and help boost awareness.

Membership in the group is advertised as a volunteer opportunity on the CVC website, www.creditvalleyca.ca. It can include helping out at “Landscapes for Learning” environmental education events at the park, and at various volunteer work days that help restore and protect the natural environment.

They also have regular meetings to make plans and provide feedback to CVC staff. I have been involved with some of their activities in the last few years, and found them to be a very friendly and interesting group. To find out more, contact Annabel Krupp at akrupp@creditvalleyca.ca.

FOTC has been impressed with the work of the Friends of Island Lake near Orangeville. That group led the effort to raise close to $1 million in donations and grants, with substantial volunteer labour, to construct a series of bridges and lookout posts for a lakeside trail which opened last year.

The Terra Cotta group will be participating in a “visioning” exercise, trying to set goals for an identifiable project or signature events that can help market their park.

Terri LeRoux, Executive Director of the CVC Foundation, said building excitement around goals is key to getting other community groups and corporations to make donations of time and money.

“If you don’t feel that fire in your belly, you’re not going to sell it to the funder,” she said.

The conservation area already has many trails, and there has been some discussion of improving some of them while closing others. While providing interesting trails for avid hikers, there are also opportunities to provide a nature experience for older seniors and disabled persons.

The area long ago abandoned intensive recreation facilities such as campgrounds, a huge swimming pool, a mini-put course, and before 1954, a dance hall.

“We took it back to nature,” said Senior Lands Planner Eric Baldin, noting that staff are looking at ways to make better use of existing structures on the property. There is also the possibility of expanded or improved parking lots.

The area now promotes hiking, wildlife appreciation, fishing and education programs at the Watershed Learning Centre. For many recent immigrants, Terra Cotta is their first exposure to Canada’s natural beauty.

There’s also a large picnic field and shelter, next to a naturalized wetland and boardwalk. Improvements in recent years included a new gatehouse, more interpretive signs and a Welcome Centre with washrooms. Water flowing from the ponds has been re-channeled to enhance the natural conditions.

“Protection is still the top priority, followed by appreciation and recreation,” said Lands Planner Laura McDonald, describing the Management Plan which is available on the CVC website.

CVC Education Manager Andrew Kett said thousands of participants benefit from the Terra Cotta environment each year though programs for both students and teachers, and weekend programs for families. These build not only knowledge, but beliefs and values about nature that can lead to volunteer action.

“Enhancing ecological literacy is the heart of the program,” he said.