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'Fantastic' Couchiching Conservancy helps protect thousands of acres

'It's such a privilege to be part of an organization that has gone from success to success over the past 30 years,' says official of land trust that is nearing 15,000 acres protected

The Couchiching Conservancy (CC) is hoping to surpass 15,000 acres (6070 ha) of protected lands in the region this year.

Last year, the land trust added another 608 acres (246 ha) for a total of 14,934 acres (6044 ha) through purchases and donations since its inception in 1993. That means those lands will remain wild for flora and fauna in perpetuity.

More than 200 people attended the 30th annual general meeting of the local organization earlier this month at Hawk Ridge Golf Club. Founders of the organization were brought on stage to a standing ovation from the capacity-filled ballroom.

"We had the first meeting in my living room," recalled Janet Grand, one of the founders of the conservancy.

The first property brought under protection was the Grant Wetland on Bay Street in Orillia. Now the local conservancy has 57 properties protected from development of any kind, some of then situated back-to-back as part of an intentional strategy to create wildlife corridors.

"Having close to 15,000 acres is fantastic. That's what we intended back in the day," Grand said. 

Ron Reid is also a founder and served as the first executive director of the then-fledgling organization.

"When I think of what we dreamt about 30 years ago, we are a long way there and it's continuing to grow. I think the organization is a success," he said.

In the early days, Reid visited land trusts in the United States and said someone told him that land trusts are as important to the environment as hospitals are to health care.

“When you think of health care, you think of the hospital. When you think of the health of the natural environment what should immediately come to mind should be the land trust,” he said.

Reid is retired but keeps his hand in the workings of the conservancy. He says the timing for land protection is now.

"When we go around and contact land owners, it's quite surprising how many of them are land speculators waiting for the wave of land development to arrive," he said.

Organizations such as the Couchiching Conservancy are needed "more than ever," he said of the local non-profit, non-government organization that is governed by a volunteer board of directors and has a roster of approximately 250 volunteers. 

Pat Morton-Deverell was in attendance at the recent meeting. Last year, the conservancy acquired 417 acres (169 ha) of her family's land which is within the Carden Alvar. The landscape of shallow soil over limestone is a unique habitat globally and home to numerous species at risk. 

Her great-grandfather bought multiple parcels of land from the government back in the 1800s and her family was among the original European settlers in Dalrymple.

"There's never been anything on it. It was never farmed and never had cattle on it. It's original," Morton-Deverell told OrilliaMatters.

"We knew it was alvar property. We wanted it to go to the conservancy," she said.

Leslie and Irene Bruce donated 85 acres (34 ha) near Washago last year in honour of their son, Mitchell, who died in a hiking accident in the Kluane National Park. The property is now called the Mitchell Bruce Nature Reserve, situated amid The Black River Wildlands.

Easements protected in 2023 include 44.5 acres (18 ha) from Evelyn Frantze and Robert Williamson on the Oro-Moraine and the donation of 47 acres (19 ha) from Ron and Sharon Hancock in Oro-Medonte Township.

A seven-acre (2.8 ha) road allowance was secured within the Turnbull Ranch Nature Reserve, ensuring the wild residents within are not disturbed by vehicles.

The 57th land acquisition of the Couchiching Conservancy was the donation of a seven-acre property at 1422 Division Rd. W., the former Sid Pomeroy Arboretum, in December. It's now called the Cedar Grove Nature Reserve.

"It's such a privilege to be part of an organization that has gone from success to success over the past 30 years," said current executive director Dorthea Hangaard.

"If you can take the pulse of an organization by its annual general meeting, the 200 attendees at this one shows that protecting nature is a high priority in this region." she said.

Reid said he is also impressed with the number of young people getting involved in the local organization.

"Whatever we can do to protect land is very much linked to the support in the community," he said.

Reid advises people to "stay tuned" for more news. "There's more to come in the not too distant future," he said.

For more information, to donate funds, land or volunteer with the Couchiching Conservancy, call 705-326-1620 or visit the website: The office is at 1485 Division Rd. on the site of Grant’s Woods, one of the properties with public trails.

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Gisele Winton Sarvis

About the Author: Gisele Winton Sarvis

Gisele Winton Sarvis is an award winning journalist and photographer who has focused on telling the stories of the people of Simcoe County for more than 25 years
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