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COLUMN: Trashing of local Crown land is a 'real insult'

Swift Rapids Road area and Upper Big Chute area are strewn with trash, creating a threat to abundant and diverse wildlife seeking refuge there
orchid dump
Some of our roadsides and parcels of Crown land have become dumping grounds, laments columnist. In this photo, garbage is strewn along an area that is home to orchids.

The trouble with a shared ownership is that sometimes the other person with whom I'm sharing... is a slob. In this case the item being shared is Crown land, that glorious piece of real estate within Ontario, the lands, waters, trees and wildlife that are jointly owned by all Ontarians.

Quite honestly, I don't mind sharing this landscape with each of you, but really, what are some people thinking when they abuse this wonderful relationship?

The history of just how ‘the Crown’ came to own all this territory is, of course, suspect, but for the sake of this column, let's just assume that the province currently "owns" it, and that we have elected certain peoples from amongst ourselves to be stewards of this special landscape. (Ow, I think I just bit my tongue.)

But when government ministries are gutted of their staff that leaves the responsibility of local stewardship, well ... up to the locals; hence a shared responsibility for the health and maintenance of these 'common grounds'.

This rant is the result of forays into Crown lands, the first being along the private access road known as the Swift Rapids Road, which winds its way through some of the most spectacular Canadian Shield country to be found, and the second is the municipal road called Upper Big Chute road, which connects Coldwater to Severn Falls and beyond.

On either side of these roads is found a patchwork of private ownership (residential, agricultural and recreational) and shared ownership (Crown land). One road is gravel and poorly maintained while the other is paved with modern guardrails and signage; both are rather remote and isolated.

Because these roads are 'off the beaten track', the wildlife that may be found here are still abundant and diverse. This is home, still, to bear and moose, rattlesnake and otter, orchids and a myriad of wildflowers, as well as the proverbial unending forest lands.

A web of beaver ponds and streams interconnects between open rock ridges, flowing nutrients towards Georgian Bay. For a naturalist who likes to explore natural areas, this is the proverbial 'heaven on Earth'.

On my trip along Swift Rapids Road there were encounters with ducks, vultures, sandhill cranes and yellow-billed cuckoos, all found while seeking elusive sedges and reptiles.

I did manage to locate Carex lavivaginata and Carex lenticularis, two locally rare grass-like sedges (sorry to use scientific names, but sedges are like that) but failed to find five-lined skink, hog-nosed snake or a Massasauga rattlesnake ... maybe next time.

Along the sides of Upper Big Chute Road are numerous swamps and ponds that contain bullfrogs, nesting swans, unique orchids and shy mammals. I was looking for, and found, the very rare ram's-head lady's-slipper orchid (a species that I had stumbled upon over 30 years ago but had not revisited since).

So, pretty nice, eh? Well, it was ... except for the garbage I had to walk through to get to these remote sites. It is truly astonishing the amount of effort some people have gone to in order to 'hide' their trash in the woods!

And the litter was not just a few coffee cups and a pop can. It was comprised of broken playground equipment, a very large inflatable swim raft, a kitchen sink, oodles of plastic water bottles, carpets, mattresses, chairs, car seats (not child seats but actual seats from cars), kitty litter containers and a bucket that once contained aquarium stones. Plus the flotsam and jetsam of cottage refrigerators and food cupboards.

Over half of the stuff was easily recyclable, and anyone living in Simcoe County has very easy access to disposing of plastics and glass in our amazing collection system; so no valid reason that those items had to be dumped.

As for the larger items, I get it that you need a truck or trailer to haul the items to the local landfill ... but hello? ... didn't you use a truck or trailer to haul this crap into the woods?

The real insult was that at the road-side dump site along Upper Big Chute road, if you listened carefully, you could hear the trucks and cars entering the local landfill not two minutes away! C'mon people, what's wrong with your head?

The only good news, if it can be called that, was that no toxic substances were noted. Oil, tar, battery acid, pool chemicals, household cleaners and other such nasties can really mess up the local ecosystem, so thankfully the messes are mainly visual. But really... grrrr!

So how will these dump sites be cleaned up? Do we wait for government or municipal staff to find them and send out clean-up crews, or hope that a local conservation or community club rallies volunteers with a truck to spend a day picking up somebody else's mess?

Neither is morally correct, as the perpetrator gets away with spoiling our shared landscape, and that's not fair!

However, life goes on and we can't always pick our neighbours. So let's collectively try to educate our ‘co-owners’ to the concept of stewardship, and hope that within these messes a receipt or envelope can be found with a home address of the perpetrator. Be seeing ya, neighbour.


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