CEO, Bruce Trail Conservancy
Some of Canada’s most spectacular and vulnerable natural environments are right in the midst of the nation’s most densely-populated spaces. As we walk along the Bruce Trail, we meditate on new ways to think about conservation.
Canada overflows with natural majesty. From the peaks and glaciers of the Rocky Mountains to the Group of Seven vistas of Algonquin Park, it’s easy to call to mind the nation’s great unspoiled wilderness far from the bustle of our urban cores. But that natural splendour comes right to our doorsteps. Some of the country’s greatest natural riches are found nestled within its most densely-populated regions. Walk with me along the Bruce Trail.
From the southern trailhead in Queenston on the banks of the Niagara River, the trail extends nearly 900 kilometres to Tobermory on the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, jutting into Georgian Bay. Stretching through the Niagara Escarpment’s verdant and vulnerable ecosystems, the trail boasts some of Ontario’s most dramatic topography and awe-inspiring greenspace. The Niagara Escarpment has been recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and the conservation of its biodiversity and grandeur are paramount, especially with over eight million people living within an hour’s drive. But, as Michael McDonald, CEO of the Bruce Trail Conservancy, makes abundantly clear, the myriad citizens of Southern Ontario shouldn’t be seen as a threat to the conservation of this natural wonder, but rather as its greatest allies.
“Introducing people into these ecosystems in a safe and controlled way actually advances conservation,” says McDonald. “At the Bruce Trail Conservancy, we know that there’s real value in connecting people to nature. We believe that when people are connected to natural places, they want to help preserve them. We’ve seen the power of this connection for over 50 years. When people explore the Trail, many are inspired to volunteer or donate in support of our conservation work.”
The Bruce Trail Conservancy is working to fill in the gaps by creating nature reserves and other protected natural areas. We’re establishing a continuous natural corridor that preserves the remarkable biodiversity of the Niagara Escarpment and creates a lasting home for the Bruce Trail.
A ribbon of wilderness
Every year the Bruce Trail Conservancy brings more Niagara Escarpment land into its growing network of protected natural areas. More than just a trail, it’s a robust conservation effort safeguarding vital ecosystems across 12,700 acres of forests, wetlands, meadows, streams, and shorelines. The Bruce Trail winds through these protected areas under the direct care of the Bruce Trail Conservancy, but it wends also through parks, external conservation areas, and privately-owned lands.
“Many people don’t realize that the Bruce Trail isn’t permanently secure, and that roughly a third of the Bruce Trail corridor is still vulnerable to development,” explains McDonald. “The Bruce Trail Conservancy is working to fill in the gaps by creating nature reserves and other protected natural areas. We’re establishing a continuous natural corridor that preserves the remarkable biodiversity of the Niagara Escarpment and creates a lasting home for the Bruce Trail.”
The nature reserves, along with the Bruce Trail itself, are cared for by volunteers of the Bruce Trail Conservancy as part of one of the largest community-based stewardship programs in the province. Citizens and friends of the trail are highly engaged and motivated to not only explore the Niagara Escarpment, but also to be part of the effort to preserve its diverse spaces and species for future generations.
Nature and community intertwined
With the protection of this diversity in the thick of Southern Ontario’s sprawling population as its mandate, the Bruce Trail Conservancy is constantly growing the scope of its efforts. Through the acquisition of new lands and the expansion of its membership, the organization is bringing ever more people and communities to the cause.
“There are many things that people can do to help advance conservation along the Niagara Escarpment,” says McDonald. “Our first invitation to everyone is to get out and explore the trail and experience the beauty of nature that’s around them. We’ve got a wonderful program of guided hikes that can help you do that. Or consider volunteering. There are lots of opportunities on and off the Trail. And finally, if you have the means, support our work through membership or donation. However people choose to help, we’ve got many different ways for them to connect with us.”
And if there’s one thing Canadians need right now, it’s connection — with nature and with each other. The past few years have made the world feel much smaller in many ways, so it’s incredible to be reminded that some of the best the world has to offer is right in our backyards.