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A nature-loverís New Yearís resolutions

By Alistair MacKenzie,
Parks Blog
January 5 2017



Todayís post comes from Alistair MacKenzie, Natural Heritage Education Supervisor at Pinery Provincial Park.

Alistair at Pinery

As we begin a brand new year, many of us make personal resolutions to try to better ourselves, or to help our families and communities.

Iíll be making several personal resolutions (darn sour-cream-glazed dougnuts!), but in addition, I am choosing 2017 as the year to make some resolutions for parks and protected areas.


As I work and play in Ontario Parksí many incredible landscapes, most of my efforts will take effect there, but I am not planning on limiting my effortsÖIíll include any green spaces I can find!


Iím just one person, so I would encourage you to help. You may want to create a different list for yourself, but our parks can certainly use the help, so please consider giving back to our protected areas.


So here goes, my list of ten resolutions for Ontario Parks:

1. Park once

Whenever I visit parks, Iím going to practice the Park Once concept to limit the use of my vehicle.


Cars and trucks contribute to air pollution. They put stress on park infrastructure, and they impose a significant impact upon animal populations through road mortality.


bike rental kiosk

Instead, once I arrive at a park, Iíll explore more areas on foot, on my bike and in my canoe or kayak. Donít forget that many parks offer rental equipment so you can rent a bike, skis or watercraft for your explorationÖand walking is free!


This resolution should also help me with some of my personal resolutions about health and wellness.


2. Get ďFriendĒly

Iím going to renew my membership with The Friends of Pinery Park and whenever I visit other parks, I will consider membership with their Friends group (or, at the very least, purchase a raffle ticket for their charity raffles).


boardwalkMembers of the Friends of Mashkinonje complete work on a barrier-free trail.

Friends groups are non-profit, charitable organizations that enhance the programs and services offered by Ontario Parks. Friends groups support research and education, organize park cleanups, obtain grants for park projects, and assist Ontario Parks in so many other ways.


Friends operate largely with volunteer support, so Iím going to lend a hand through financial and other support to help them in their efforts.


3. Practice citizen science

The old adage that ďmany hands make light workĒ couldnít be more appropriate for citizen science. There are many dedicated staff who work for Ontario Parks and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, but with a landscape of parks twice the size of Switzerland, the work of inventorying and monitoring our shared lands is immense.


Iím making a resolution to observe, record and report every species and natural phenomenon I witness during my travels this year. Iíll make use of the many existing citizen science initiatives that are available (check out the registry on Ontario Nature or our post on #citizenscience apps). Whenever Iím in Pinery, Iíll use the Explore Pinery app that the Friends of Pinery helped produce.


Hiker with smartphone

Reporting your observations helps to build a database of information that will inform park management, species-at-risk recovery efforts, research projects and capital development projects. Despite the volume of effort already invested, we know relatively little about where species occur in our parks and even when we doÖmore data makes for better decisions!


Iíll take lots of photos and notes, and if I canít identify something, Iíll use #AskanOPNaturalist on Twitter to get some answers.


4. Pick it up

Whenever I visit parks, Iím going to come back with at least ten pieces of litter. It seems thereís a never-ending supply of garbage in our parks, especially on our beaches and coastlines.


garbage

Iím going to make sure it isnít there when you visit the day after me. If we all did that our parks would be healthier.


When you visit parks, please make sure garbage and recycling is put in its place or consider taking the waste you create home with you.


5. Invest in kids

I have two growing boys of my own who love parks, but Iím going to make a resolution to get more kids out to parks to experience nature and witness some of the wonders our parks have to offer.


kids balancing on log

Nature Deficit Disorder (consider reading the Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv) is a serious but easily solved problem. One day soon, the kids of today will have hard decisions to make about the future of our parks system and I want them to experience nature now so they can understand the importance of protecting our natural areas for the future.



6. Stay on the trail

When I visit parks, Iím going to stay on official trails. Parks establish trails using tools like the Class Environmental Assessment for Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves, and a lot of planning goes into how to offer sustainable recreation while still meeting the primary objective of protecting the ecological integrity of parks.


Couple hiking on Oh-Saya-Wucka Trail at Kettle Lakes PP

Staying on designated trails ensures that I donít impact areas or species of concern. In many cases, the existing trails are in the best locations to witness amazing vistas, natural events and the power of water Ė Iím going to trust Ontario Parksí choice and keep to the path.


7. Respect personal space

Iím sure that for almost all of us, one of the most important reasons for visiting parks is to see wildlife. Iím making a resolution to give wildlife the necessary space they require when I encounter them.


In todayís age of digital photography and video, it is exciting to encounter a moose, black bear or some smaller member of our biodiversity and want to capture the encounter in full at close range.


Pine Marten

Animals are expert body language communicators, but often we canít understand their subtle cues. Getting too close to animals causes stress and can be dangerousÖand you also cause the animal to start behaving in unnatural ways.


Iím going to be sure to keep my telephoto lens at the ready and be happy with distant views of wildlife. Letís keep them wild and feeling free.


8. Sssshhhh

Humans are very reliant on eyesight, but Iíve been taught some amazing things by people who have vision limitations: if you stop and close your eyes in parks, youíll be treated to the most wonderful prescription of stress relieving sounds.



woman with dogTake a moment to stop and listen.

In the spring, amphibians call in a fever to try to find a mate. Soon after, migrant and resident birds begin singing to defend their territory while struggling to raise their broods. If you sit quietly by a fire or the shore of a lake in late summer, you may be rewarded with the soulful call of a wolf. The characteristic crunching of fallen leaves under your feet on an autumn hike and the silence of a frozen lake in February are all amazing experiences you can have with your eyes closed and your ears open.


Iím resolved to keep quiet when Iím in parks this year more than ever. Iím going to respect my fellow campers and all of nature by keeping my volume set to low.


9. Slow it down

I mentioned above that Iím going to ďpark once,Ē but Iím also going to slow down in my car. It seems that all of us are becoming busier and busier, and life is hectic.


I think when I visit parks, I often donít fully slow down when I enter the front gate. And driving too fast in parks has so many negative consequences.


Wildlife crossing sign

First and foremost is that we put our fellow park visitors and park staff at risk, but we also risk impacting the very elements of nature we drove so far to see.


Iím going to try to pull over when I arrive at a park, after the long drives it often takes to get to my favourite spots, and take a deep breath. By driving slower, Iíll be rewarded with more incredible sights and Iíll be protecting my fellow campers, park staff and wildlife.


10. Help, not hinder

Invasive species are becoming a bigger and bigger threat to our protected areas. Iím going to make sure I am part of the solution, not the problem, by ensuring I donít spread invasive species.


Iíll wash my car and my bike before I visit parks, and wash my boots often or at least brush off potentially seed-containing mud from the soles. Iíll leave firewood at home and purchase it at the park.


paddlers at Halfway Lake

Iíll be sure my watercraft donít drag along aquatic invasives from lake to lake. Iíll also report invasive species to park staff when I find them (you can also use Early Detection and Distribution Mapping Services).


So far in my life, Iíve had some incredible personal experiences in parksÖ

This year I plan to give a little more back when I visit.


Iíll still swim and laugh, marvel at animals, and sleep under the stars, but while doing so, Iíll have a personal plan to make sure that Ontario Parks are a little bit better off come January, 2018.


I hope you include parks in your own list of 2017 resolutions, and if you do ó as a citizen of Ontario who loves nature ó Iíll offer my thanks in advance for your efforts.

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