More than 50 volunteers got their boots and hands dirty last Thursday, helping to plant hundreds of trees at Two Mile Creek Conservation Area on Butler Street.
Groups from the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC), Welland’s Notre Dame College School, Trout Unlimited and the Village Community Association, along with individual volunteers and neighbours of the location owned by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA), brought their own shovels to assist in phase two of the reforestation project.
Last July a number of ash trees infected with the Emerald Ash Borer were removed from the site. Many other invasive species not native to Southern Ontario, such as Manitoba maples, were also felled.
Adam Christie, NPCA’s director of land operations, says a number of the authority’s sites have needed similar reforestation projects in recent years.
“Being able to do projects like this is really exciting for us,” he said. “We notice the issue, we notice the negative impact. We did phase one last year (removal of the ash and maple trees). To come here and see everyone working together to plant all these trees to bring back forest health, it’s an exciting time.”
The NOTL reforestation project was one of many volunteer opportunities provided by the NPCA across the region this spring. Christie says there is never any shortage of interest from residents in helping to plant trees to replace those lost.
Volunteers worked on the south side of the conservation area, while a team of NPCA employees continued on the north side to plant almost 5,000 native deciduous and coniferous trees appropriate for the silty soil conditions along the creek. Nine different species of trees were being planted, including red oak, sycamore, silver maple, trembling aspen and speckled alder, as well as a number of shrubs.
The team worked with NPCA restoration specialist Stuart McPherson to map out where the new trees would go for the volunteer planting. McPherson spoke to The Local after giving the gathered volunteers a tutorial on how to properly plant the new saplings.
“We came out earlier this morning and laid the plants out,” McPherson explained, “so it’s a little easier for the volunteers, and so they don’t have to figure out spacing. They can just come out and do what they want to do — put the plants in the ground.”
With much of Niagara possessing a clay-based soil, McPherson said Two Mile Creek’s location near the river will provide an excellent base in which the chosen trees can thrive.
“There will be occasional flooding,” he admitted, “but all the trees we chose don’t mind wet feet.”
Indeed, rain that fell Wednesday had left the soil soft and wet while a long puddle greeted strollers along the paved pathway up toward Garrison Village.
But that didn’t stop the group of 10 youngsters from a St. Catharines-based environmental group, the Green Herons, from having a blast helping their environment.
While one young boy named Dane said his goal was to plant 124 trees Thursday, his friend Henry’s target of 12 seemed a bit more realistic.
“I don’t want all the trees to be wiped out from the bugs that are destroying the ash trees,” said Henry when asked why he was there Thursday.
Lindsay Currie, who runs the Green Herons out of her rural St. Catharines garage, says the group often participates in tree plantings as well as Earth Day garbage pickups. This summer they will be planting a pollinator garden at a senior’s home and looking for turtles to rescue on their nature hikes.
“We have about 12 kids who come regularly, and another 12 who show up to our community events,” said Currie. “Many of them are home-schooled, but others go to public school and I get them out once a week to go out in the world to learn about our species and nature programming. They are doing great today. They love to get dirty.”
NOTL resident Christine Earl is a member of the town’s environmental advisory committee. She was pleased to participate in the reforestation project.
“It’s a project that I think is an excellent one,” she said. “I wanted to see it happening and to contribute myself because I walk here quite frequently. I have known this area for more than 50 years when I first came here as a teenager.”
As a committee member, she was aware of the need for the previous trees to be removed and replaced with the new species.
“I know it looked pretty devastated for a while,” she admitted. “It will take a few years, but eventually it will look good. It’s the right thing to do.”
“It’s hard for people who feel emotionally attached to trees, to see their environment change,” McPherson told The Local. “But it’s really important to educate people why we are doing what we are doing.”
McPherson said that the inclusion of shrubbery as well as trees that grow a little more quickly will allow the conservation area to look like a dense jungle within the next five years. That will be good news to many locals who expressed concern last year when the ash and other trees were felled.
“You won’t be able to see through here by then,” McPherson promised.