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Cootes as Provincial Park?

Ministry and Royal Botanical Gardens differ on whether Cootes Park is dead
Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News Staff
Published on Apr 10, 2009

Ontario Parks and Ministry of Natural Resources officials say the vision of a Cootes Paradise Provincial Park is dead, while Royal Botanical Gardens executive director Mark Runciman maintains the door hasn’t been closed.

“We’d like to have more discussions,” Mr. Runciman said last week, after Ontario Parls spokesperson Greg Maude suggested the RBG itself backed out of provincial park discussions in March 2008.

“The RBG confirmed they had no interest in pursuing provincial park status,” Mr. Maude told the Dundas Star News. “We met, discussed the concept and a decision was made not to pursue it.”

Last week, Mr. Runciman said talks with ministry staff last year were based on a general concept, following up on the once proposed idea of a National Park, but there was never anything firm. And while he hopes the idea isn’t dead, he suggested the province and RBG may be looking for different things.

Last week, Mr. Runciman and RBG staff gathered at the Cootes Paradise Fishway off Princess Point, to receive a $100,000 donation from the RBC Blue Water Project to support the project.

The fishway stops bottom-feeding carp from entering the Cootes Paradise marsh in an effort to protect aquatic plants from the invasive fish.

Carp have contributed to destruction of habitat that helps clean water as it flows into Lake Ontario.

Large crates of trapped fish are lifted out of the fishway and sorted, with carp sent back into the Lake Ontario side, and noninvasive fish sliding into Cootes Paradise on their way to spawning areas.

Aquatic ecologist and RBG’s acting head of conservation Tys Theysmeyer said more than 100,000 carp have been blocked from entering Cootes Paradise since the fishway project started about 15 years ago.

“We’ve been steadily restoring Cootes Paradise for nearly two decades,” Mr. Theysmeyer said. “But there is still a long way to go. And believe me, this generous gift from RBC is going to help us push forward in a big way.”

Mr. Runciman noted the need for other local businesses to provide financial support to all of the RBG’s efforts to maintain and improve natural areas in and around the Cootes Paradise watershed.

“As you can see today, there is important work to be done, and we all have an obligation to wade in and make a difference where we live,” Mr. Runciman said. “We’re only as strong as our funding. RBC made us stronger today. We hope corporate Canada can see the value in helping the RBG grow even stronger.”

Rumblings of a Cootes Paradise national park, then provincial park, began in early 2005 and were intended to provide protection to a swath of land stretching from Cootes Paradise, through the Pleasantview area of Dundas up to the Niagara Escarpment.

Properties in the area are owned by the RBG, Hamilton Conservation Authority, Conservation Halton, Hamilton Naturalists Club, and several other organizations or private property owners.

The Ministry of Natural Resources responded to a Dundas Star News Freedom of Information request stating there are at least 80 pages of correspondence, reports and briefing notes about a Cootes Paradise Provincial Park. The ministry wants the newspaper to pay $360 for the records, but may use exemptions to limit what is actually released.

The RBG voluntarily released a letter Mr. Runciman wrote to Donna Cansfield, Minister of Natural Resources on March 10, 2008. Though the ministry contends the RBG ended talks at that time, Mr. Runciman’s letter never mentions any intention of closing down discussions, despite indicating some cautiousness.

“Our board of directors have indicated it does not want to lose control of our properties,” Mr. Runciman’s letter stated.

But he closed the letter with: “I would like to extend an invitation for you to come back in a few weeks and have an official tour of the RBG where you can see first hand the excellent work we do here,”

The letter states a Jan. 12, 2008 meeting between RBG staff, Ms. Cansfield and Ontario Parks director Adair Ireland-Smith raised “many suggestions…where RBG and MNR could assist each other.”

Minister Cansfield and Ms. Ireland-Smith did not respond to requests for interviews last week.

Minstry spokesperson Ivan Langrish said he checked with staff and they were “relatively definitive” that a vision for a provincial park in and around Cootes Paradise is “not going anywhere.”

The RBG receives most of its outside funding from Ontario’s Ministry of Culture.
http://www.dundasstarnews.com/news/article/170079

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