Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024
Darlington's daring wetland restoration

In today’s post, area ecologist Corina Brdar shares the exciting restoration story that has been unfolding in Darlington Provincial Park.

There’s nothing like seeing an idea become a reality, right?

Especially when the idea is huge and requires a lot of cooperation from all types of players.

If you visit Darlington Provincial Park this year, you may be wondering what’s happening at the McLaughlin Day Use Area.

More than ten years ago, our friends at the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA) approached Ontario Parks with a great idea: What if we made McLaughlin Bay a better place for animals like fish, frogs, birds and the plants they depend on?

wetland restoration progress

We said “sign us up!”, as did other conservation agencies.

We are interested in improving the ecological health of all our parks, including smaller parks with a recreational focus like Darlington. This was an opportunity to cooperate with other groups, restore habitat, and improve the day use area for park users.

collage of advances in wetland restoration

We knew it would take a lot of research, planning and coordination to get it right, but the project had so much potential and energy from the other partners that we knew we were up to the challenge.

So here we are, more than 10 years later, with a newly restored shoreline, more fish habitat, and a better place for park visitors to enjoy the bay.

As any gardener knows, all plants take time to take hold and fill out. We continue to monitor the work we have done so far and make small improvements.

CLOCA and other partners are conducting ongoing scientific research to see if wildlife gives it their seal of approval. They track water quality, a very important indicator of the ecological health of the bay.

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We hope that the bay water will eventually become clearer and more suitable for local wildlife.

bioreactor

There are always more improvements the project team can make to improve the bay, park, and surrounding area, so you may see or hear new things in the future.

The restoration timeline

First days

Before the park was established in 1959, the day-use area was swampy along the coast and former agricultural fields on the drier land.

Before and after aerial of McLaughlin Bay

aerial view of the restoration

Our amazing partners and volunteers

Funding came from many sources, including the province of Ontario, the Great Lakes Protection Fund, Environment and Climate Change Canada and the National Wetlands Conservation Trust.

Volunteers helped install 26 fish hatcheries in the bay. When the water is low, you can sometimes see the top of the cribs! Waterfowl love to perch and fish in them.

fish cradles

Four fishing nodes were installed to give visitors better access to fish in the deeper parts of the bay.

Staff planted hundreds of native wetland plants and fenced them so they wouldn’t be eaten by hungry carp or geese.

staff holding plants

Over time, many plant species, including cattails, wolfgrass, and water lilies, have established themselves among the fishing nodes. The bay tent fence has been removed.

staff planting vegetation

The ongoing investigation

McLaughlin Bay used to be completely open to Lake Ontario. The sandbank seen now used to be a series of moving sand spits and small islands. In recent years, we have also seen record high water levels in Lake Ontario, which have changed the characteristics of the shoreline and allowed a natural gap to occur between the bay and the lake.

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There are many reasons why the bay and its barrier beach have changed, and we use current research to decide the best ways to improve the bay.

Do you want to learn more about the process? See the full restoration strategy!

Come see our hard work!

Visit Darlington this fall to see the wonderful conservation efforts. Don’t forget that this year you can book your Darlington daily vehicle permit up to five days in advance to secure your access!

Help us keep the park clean and safe by keeping track of your trash and ensuring it is disposed of correctly.

Congratulations to our hard-working staff and all the partners and volunteers who made the transformation possible!