(April 26, 2007) 10,000 Trees For The Rouge Valley held their annual tree planting on Sunday, April 22. Two thousand volunteers trooped out on a beautiful sun soaked day to make their contribution to restoring Rouge Park.
Volunteers hailed not only from Markham but from many other communities in the GTA and York Region.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, Environment Minister Laurel Broten, as well as Markham MPP and Minister of Revenue Michael Chan, extended their support and announced that the Government of Ontario would be donating 1.8 million trees to the Green Belt.
Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti and members of Markham Town Council were also on hand to endorse the efforts of 10,000 Trees For The Rouge Valley and the volunteers.
“We were essentially done by noon,” summed up Colin Creasey, chairman of 10,000 Trees For The Rouge Valley. “That hasn’t happened for years. Of course, the good weather brings everybody out and that was really nice to see.”
There were people of all ages and from all communities. But it was especially a day for families and the young. The great weather was overdue, as in previous years the planting days had been plagued by bad weather, including rain and even snow.
This year’s site was a section of land belonging to Rouge Park on the northeast corner of the Markham by-pass and 9th Line. As Cameron McIntosh, member of the executive explained to us, there were a number of reasons for the choice of this site. It is close to the river and one of the functions of tree planting is to prevent erosion into the river. It is also one in which the soil is of poor quality, being largely fill from a subdivision construction. The site thus needed a careful selection of trees and shrubs that could thrive in those soil conditions. A further goal in the rehabilitation was to create, for the benefit of wildlife, woodlands that would connect other already existing corridors of forest to each other.
In addition to the planting of trees and shrubs, many snags were erected, a snag being an upright post or trunk that offers perching and nesting spots for birds and thus will attract them to the site.
After all the trees were in the ground, the planting managers, with the assistance of other volunteers, inspected the site to check that all the work had been done properly. This involved ensuring that the trees had been watered, and mulch applied around them. This task was completed by mid-afternoon.
10,000 Trees will also monitor the site over a three year period and do any in-fill planting necessary to achieve a ninety to ninety-five per cent regeneration of the new trees and shrubs.
Dawn Farara, in charge of Public Outreach at 10,000 Trees For Rouge Valley, later updated us on how the volunteer numbers had added up.
“It was a record number of people in terms of attendance and, measured in other ways, I think this was one of the most successful plantings yet. Although we always have a good turnout, sometimes not all of the work gets completed. This is often due to miserable weather, tough soil or terrain conditions. When this happens some members of the core organizing committee have to go back during the week to finish up planting trees, placing mulch and tree guards etc. This year I believe everything that needed to be done on planting day was completed; this means the trees and shrubs are off to a great start.”
Premier McGuinty, who chatted with many of the volunteers, spoke about the importance of tree planting.
“Trees are not just beautiful to look at. They don’t just provide us with shade in the summer when we need to be cool. They don’t just provide a home for critters. But they actually absorb a lot of carbon dioxide, which is great in our fight against climate change. And beyond that, one mature tree produces enough oxygen every year to allow ten people to breath. So, these are pretty wonderful natural machines that perform a valuable service for all of us. And it is just great to see so many people coming out today to take advantage of this opportunity to plant some trees.”
Asked how we can make celebrating Earth Day an all year commitment, Premier McGuinty said that Earth Day has now permeated the consciousness of Ontarians and of people around the world.
“They understand that we need to re-establish a connection with nature and we need to understand that as a species we are actually heating up this planet. We have a corresponding responsibility now to do the kinds of little things in our own daily lives that help combat global warming and climate change. And a very simple thing that you can do is plant a tree.”
Markham MPP and Minister of Revenue, Michael Chan voiced his support for the preservation of green spaces in Markham.
“Look at the houses, now built on the fringe of the Rouge Park system. We have to preserve the green spaces. We can’t just put concrete on every single piece of land. We must balance the situation, for growth and prosperity, and, at the same time, we have to preserve the green spaces.”
I also spoke with young John Wang who, along with his mother Shirley Wang and younger brother Richard, had been planting bebbs willows and button bush. His family, who live in North York, had wanted to participate in an Earth Project and were happy to find on the Internet information about the tree planting in Markham.
“We thought it would be quite fun to go plant trees, since we had never done this before. So, today we came and found it was quite fun to plant trees. And we felt really good because we are contributing to the environment and helping it out.”
