Sunday, November 27, 2005

Helmet Cam

Ever wanted to see what it's like to ride the Don Valley biking trails? Here's your chance. The bikers are having fun with helmet mounted videocams. I like this video the best. He goes over bridges and under overhangs. Another video is just straight trail riding with only one teeter-totter.

The state of the biking trails will be a future article for the Don Watcher.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Evergreen Open House

At some point in the next two years, Evergreen plans to start renovations at the Brick Works. Depending on how much money they get during their fundraising drive the impact could be moderate to large. At any rate things will definitely be changing at the Brick Works sometime in the near future.

They are making an effort at being open and inclusive as to their plans. Along these lines they are holding an open house next week on Tuesday November 29 and Thursday December 1st at the downtown YMCA. If you want to put your 2¢ in, now's your chance. Here is a PDF that has all the event information.

Monday, November 21, 2005

N 43° 41.160 W 079° 22.120

Latitude and Longitude are plotted in terms of degrees, minutes, and seconds. This location happens to be in the vicinity of the Don Valley Brick Works. Why is this exact location significant? Because it is the location of a geocache. Geocaching is a worldwide treasure hunt game. It utilizes the global positioning satellite (GPS) system setup by the US military during the cold war. In the year 2000, they allowed access to the general public. Shortly afterwards geocaching was invented.

To play it you need a GPS locator device (see picture). These devices are moderately expensive ranging from $100-300 per unit. My Explorist 100 is near the lower end. When you turn it on it immediately starts to search for satellites overhead. This process takes about two minutes. Once a position has been fixed, it displays the latitude and longitude and constantly updates it as you move around. Depending on the unit it can be accurate to about 3 metres.

GPS Locator device

In the geocaching game you can be either a Cacher or a Seeker. If you are a Cacher, you obtain a small container such as a plastic Tupperware container that is water proof and place in it a logbook, a pencil, and a collection of small trinkets - just like a treasure chest! You then place this anywhere you like, in the city, in a park, or out in the country. With your GPS locator you determine its location. You then post this information on the geocache website. You can make it easy or hard to find.

Contents of another Don Valley cache. This one is contained in a modified ammo box, specially sold by the Geocache suppliers.

Being a Seeker is the best part of the game. You go to the website and note down locations of caches in your area and then go out and try to find them. Uncovering a geocache is always enjoyable, it's like opening up a present under the Christmas tree.

When you find the cache, you open the container. You're supposed to write your name and date in the logbook. You can take one of the trinkets as a memento of your find. Some people also put more stuff back into the container so the contents are always changing. However nothing valuable is ever stored in a cache. We took a fridge magnet and left a breath mint.

My friend holds the container and our loot!

We also took a geocoin (in her left hand). This is a special geocache item. Each coin is individually numbered. The first person puts it into a cache. Someone else retrieves it and then moves it to another cache somewhere else. You then post a separate log of this on the geocoin website and then you can see where this coin has been. Some coins travel all around the world. This coin, number 3007 has moved around the Toronto area and once to Algonquin Park.

There are over 100 geocaches in the Toronto area and about a dozen in the Lower Don. It took me a couple of tries to find the Brick Works cache because it located in a area of deep undergrowth. At some point I will become a cacher and place them in interesting places in the valley.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Salted Don

We've just had our official first stay-on-the-ground snowfall this winter and out came the bags of salt. Yes, it got kind of slippery on Friday night but do we really need mountains made of road salt to stop us from slipping? It's amazing that this is the first reaction people have: it's snowing, I'd better throw some salt on it. I hate road salt. When it's a snowy or slushy day I can just imagine it eating though my pant cuffs and my boots. The evidence is there at the end of the day when your red pants (or black or brown or whatever colour) have turned completely white at the bottom.
And quite frankly, it doesn't help all that much. Dumping a pile of salt in front of your house or in front of a store will melt the ice briefly but then, if you don't do something about it once it's melted, the pile of slush and salt will freeze up again.
When all those salt trucks go out on a run in bad weather, you can see the salt just flying off. And that salt, mixed with run-off water eventually ends up in our rivers. On a snowy day, watch the spray come off the roads from the DVP. It's quite stunning how much goes over the wall right into the Don Valley and ultimately ends up in the river. What concentration of salt would it take to turn the Don River into a salt water body?
Use something else! Put a little bit of elbow grease into things and shovel the snow off the sidewalk. Use sand and give folks a little grit. It'll make your pants dirty but won't eat away at them. You're better off in the long run. Just stop using salt.
And what is that salt stuff that's blue? That's scary stuff!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Keating Channel

This is part of an occasional series on interesting places along the Don River.

