By Karen Au (2017 Bronze Visioneer)
When one thinks about green spaces in Toronto, first thoughts go to municipal parks, dog parks, and small local trails. Most of the younger generation may not even know where Toronto's greenbelt is, and some others might think, "Wait! Toronto has a greenbelt?" (Yes it does exist, including the Niagara Escarpment, and Oak Ridges Moraine). If I tell you to think of a large park, one most likely thinks about Algonquin Park first or even Mono Cliffs Park. Both of those are notable provincial parks. But would you believe that there is a national park less than an hour away from Toronto? Well, not quite yet. Rouge National Urban Park is on its way to becoming a national park.
How many of you knew that we had a National park practically in our backyard? We no longer have to travel three hours to see a beautiful view. (Did I mention that from the top of this park, you can see the CN tower, Hamilton, and on a clear day, you can see New York!). The problem is that many people don't know about this park. I wondered why as I explored the wetlands, hills, and native (and invasive) flora and fauna. It is a truly beautiful green park. More people should know about this park and come visit. There was a limited number of people walking the trails, really only the group that I went with.
The low number of visitors may be due to the relatively new status of the park. Around 30-40 years ago, Rouge park was a just a gravel pit and waste land dump (a land fill) with no greenery, wetlands, and certainly no wildlife or animals anywhere in sight. In fact, people certainly did not visit and most likely went out of their way to avoid it. However, with the hard work of numerous groups over the years, including Friends of The Rouge, Toronto parks and other volunteer groups (like Vision Youth. Represent!), the barren land was transformed into a lush green habitat. Groups and volunteers are encouraged to contact staff at Friends of Rouge for opportunities to restore and manage the ecosystem. From tree planting to invasive species thinning and many more activities, a lot can be done to help. (So contact Friends of The Rouge http://www.friendsoftherouge.ca/ )
On August 17th 2017, I visited the Rouge Park. During this visit I, along with the group I went with were led by a very capable team of people from Friends of The Rouge and their supervisor Jess. In the morning, we tried to restore the natural flora back to its land. One area was littered with invasive flora that sucked all the nutrients that the native flora needed to grow. I helped to plant more than 70 trees with Vision Youth and Friends of The Rouge (and also took deserving freeze breaks)! Not only did we replant the area with native flora and destroyed some of the dangerous and unwanted invasive flora, I learned about what I did that morning through a hike in the afternoon up bear hill and bear wetlands. The coolest thing to me was to think about all the hard work that was put into creating such a big green space. Every tree I saw during our hike was planted like a volunteer, just like me.
And now even though the trees we planted were mere saplings, in a few years, they will be as big as a couple of trees we saw during the hike. Jess, who also accompanied us during the hike gave lots of interesting information. The invasive species of which we saw a lot of is called, Phragmites. Phragmites is a tall reed like European grass, and can grow in even unfertilized and good moist soil. They over grew even into our gravel road, causing annoyance to humans as they block off our trail. Their height and long roots also make it easier for them to take away all the nutrients of valuable plants.
I encourage many people to take the time to go out and visit Rouge Park. There are many new things that can be learnt about a park that is so integral in keeping our air clean, our shores less flooded and our drinking water clean. There are also a lot of wildlife in the area. On a nice hot sunny day, twenty plus turtles can be seen lounging on logs by the swamp. You can see falcons and birds of prey watching over you perched on the lookout posts. And don't forget about the bugs (bring bug spray)! Did I mention that there are painted turtle breeding grounds along the swamp boarder and that Rouge Park is also a home for a handful of approaching endangered type of turtles?
Take a break, get out, and appreciate mother nature at Rouge National Urban Park!