We asked if he had learned from the instructions that planting managers had given before his group began to plant.
“We learned that some trees are better if they are planted together and others are better solitary, and how deep they are supposed to be planted, and how much water to give them, and stuff like that.”
In the afternoon, with the work essentially finished, and after most of the volunteers had departed, we talked with Colin Creasey about his impressions of the day and his thoughts on the future.
“We had a record number of people out,” he said. “The weather was beautiful. We had the announcement of the 1.8 million trees that the government is going to donate (to the Green Belt). Just a really good day, all in all. We are very pleased.”
Was there an increased awareness of environmental issues generally?
“I think, if you read the polls,” he told us, “the environment is now one of the most important things that people cite when they are asked what is the most important issue for them and I like to think that this is people following through. They say, okay the environment is important, what can I do to help? This is one of the many things that can be done, obviously, but it is so important. Being a tree hugger now is no longer a derogatory term because everyone realizes what trees do for us.”
We asked him if the preservation and enhancement of Rouge Park was for the benefit of people or wildlife?
“Our focus in on wildlife and not so much on people,” he said. “We share this planet with countless species and mankind has done a pretty thorough job of destroying their habitat. We are all God’s creatures. We need to share this planet with the other living creatures that are on it and we are just doing our tiny bit to try and restore that balance. It took millions of years to get to where we were and mankind has, in a lot of areas, destroyed what was here in what is essentially a heartbeat in time. The whole group thinks it’s really important we start giving something back, that we start restoring these areas.”
He spoke of a simple moment earlier in the day that had made it all worthwhile for him.
“I was walking around this morning. There is an ephemeral wetland over there and that attracts a certain amount of species of birds. There was one of them just sitting on top of one of our snags, just singing away. I thought, that’s why I do this.”
We asked if they had chosen a site for next year.
“No, we haven’t,” he told us. “We work very closely with the Rouge Park and we decide on one together. They are trying to put together a five year plan for us.”
He described the wetland area that is found on the site.
“The Rouge Park and TRCA (Toronto Regional Conservation Authority) were trying to work this site. What they did was, they built all these rises around here, I think that is what they were doing, just trying to create a space that was a little different. I think they were also trying to create a wetland in here, but they’ve only been partly successful. There are a couple of wet areas over there but they’re just ephemeral, so they’ll be gone, probably by middle of July, if they last that long. It’s a shame. That’s something I’d love to get into, a wetland restoration. Nobody gives enough credence to the importance of wetlands and I think we’ve lost 70 to 90 percent of them in Ontario and it’s a huge percentage. And that’s all the recharge areas. A lot of these areas are on the fly past for migratory birds which use them for resting before they fly on to their final destination. We are just taking them away ... We should leave the natural areas for nature. Passive things like walking, that’s okay, but any sort of disturbance is going to scare off the wildlife. But we have to try and strike a balance, I guess.”
As we talked, we looked toward the site and the farmland off in the distance. But turning in the other direction, we faced, not far off, new housing developments. I asked him his views on how we can stop this kind of urban sprawl.
“Intensification,” he said. “That’s the only thing. But everybody wants their two and a half thousand square foot house. And everything nice and new. Like I said before, the problem we have is the level of consumption by Canadians. We need two and a half planets to sustain us. We’ve got to start cutting back ... It’s the whole package. You can’t just say, well, okay I’ll come out and plant a couple of trees and I’ve done my bit. We are really pleased that you came out and you actually care enough to make the journey. But it has to be coupled with a lifestyle change as well if you are going to make any real impact.”
I admitted that I have a tendency to think of the preservation of green spaces mainly in terms of how it will increase human enjoyment.
“I don’t have a problem with enjoying the wild spaces,” he said, “but when areas like this get opened up it’s subject to so much abuse. People bring in their dirt bikes and their ATVs and they just destroy the place. There are a lot of trails in some of the park areas that have been destroyed by people just abusing it. Forests are a sacred place. It’s where you should be able to go to relax and turn off from the world and just find yourself. And, someone charging through on a mountain bike or an ATV, it just destroys the whole mood of the place. We need places for the soul.”
Colin’s last thoughts summed up the day well.
“How do you measure satisfaction with your life? Do you measure if by all the toys and creature comforts you can afford? Or do you measure it by the peace and tranquillity that you can get in areas like we’ve just restored.”