The Keating Channel is a rather dreary place but it is significant for the Don because this is where the river ends up. Located in the northeast corner of Toronto harbour, it still retains part of its industrial heritage.

It was built in the early part of the century as part of the project to fill in a lakeside marsh that stretched from Cherry St to Leslie St. It runs east from the harbour for about 800m before it ends at a sharp turn north where the Don River begins. It used to extend eastward all the way to Leslie St. but this eastward extension was filled in during the 1930's.

Today it is flanked by the elevated Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Blvd. East on the north side. The south side is shared by a city harbour works yard and the Keating Channel Pub. At the west end Cherry St. crosses the channel over a little used lift bridge.

The Keating Channel, looking east. In the foreground is an old Task Force planting site. The Gardiner Expressway is on the left. The dredger and the works yard are on the right. The smokestack in the distance belongs to the inactive city recycling incinerator.

It's impact on the Don is varied. Both sides of the channel are lined with concrete dock wall which creates a forbidding barrier and provides little habitat for fish and other water dwelling creatures. The Don is home to about 21 species (pg. 19) of fish. Only about four or five species can be found near the mouth. This is partly due to poor water quality but also due to lack of habitat. The dock wall continues, mostly unbroken all the way to the Riverdale Park section. In contrast the Humber River which does have a natural mouth is home to about 44 species.

Once water from the river flows into the channel it is basically in the lake because it is level with the harbour. Due to the low flow situation all the silt carried by the river is deposited in the channel. This makes it convenient for the conservation authority (TRCA) to dredge the silt. Currently they dredge about 35,000 cubic metres of sediment from the channel every year. The dredgeate material is barged out the Leslie Street spit where it is dumped in a containment area specially built for this purpose. The spit containment area has the capacity to take 50 years of Don River dredgeate.

Dredger at work. When the barge is full it will be towed to the Leslie Street Spit where its load will be dumped.

Another problem affecting the channel is floating debris that is washed down the Don. Mostly logs and dead wood, there is also an assortment of garbage that collects in the channel. The TRCA corrals this stuff with a boom across the channel. There can be quite a bit of flotsam especially after a big storm.

Debris leftover from the Aug. 2005 storm. A boom keeps the debris from entering the harbour.

Not all of the channel is in bad shape. On the north side of the channel a slight bend in Lakeshore Drive created an open space. The Task Force (and partners) decided to plant this area in the late 1990's. That was one of the first plantings I did in 1998. I still remember what terrible conditions it was for digging. Just below the sod was a mass of ash and brick with very little soil. We planted Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) Peachleaf Willow (Salix amygdaloides) and Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). Only a few of the dogwood and willow still survive but the hardy sumac has thrived. These days it looks like a long narrow glade of small trees and shrubs, a small oasis amongst the blight of concrete and asphalt.

It is difficult to say what future there is for the Keating Channel. The channel as well as adjacent properties are the subject of an environmental assessment (EA) which aims to naturalize the mouth of the Don. It could remain the way it is now, it could be filled in or it could become part of a network of canals throughout the portlands. All of these are options being studied in the EA process.

Regardless of its ultimate fate, the channel remains a small but important part of Toronto's history.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Please Water our Trees: Roundtable Report

As I reported last week, the mayor's Beautiful City Roundtable made a presentation on street trees which also mentioned ravines. I thought it might be pertinent to the Don so I obtained a copy of the report.

