Friday, November 28, 2008

Walk the Don

Location map of walks (click to enlarge)

The Toronto Region and Conservation Authority has created a new feature on their website. Called Walk the Don, the program features three self-directed walks, one in Wilket Creek Park, another in Sherwood Park, and the third in the Lower Don.

Each of the walks is described in a 4 page booklet which you can download from the website and print. The walks will last from 1-2 hours and are designed to be walked at an easy pace. Each booklet describes interesting features of the ravines and forests that you will pass through on the walk.

The Lower Don and Wilket Creek walks describe a mix of historical and natural heritage while the Burke Brook walk concentrates on describing names of trees and plants that you may find along the paths. All three mention problems such as storm water and invasive plants that are prevalent throughout the Don watershed. If you follow these booklets, I have no doubt that even experienced naturalists will learn something new about these places.

Two more walking guides will be released in the near future with more planned for 2009. So if you're interested in finding out more about the Don, here is an easy way to go about it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Glendon Forest Trail Construction

Trail construction notification

Here's an item I've been keeping an eye on for the past couple of years. There was a section of the trail just south of Glendon Campus that was in bad shape. A narrow spot between a fence and the river, it was badly eroded due to overuse and ground water seepage. There was also drainage pipes spilling storm water into the river. All that has now been fixed. I went by in July and took some photos of the completed work. As you can see they have armoured the riverbank and placed a new and wider gravel trail on top. Hopefully the new trail withstands whatever flood the river can throw at it.

Trail in April, 2007

The river where outflow pipes loosely hang over the bank

July 2008: the new and improved trail


...and after

More pictures of Glendon Forest.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Don River Documentary

Rescuing a River, directed by Jeff Fish

I watched a newly posted video on YouTube called Rescuing a River. It is about 12 minutes long so it's divided into two parts to fit YouTube's 8 minute maximum. When I watched it I got a vague impression that I had entered a timewarp. In the video are interviews of Jack Layton, Glenn Harrington and Deborah Martin-Downs all of whom were active with the Don in the early years of the Task Force to Bring Back the Don. Layton for one looked considerably younger (he has hair!). Martin-Downs is now a senior manager with the TRCA. According to Harrington's website, his company has worked on projects similar to the one that created Chester Spring Marsh in 1996. There were also a couple of shots of Don locations that have changed considerably since the time of the shooting this film. After watching it to the end the credits revealed the story - this video was shot in 1990.

The video was a documentary on the river as it was in 1990. It is quite good and it covers most of the problems of the Don River. In short, an urbanized river that is being subjected to increased runoff and water that is polluted and warmer than is natural. Increased turbidity means that dredging at the mouth is still a big issue. Unfortunately, all these issues are still relevant to the Don today.

What the video doesn't show is what has happened in the past 18 years. Layton and Harrington did foresee that wetlands would be created and habitat would be improved in the Don Valley. Harrington led the team that designed and built Chester Springs Marsh which was the first major restoration by Bring Back the Don. Layton talked about an expanded mouth of the Don and that idea is currently under Environmental Assessment.

So, yes, it is an improvement on other video efforts (including my own) but it would be nice to see an updated documentary on the state of the river today.

Rescuing a River, Part II

Friday, November 21, 2008

Taylor-Massey Creek Article

Taylor-Massey Creek is in bad shape but the Taylor Massey Project has big plans to improve it. An article in the Toronto Community News outlines a $4.25 million plan to fix the worst parts of the creek's watershed. The plan will restore selected sections of the creek and associated ravines. The plan also includes the creation of a trail along the course of the creek. However, part of TMP's plan is to run the path along a disused Hydro Corridor which only partially parallels the creek's path. A better plan would be to create a Discovery Walk type route that more closely follows the creek's path.

