I share the columnist's (see below) angst about some of the trail closures in Cootes Paradise and the observation that the impacts of walking on habitat are less damaging than driving. Nevertheless, I can appreciate that some of the trails can and should be closed to preserve sensitive habitat.
It is because Cootes is surrounded by a city that the impacts of both cars and yes, even feet, can cumulatively degrade the integrity of this nature sanctuary.
Blocking trails with bushes generally seems to occur on "unofficial" trails, though I have previously expressed my concern with closing trails that once provided access through Cootes to hook up with the Spencer Creek Trail in Dundas. The utility of a trail as a path to someplace, rather than just a recreational loop, means a lot to me, and I have hoped the RBG would reconsider the trails layout with this in mind.
Again, with so many people accessing Cootes, on foot and on mountain-bikes, the threats to the lands are very real. Disturbing wildlife can result in the loss of that wildlife from the area. Loving Cootes too much has the unintended consequence of damaging the place we love.
What I would prefer is a holistic, big-picture accounting of the ways we can expand nature, to remove the real damage caused by development and roads, and therefore make some of these trails viable again in an enlarged habitat. I refer to the cornerstone of this blog's rationale, that conservation isn't enough, we need restoration!
I keep harping on this, but the presence of highway 403 in the east, and Cootes Drive in the west of Cootes pose a huge barrier to ecological integrity, in terms of road noise that carries throughout the entire marsh and diminishes the peacefulness of the area, and especially Cootes Drive, where at risk species and their less threatened neighbours end up as road kill, and animal movement is restricted and dangerous, all in the filled-in, paved-over, former-marsh that extended into the east end of Dundas.
I know that the columnist and I would agree that Cootes is worthy of protection, and enhancement, and that Hamilton is fortunate to have this place in our midst.
Barred from paradiseChanging and closing ancient trails disrupts the natural beauty of RBG lands
The Hamilton Spectator
(Jul 16, 2010) Cootes Paradise is essentially wild and untouched. This is its beauty and importance to us. It does not require the strict intervention and control the Royal Botanical Gardens employs to manage its splendid tulip and rose gardens. In managing Cootes, "less is more."
Although Cootes Paradise has experienced damage by carp, gypsy moths and garlic mustard, the most threatening foreign invasion into this natural area is now the RBG's new and unnatural management style.
Its current practice of planting trees and bramble bushes on established trails and deliberately littering paths with fallen branches is disruptive to the natural order. It is also negligent because someone could get hurt.
The RBG claim that habitat restoration is its goal, but something beautifully life-enhancing is being threatened with extinction. The traditional trails they are now terminating have been a consistent, unspoiled part of our heritage for two centuries. Foxes, deer and other fellow creatures share with us these gentle ways through the woods.
I have walked the trails around Cootes Paradise for more than 50 years. They have changed very little in that time. Unfortunately, RBG management seems oblivious to the fact that these thin unobtrusive trails are as natural as birds' nests.
To imply these narrow ribbons of packed earth interfere with wildlife is nonsense. Walking the trails around Cootes Paradise does less harm to the woods and marshland than driving a car through Westdale or along Highway 403.
Restrictive fences have recently appeared on the trail to Sassafras Point. They are blights on the wild landscape and are worse eyesores than the inevitable graffiti that will soon cover them. We go to the woods to escape these oppressive phenomena.
The only thing threatened by people walking Cootes's trails is the RBG's experiment in manipulation and control. To remain natural, Cootes Paradise does not need censorship inspired by someone's notion of being a wildlife "expert" (which really is nothing more than personal taste and self-assertion). Closing harmless trails is mean-spirited and ignores the untamed poetry of this special place we need access to.
The RBG claims $20,000 was spent on the trail to Sassafras Point, but the trail itself is exactly as it was before the intervention. The only change is the introduction of oppressive littering, plantings, signs and fences designed to prevent people from comfortably walking alternate ancient paths. Dead trees that were favourite roosting places for hawks and bald eagles have been cut or burned down. RBG efforts would have been better spent restoring the friendly lookout at Kingfisher Point that has fallen into disrepair.
It is a mistake to convert Cootes Paradise into a controlled laboratory experiment. Any scientific knowledge brought to this project is for manipulation, control and transformation rather than an understanding based on acceptance and love.
To understand nature you must see and feel you are part of it. The RBG, with its keep out attitude, offers us the lesson that humans are different from and not part of nature. This is both foolish and false.
I have always loved Cootes Paradise. For those of us who know it, it's among the best places on earth. People can go there and leave it exactly as they found it (except maybe when they're moved to clean up after careless litterers).
These trail closures make RBG management seem similar to those who visit Cootes Paradise to break beer bottles or litter coffee cups. They both wreck it for those who go there to be one with nature. Vandals in the guise of authority are more dangerous than those who litter and break bottles simply because the latter are recognized as "illegal." The RBG destruction defines itself as "legal" and I don't like it.
There must remain places close to heavily populated areas where people can feel a reverence and awe at being an earthling alive on this beautiful earth. It must remain open to us to be free to retreat from man-made rules and tyrannical constructions that belong with cars, pavement and the lack of respect for the environment that we go to the woods to escape.
The RBG has entertained the idea of building a bridge between Princess Point and Sassafras Point (a sure
sign they are unfit to manage this precious land). The point of a point is that it is a point, in isolation. Visitors hike through the woods for half an hour to be at Sassafras Point. Parking their cars at Princess Point, crossing a bridge and being there in half a minute will not give them time to feel the healthy transformation Cootes Paradise can bring to them.
I protest the way the RBG management is now making its presence known in Cootes Paradise. They should direct their efforts to their gardens and parking lots and leave the natural areas alone.
Bob Yates is an artist and writer. He lives in Hamilton's Westdale neighbourhood.