However it talks mainly about street trees and makes only a passing reference to ravines. Janet Rosenberg, the author of the report, makes some valid points about the state of street trees. The need for watering is one that the Task Force has repeatedly made. This applies to new plantings for ravine and street trees. Newly planted trees need a steady amount of water in the first couple of years. If drought conditions occur like they have over the past 4-5 summers then we need to water our trees. If not then we have unsightly rows of dead trees on our streets and clumps of dead sticks in our ravines.

The trees we plant in the valley are done mostly by volunteers. If we let our trees wither and die after the initial planting that can only have a negative effect on our volunteers. They see this when they revisit the planting site. This could have a disheartening effect on their future volunteer activities. Watering is good for both the body (trees) and the mind (volunteers) .

Sunday, November 13, 2005

New Contributor to Don Watcher

Don Watcher welcomes a new member, River Rat. River Rat will help provide a different perspective of the Don, something a little more lively than my sober prose and wry wit. We're trying to get a little more interactive: you're comments and feedback would be most appreciated!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Top Five List: Favourite Things About the Don

Donwatcher has invited me to contribute to the Don blog about all things Don River. I thought I'd start with a complementary posting to his Top Five List: Threats to the Don with my own Top Five List: Favourite Things About the Don (though not quite as robust as Donwatcher's)
1. The darkness of the Valley as you travel over it on a late-night subway ride and the contrast to the bright headlights from cars on either side.
2. The height of the wall at the back of the Brickworks. You feel like you're in the bottom of a big bowl.
3. The Riverdale Farm Ponds as evidence of an old Don River Oxbow.
4. "The River I Step In is Not the River I Stand In" public art installation on the Queen Street East bridge that reminds people that there is a river underneath them that courses through the city.
5. The fish ladders south of the Beechwood Wetland.

What are yours?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

More November Documents

Now that the community council agenda have been posted there are additional documents that may be of interest to Don Watchers.

1048 Broadview Avenue Development
This is a proposed condominum project at the top of Pottery Rd. The proposal is to erect a 22 story tower on site. Staff largely recommends the project with the option of forcing the developer to subsidize some cosmetic improvements to the valley. While there is a similar tower just to the north of this property, does the valley really need another condo?

Bridgepoint Health (formerly Riverdale Hospital)
An update on development proposals for this long term care facility. More of a community issue than a valley issue, there are some aspects of this project that may impact the Don so it should be monitored.

Beautiful City Roundtable Comments on Ravines
I'm still looking into this one. Committee member Janet Rosenberg made a verbal report to this committee on the subject of street trees and ravines. I'm trying to find out what impact this may have on the Don. More on this later.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Top Five List: Threats to the Don

Everybody produces these lists so why not a list for the Don? The Don is threatened by a wide range of factors so I thought that a list of threats would be particularly relevant. Here is my list:

1. Stormwater runoff
2. Non-native invasive species

3. Infrastructure
4. Inappropriate human use
5. Government bureaucracy

You may want to reorder these or add to them and I would be interested in hearing your opinion. Until then I will delineate my reasons for each. Since some of these are lengthy topics I will post a separate article for each. Today's article is #4.

4. Inappropriate Human Use

This is a bit of a catch-all for a variety of actions all human based. It's a combination of use, abuse, and overuse of the natural resource that our ravines and valleys provide. I will list a few of them here.

Living in the valley. As if the city doesn't provide enough space for humans to reside, some of us insist on setting up shop in the valley. Grouped under the eponymous term 'homeless', people reside in the valley for a number of reasons. Some people really are homeless and the valley seems a welcome respite to the hardships of street life. Others have jobs to go to but are trying to save money by living off the land rather than paying rent. Still others just want to get away from it all. Regardless of their circumstances, the ravine lands often lack the resources necessary to support a human lifestyle. For example, there is no sanitation so they use the a hole in the ground or use the river. There is no heating so they collect deadwood or chop down trees for a fire. There is no garbage collection so they just leave it scattered on the ground. As well when they finally do leave they abandon many possessions in their campground leaving a toxic mess for the rest of us to cleanup. There are rules that prohibit living in the valley but they are rarely enforced.