TMP will be releasing a detailed plan next week. That will deserve closer reading.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Deputation on BMX Facilities in Toronto

On Friday, I attended a meeting of the Community Development and Recreation Committee at city hall. I was there to make a deputation on an item entitled "BMX Facilities in Toronto". This was item 6 on the agenda but item 1 was a major item called "Starting in the Right Place: A New Approach to Employment and Social Services in Toronto". There was a staff presentation and several deputations so it took nearly two hours of waiting to get to item 6. There were about 90 people in attendance, most of whom left after item 1.

The item I was interested in concerned the presentation of a report produced by staff on the state of BMX facilities in Toronto. Here is part of the text I delivered in my deputation:
Over the past several years, I have observed an increase in activities in our ravines with respect to cycling activities. In particular, is the relatively new sport termed “BMX Freestyle Dirt Jumping” which involves the creation of a network of earthen jumps and ramps for bicycle stunts.

While they are no doubt fun to build and use, they have a serious impact on the natural environment including soil compaction, increased erosion, and disturbance of the forest understory. In some cases trees have been cut down either for construction material or to clear space for these earthen jumps. Some of these sites are well maintained but others are strewn with garbage and refuse. If they are abandoned then the forest takes many years to recover.

I believe many of the problems are related to supply and demand. There are simply not enough facilities in the city to meet the increased interest in this sport. In addition, the existing facilities are widely spaced and not easily accessible. Scarcity and accessibility issues have led to the proliferation of informal ravine dirt jumping sites.

I agree with the report’s recommendation that a dialogue with members of the BMX sporting community needs to be continued. The city also needs to engage youth and encourage them to join clubs which can sponsor organized activities.

I also think that the lack of places for these activities can be addressed by the creation of more facilities which should be dispersed throughout the city. Toronto needs at least three more, one centrally located, and two others in Etobicoke and Scarborough. These facilities need to be developed in consultation with prospective users since a poorly designed facility will be underused. To me, the attraction to dirt jumping is two-fold. There seems to be as much enjoyment out of building the ramps as there is in using the finished course. Cyclists should be allowed to create and modify their own dirt jumps at city facilities. A supply of soil, water, and tools will be needed at each site.

Once there are sufficient facilities available, we can direct Parks, Forestry and Recreation staff, to close down and restore the informal ravine sites. We cannot in good conscious call for the removal of these sites if there is nowhere else for them to go. To remove them without first creating alternatives for these activities would only lead to their creation somewhere else.
As it turned out I was not the only deputant. A dedicated mountain biker who goes by the handle Solotrek, has used facilities such as DJs which I have previously written about. He was more up to speed on the current facilities and I was somewhat chagrined to discover that they are poorly maintained and are not in very good condition. The two sites, one behind an arena near Bayview and Cummer in Willowdale and the other in Wallace Emerson Park in the Dupont-Landsdowne area are in park areas out of site from staff. They don't keep a good eye on them so they are often used by off-leash dog walkers and the result is a lot of dog poop which is not fun to ride in. At the Bayview site someone dump piles of fill on the course making it partially unusable.

Bayview site, covered by illegally dumped fill (photo by "Ghettocruiser")

Dirt jumps at Wallace Emerson Park (photo by "Solotrek")

If the current facilities can't be properly maintained I am not holding out much hope for new locations. The city really needs to work with local bike groups to maintain these sites better and get new sites constructed. Only then do I see any progress being made to windup places like DJs.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Don River on Facebook

Facebook is an interesting cultural phenomenon. It is a web-based social networking site allowing friends to contact each other and to keep connected. You can also share photos and videos and there are online chat features. There are also these things called groups. Groups are a device that allow connections based on events, issues, common interests, and the like. There are thousands of these groups, some of which have an environmental focus. Not surprisingly, the Don River is the focus of a few of these. Here are a couple that I have found:

Friends of the Don East - this group networks people interested in activities associated with the NGO of the same name

Save the Don River - this group is run by someone named Mike Music who placed a video on Youtube that I recently critiqued. The group also has other videos shot on the Don, presumably by Mike. The group appears to be a loose collection of people who seem to be interested in general environmental issues concerning the Don River.

