It’s not difficult to understand why so many park visitors plan to visit in the fall: the changing colors, migrating birds, and sprouting mushrooms make a visit all too tempting!
Not to mention the cool nights that are perfect for a cozy campfire without bugs to interrupt!
Almost everyone who visits parks has something in common: they want to experience nature. To do that, it is all Our job is to maintain the ecological integrity of the parks.
What is ecological integrity?
Ecological integrity can be a difficult concept to nail down. But in the simplest terms, it means maintaining nature and all its component parts.
If you want to learn more about ecological integrity, check out our guide to understanding EI.
Planning a visit to a fall-colored park this fall? Here are the top five ways to keep ecological integrity in mind during your visit:
1. Don’t litter!
Imagine: you wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to beat the crowds and walk all day!
You are the first to set foot on a beautiful hiking trail that day. But then you see cigarette butts. Food wrappers. Random garbage. On the trail. In the bushes. Hanging from the trees.
Not exactly the wilderness experience you signed up for.
Please don’t be the person who ruins other people’s experiences. Throw your trash in a container. Don’t you see a trash can? Plan to take your trash with you.
2. Stay on track
The moment you stray off the trail, you are stepping into the habitat of countless species, possibly including at-risk species depending on the area.
What may seem like a rotting log to you is home to fungi, burrowing and cocooning insects, and other life forms. Critical habitats exist along trails.
It is not uncommon for park staff to find a new trail that no longer has an exit; These are clear signs that visitors have prioritized taking a shortcut or taking a selfie over the health of our forests.
Continue your travels on existing trails.
3. Don’t take souvenirs
It is incredibly important that you leave the park as you found it.
This not only ensures that the next visitor can have the same magical experience as you, but also maintains the ecological integrity of the park.
From fiddleheads to mushrooms, foraging has become very trendy in recent years. Fall is a season when we see an increased interest in foraging.
But searching for mushroom or plant species is prohibited in Ontario parks.
And that’s for good reason: Unsustainable foraging harms wildlife and increases the risk that future visitors won’t be able to enjoy the same parks as us. Unsustainable harvesting by overzealous visitors threatens the survival of certain plant and fungal species.
4. Watch the road
Craning your neck to take in all the fall colors is perfectly fine if you’re standing on the shore of a lake, but it’s downright dangerous when you’re driving a car.
Please do not look closely at the fall colors from any road or highway. Go to designated parking spots or day-use areas.
Some amphibians and reptiles are on the move again as temperatures drop and they seek winter roosting sites.
Keeping a close eye on the trail for these critters can have a major impact on their populations.
5. Join community science groups
There are a growing number of apps that allow you to identify and contribute data to citizen science efforts.
With apps like iNaturalist and E-Bird, visitors can make important contributions to our growing body of knowledge about a wide range of species.
These contributions help us conduct research and protect wildlife within the parks. For example, some data submitted by visitors has helped us discover new invasive species.
There is so many parks in Ontario that offer an unforgettable fall experience.
But wherever you go, consider doing your part for ecological integrity to make our park system unforgettable for years to come.