Dumping. As the city tightens up on regulations for disposing of waste at landfills or starts charging more for removal, some people think that a convenient and cost effective method is to dump their refuse in the ravines. There are many remote and out of the way places in the ravine system that allow people to dump tires, appliances, building materials, or just plain household waste without being seen. There is little risk of being caught and charged and even then the fines are ridiculously low.

Dog walking. There seems to be more dogs than ever in the city. There are a number of reasons for this that I won't go into but there is a definite negative impact on our natural areas, especially the ravines and valleys. When people take their dogs for walks in parks they like to let them off leash for exercise. While it may not seem that one dog is a problem, hundreds of dogs every day going over the same area is a big problem. Dogs like to root things out, dig up things, chase small animals, etc. This activity in the forest understory when done many times seriously degrades this delicate ecosystem. In some areas frequented by dog walkers, there is little left in the forest except trees and barren ground. When dogs run loose there is also less chance that the owner will dispose of dog feces that they leave wherever they feel like it. Since the ravines are often flooded all this crap gets washed away so we find that dog feces is a common pollutant found in our streams.

Mountain biking. The Don Valley has always been a destination for bikers who seek a challenging ride. Until recently this was considered a niche activity that attracted only a few aficionados. However in the past ten years there has been an explosion of activity in the sport. It is also an official Olympic sport and with the added publicity more and more young people are trying it out. With all the added people, the Don trails are now suffering from the overuse and are eroding badly. In addition the sport has segmented so it's not just trail riders. There is a subgroup called 'free riders' who tear down slopes where there are no trails looking for an added thrill. This causes untold damage to the delicate conditions found on valley slopes. Another group likes to build stunts. They build series of earthen ramps and jumps and supplement them with wooden trestles and bridges. What better place to do this than in the valley. These earthen and wooden works are often built without regard to the damage they cause to our natural areas.

There are other examples but these give you an insight into how we use our valleys and ravines. It all adds up to a collective lack of respect for our natural urban environment. Unfortunately policy makers say that the GTA will be home to 5 million more people in then next 20 years. If our current population overuses our ravines now what chance does the Don have in the future?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Agenda reports for November

Every month the city publishes agenda for their standing committees. Within these PDF files are links to reports on each specific item. Some of these items are directly or indirectly relevant to the Don. The committees that deal with business that concerns the Don are Economic Development and Parks, Planning and Transportation, and Works.

I think it is important to read these documents becauses it helps me understand the issues that concern the Don. I also publish the links here because I think the Don Watcher readers will also find them interesting. So here are the agenda documents available for November, 2005.

Toronto Water Budget
This is a rather long and dull report but contains interesting information about future directions for Toronto Water. This department is responsible for Toronto's drinking water supply but also for waste water, and that is important to the Don because alot of waster water ends up in the river.

Taylor Massey Creek Outfall Management
This is a supplementary report to previous studies that reports on correspondence and responses to those reports. The pollution issue surrounding the TMC outfalls will continue for sometime. A couple of positive outcomes have resulted in the TMC study. Firstly, Toronto Water is expanding its outfall monitoring program to encompass the entire city, and secondly are hiring more people for ongoing monitoring. Both are worthwhile results.

Mandatory Downspout Disconnection Program
A briefing note to council from staff for this program which was instituted in 1998.

Wet Weather Flow Funds for Tree Planting
The city is committed to providing $250,000/year to community groups for tree planting projects. Trees help to reduce storm water flow by slowing rain down and retaining the moisture. The cumulative effect across the city can lead to a significant reduction.

Replacing Lost Snow Dump Capacity
This is a very interesting report that portrays the land use pressure the city is under in its ability to provide land for snow dumping. Based on the number of truck loads needed to cart away snow plowed from city streets (using Mel's storm in 2003 as a baseline), the city needs places to dump 150,000 loads of snow. Currently there are three valley sites, two of which are beside the Don. Understandably the Task Force wants them shut down. The city's response is there's nowhere else to put it. New melting technology may be the direction to go.

Chester Springs Marsh
The Task Force has requested funds from the city to provide a report on the status of the marsh. Our concern is that the marsh is not functioning in the way it was envisioned and may need some remediation work.