If anyone knows of other Facebook groups associated with the Don River I'd be interested in knowing about them. Note: you need to be a member of Facebook in order to participate in these groups. To date, it's free.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Don River Video Critiqued

"Save the Don River" by Mike Music

Recently I have created some videos to highlight issues and events in the Don Valley. For example, my videos from the Pottery Road weir illustrate the influence of rainstorms on water levels. Other videos show benthic invertebrate testing and wetland planting events.

There are a few other videos about the Don and unfortunately they are not very high quality. A case in point is one called "Save the Don River" which I came across on YouTube recently. It's about 7 minutes long and comes in three parts.

The first part which lasts 2:30 minutes is shot just south of the Queen St. East bridge. Several people are interviewed while looking at a pile of debris that has collected up against a concrete pillar that supports an on ramp for the Gardiner expressway. The people are asked for their opinion about the Don River while the videographer points to the debris pile. The responses are typical - they think the river is dirty and should be cleaned up. They think the debris is a mess and the city should do something about it.

There are two points I want to make. First, while the debris looks messy there is no real point in cleaning it up since the next big storm will dislodge it and send it down to the Keating Channel where it is trapped and scooped out of the water. Secondly, it is important to be aware of people's opinions about the Don River. It seems from this small sampling of the public that people are not aware of the issues concerning pollution on the Don and we still have a ways to go to educate people about these issues.

The second and third parts were taken somewhere in the east Don between the forks of the Don and Lawrence Ave. East. This is the Charles Sauriol Conservation Preserve and sports some areas that are still fairly natural. The second part lasting 2:30 minutes shows one or two salmon swimming in the river. The tagline erroneously states that they are spawning. In fact the salmon are non-native Pacific salmon that are released as fry in rivers (including the Don) around Lake Ontario by the Ministry of Natural Resources. This is done to support the sports fishing industry. The fish live for about five years in the lake, then following some instinctual drive they return to swim up these rivers. Unfortunately the habitat they require doesn't exist in the Don. They required shallow, cold water gravel beds to spawn. Even if they did find it, the eggs would be washed away as the Don regularly floods too heavily for them to survive.

The third part (about 2 minutes) shows white-tailed deer tracks in the riverbank mud as well as a passable shot of a deer feeding in a meadow. I don't have a problem with this part. There are also some nice scenic shots of trees and flowers.

Mr. Music seems to be well intentioned, albeit somewhat misinformed. I do commend him for creating this video but I am sure that someone can do better. The Task Force to Bring Back the Don is investigating the feasibility of running a video contest on the Don River. This might be a project for its 20th anniversary which happens next year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yellow Fish Road

Yellow Fish sidewalk sticker

I came across this plastic sticker affixed to a sidewalk north of O'Connor Drive in East York. This is part of the Yellow Fish Road program which seeks to educate people about where the water goes when it enters a storm drain. Lamentably, in most of downtown Toronto, it goes straight from here into the Don River. This leads to "wet weather" events such as one I documented in this video in the summer of 2007. Hopefully this sticker will lead people to stop dumping waste water and chemicals down the sewer. Waster water should be dumped in your basement sink which leads to the sanitary sewer. Chemicals such as paints and cleaners should be disposed of through the city's Environment Day program.

The program which has been around for some time is run by Trout Unlimited Canada. Locally, The TRCA runs it. You can contact them at 416-661-6600 x5373.

Storm drain grate

An older yellow fish, hand painted on a street in the Beaches neighbourhood. Several others nearby were very faded.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Fall Colours

Don Valley, looking southwest from a hillside below Bermondsey Works yard

I went for a walk in the East Don yesterday. Most of the spectacular colours of fall leaves have disappeared leaving muting greys and browns. I was planning on making my way up to Lawrence to view some riverbank work but got sidetracked by other things. I'll try again later. Meantime here are a couple of shots from my trip.

A white pine with some interesting yellowish needles

A ladder of turkey tail fungi walks up an ash tree stump