Reprinted with permission from The Cottager, July/August 2003 [www.thecottager.com]
Growing up in southeastern Saskatchewan, I spent my summers as a beach bum at Kenosee Lake in Moose Mountain Provincial Park.
Some of my strongest memories are the heat of the early morning sun beating through our thin cabin walls waking me much too early on July mornings, countered by the cool August nights that required extra layers of blankets. Just about anything went at the cabin. Mom didn’t scold us when we trailed sand across the floor or slung a wet beach towel over the back of a kitchen chair. What was forbidden at home was overlooked at the lake.
How you can help
- Plant a vegetation buffer along shorelines using native plants, or simply retain or expand an existing vegetation buffer to a depth of at least 10 metres.
- Minimize changes to your shoreline as much as possible. If you must have groundcover by your waterfront, consider planting shrubs or native plants instead of grass lawns. Or create a wildflower meadow instead of planting a lawn.
- Discretely prune foliage in front of your home or cottage to produce more scenic views of the waterfront rather than removing trees.
- Use natural agents to combat insect pests by promoting predator habitat for beneficial insects, such as dragonflies; constructing bat boxes; and enhance bird habitat by building bird houses and allowing dead trees to remain standing. Use organic alternatives instead of chemical pesticides.
The fact that our cabin was situated within a provincial park did not mean much to me as a child. I spent my time on the beach, swimming in the lake, and riding my bike. I don’t recall much wildlife other than the much-too-tame white tailed deer that ignored the blast of car horns and the sight of an occasional moose. Raccoons loved our garbage cans until my dad foiled them with a complicated system of wire and string. Then no one could get into the garbage, including us.
Since moving to Manitoba seventeen years ago, I have visited most of our provincial parks. From Grass River near The Pas to Turtle Mountain on the U.S. Border, and from Paint Lake near Thompson to the seemingly endless lakes of the Whiteshell. Throughout my visits, I am constantly struck by how much we love to recreate and relax in our provincial parks yet this enjoyment means we are loading multiple pressures on the landscape. And when I learned that industrial activities such as logging and mining are also permitted in some areas of our parks, I was stunned. I decided I had to become more informed and get involved in protecting these treasured places.
Our provincial parks represent significant examples of our natural heritage, allowing us to experience nature and learn about it. They also safeguard populations of our diverse flora, fauna and the complex biological communities that support them.
But what do provincial parks mean to you individually? Most people want these beautiful areas to be around for future generations to enjoy and appreciate. Many of us also want a place where wildlife can exist in their natural habitat, much of which is disappearing or is fragmented by our appetite for development.
Sometimes it can be hard to believe that what you do as an individual can have a lasting effect on the well being of a park when in fact, it is the cumulative impact of many people and many activities that add up to significant harm. Activities that can strain the natural ecosystem’s ability to withstand and recover from the cumulative impacts include hunting, fishing, boating, seadooing, ATV use, hiking, mountain biking, skiing, and cottaging. Use of pesticides and herbicides, fertilized lawns, removal of waterfront vegetation, inappropriate disposal of gray water, new road development, and widening of trails are other activities that can have a tremendous impact on a park’s ecosystem.
For example, did you know that paved surfaces and grass lawns near the shoreline focus and accelerate runoff and cause erosion? Non-porous surfaces can also accumulate toxic substances such as grease, oil and solvents, which find their way into rivers and lakes. (This information, along with many more helpful tips, some of which are listed below, comes from the booklet “Wildlife Friendly Waterfront” produced by a number of Ontario groups including the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations Inc. and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.)
Often the damage we inflict is not visible or becomes evident years later. This is why we need to look at how each of us, and all of us combined, affect the ecosystems in our parks and wilderness areas. They are special places that deserve to be treated accordingly. The question we face is how to ensure that the natural environment of our parks survives for the benefit of future generations while we learn from and enjoy them – a question that can be solved with each of us playing our part.
These tips come from the “Wildlife Friendly Waterfront” booklet.